Goodreads Review: The Scarlet Gospels

The Scarlet GospelsThe Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s taken years for Scarlet Gospels to finally arrive; the final confrontation between long-time Barker characters Pinhead and Harry D’Amour has been discussed, whispered of, teased and hinted at for so long it would be impossible for the book to stand up to the hype and expectations. The question, however, is whether or not its a good book.

My answer? “Kinda.” It’s amusing and reasonably well crafted, but there’s a few too many issues for me to be as positive and fanboyish as I have been about previous works. First off: It’s bloody short. Clocking in around 360 pages, it feels like an appetizer (especially when compared to other tomes in the back catalog), a feeling that is only made worse by previous statements made that it was potentially going to be in the 1000-2000 page range. Now, being short is not necessarily a flaw, provided the tale is there and there’s no obvious scarring, but that’s where Gospels is most obviously broken; there seem to be chunks of it missing, sudden flash cuts through potentially important events and conversations (often while in the same scene) that look as though someone just ripped pages out and said “Nah, nobody’ll miss that!” Harry and his friends’ journey across the landscape of Hell and the arrival of a certain character on earth, his plans and his disappearance from the pages being skimmed over in four paragraphs are the most obvious points, but there’s plenty of them.

Second, the level of torture porn involved. “Wait,” I hear you saying, “it’s Clive Barker! Isn’t that what you came for?” Well, yeah. That is kind of the point, especially when Pinhead is on screen, but much of the violence after the initial outburst and a couple of Harry’s flashbacks really feels like heaping abuse on Pinhead just to abuse Pinhead. Very little of it felt like it flowed naturally from the characters and their motivations (at least as presented in the book), feeling more like Barker was just tired of the Cenobite and wanted to punish him. Given certain comments the author has made during interviews, it feels even more like that’s the case. (Mind you, I’m not objecting to Pinhead getting his ass kicked and suffering; I just object on the grounds that it feels artificial and forced in context.)

Next, and this might irritate a few folks, but I got tired of hearing about how gay almost everyone was. I don’t care that they’re gay; given Pinhead’s job and history, sex is going to come up and so mentioning it is fine. There’s even some great comedic moments based on it, and with certain characters it is an important facet of how they behave and why they’re involved. But when every single character with the exception of Harry and Norma must divulge a constant stream of their bedroom antics, make a dick joke at least once every three pages, or discuss how stunningly huge that demon’s penis is, it gets tiresome. I’d be just as irate if Harry felt the need to constantly remind the other characters of his sexual exploits or discuss the size of everyone’s breasts. It’s not relevant and most of the time it feels crammed in (pardoning any puns.) I suspect if one were to dissect the book, you’d find more paragraphs of Dale and Caz swapping sex stories than you would with Pinhead plotting or explaining why he’s doing what he’s doing.

Which brings me to the last point. Pinhead’s motivations. At the start, they’re pretty clear; he’s wiping the earth of magic users and stealing their knowledge. Okay, great. Pinhead wants power. It starts getting murkier as we go further in, when he starts using those powers to pretty much attempt to murder everyone in Hell; by the time he reaches his destination, I was left sitting there asking myself “Why did he do all this again?” Following the revelation of what he finds there he pulls a 180 and opts for that lovely villain trope of “I vant to destroy zee vurld! Because reasons!” Again, felt like there were some missing pages. It’s not necessarily that sudden shift or apparent lack of rationale for doing what he’s doing – because Pinhead is consistently painted as a plotter, a tempter, a manipulator, having a reason for doing the things he’s doing – that are annoying; it’s the feeling like those things were there… somewhere… and were just skipped or glossed over. Without spoiling anything, it’s also unclear how he goes from the site of the climactic battle to his final meeting with Harry to his (apparent) demise; he just is in those places because reasons. No discussion of how he got from where we see him and the condition he’s in to the next spot where that condition is vastly different.

And I lied. There’s one more point. The Lament Configuration. And this is a SPOILER!!!! so stop here and skip ahead to the last paragraph, but this bothered me. One of them turns up at the end of the book, and like typical idiots, random character A decides to play with it and open a portal to Hell. Now, with no Pinhead (or other Cenobites, for that matter) to answer the call, it just opens the portal with no demonic arrival, and that’s fine. Then one of the other characters says “Hey, derp, what happens if you throw a Portable Hole into a Bag of Holding?” and punts the Configuration into Hell, making the puzzle box very upset and blowing up the portal. It’s actually a cool and amusing scene, but left me going “Why has nobody done that before?” Obviously, even if they had, it’s likely the Cenobites would have fetched it (unless the damage due to portal implosion was too severe; we’re left with a question mark on that count), but it still seems like a reasonable and at least semi-intelligent reaction, at least from someone who knows what they are and what they do, which plenty of characters in past appearances do. Just a little nag.

Final analysis? In my opinion, not the grand denouement I was hoping for. It was an entertaining read, and saying goodbye to Pinhead and Harry after three decades was something that probably needed to be done… but it still left me sad, and not the way some series do when they finally end, the sense of loss, that those characters have come to the end and its time to say goodbye; it was just thinking to myself that they deserved better. It left too many things hanging (and not in a “I can’t wait for him to write a book that talks about this! way) and overall just seemed like an excuse to murder Pinhead. Which needed to happen eventually, granted, but… not like that. One quick hop-back, that is a little spoilerific: Harry vs Pinhead is almost irrelevant; Harry could have been absent and the Cenobite would almost assuredly have ended up in the same place and still just as dead… and that’s a problem. When you throw two of your most known characters into a box for the cage match of doom and one of them is almost totally irrelevant, you might want to reevaluate your choices.

But that’s just my opinion.

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