I never liked horror growing up, but back in 2012 my friend in Alaska convinced me to read more horror and less urban fantasy. Since then, I’ve been slowly dipping my toe in the genre one spine tingling book at a time. This Book Monday I’m going over the last horror book I read, The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker.
The Scarlet Gospels was released in 2016, and follows the story of the Hell Priest (Pinhead), as he attempts to use magic against unseen enemies while being hunted by Henry D’Amour. D’Amour, a supernatural detective, has to find out what the cenobite is up to before it’s too late for our world, Heaven and Hell.
I’m coming at this review as someone who’s only ever seen the first Hell Raiser movie, so I’m leaving out how a couple of backstory points were lost on me since I hadn’t read the previous books in this universe. That being said, I could still read the book without feeling completely left in the dark, which I think is a great point about this novel. It’s enjoyable for its new audience while still playing to old plots.
The first thing I noticed about this book was that the over all feel of the novel wasn’t horror. Sure some of it was gory and had unsettling imagery, but as a reviewer on Amazon put it, it felt more like a Buffy the Vampire episode than something that was supposed to be a terrifying walk through Hell.
That’s not to say I agree with all of the points in that one star review. It was still enjoyable to see a demon rebel against Hell. Demons are constantly at war with angels, but when they butt heads with one another, it’s always more enjoyable to me. I also enjoyed the banter from the human characters and found it to be a good example of how some people use humor when faced with something they don’t feel like they can comprehend.
I was disappointed with the sudden drop in the Hell Priest’s character, however. For most of the book, he’s violent, but charismatic. While he enjoys pain, there’s something almost Hannibal Lector about him, but then there’s a sudden shift where he becomes so outraged that he lashes out like an indignant child. He doesn’t just take joy in pain, he rushes the abuse of several characters just because he’s mad. It happened so suddenly, I was completely pulled out of the narrative.
I also didn’t care for D’Amour’s character in the final act either. It feels like the first part of the book was written with one plot in mind, and the second was a completely different story. The character went from the cold hardened detective of all things damned. to just another noir inspired cop.
While the characters seemed to fall to the back burner, the plot was fantastic. Anything that reminds me of Dante’s Inferno gets a gold star in my book, and that’s exactly what the last half of the book was. I didn’t care what happened to the characters, I just wanted more descriptions about how Barker envisioned Hell.
That being said, there were a few ex machina points at the that seemed WAY too convenient for someone of Barker’s writing history to be guilty of. For example, they’re lost in the middle of a desert and a car happens to come out of nowhere to help them. Maybe I missed something, or maybe there was something in another book that had more to do with this, but I was left scratching my head going, what the heck? Many of the characters’ journey to get to the final climax point were just too convenient and it just felt like Barker was tired of telling their POV and only wanted to focus on The Hell Priest’s.
Over all, I was torn over what rating to give this book. On one hand, the characters were much more entertaining the first half of the book, but the plot was slow, but then on the other the second half was a great story with lack luster characters. I’d say buy it in paperback if you happen to see it, but don’t go out of your way to pick it up.
Did you enjoy The Scarlet Gospels? Have you read other works by Clive Barker? How does it hold up? Comment below and let me know!