Days of Magic, Nights of War is the book I had hoped Abarat would be – and then some!
Abarat felt like an old fashioned travelogue, a book written solely to describe the people and the places that Candy encountered in her travels. Instead of advancing a story, the focus of each new chapter was seemingly to top the one before in terms of magic, weirdness, and the surreal. I found that I could put it down for weeks at a time (something I’ve never been able to do with a Barker book before), pick it back up, and effortlessly resume mid-paragraph. Not only that, but it felt . . . well, childish. I realise it’s meant as a young adult read, but so was The Thief of Always, and that was an all-night, single-setting read for me.
Fortunately, it seems Barker got the ‘Disney’ out of his system with Abarat, and is back to doing what he does best with Days of Magic, Nights of War. It’s still a story of magic, weirdness, and the surreal, but it’s just that – a real story. Here, we get into the thick of the plot, exploring who Candy really is, what brought her to the Abarat, and what role she has to play in its future. Things actually happen in this second volume, and there are consequences for all of it.
What’s more, this is a much darker story than the first, allowing Barker’s imagination to shine. The first book hinted at the evils of Christopher Carrion, and showed us glimpses of Mater Motley’s cruelty, but really restrained them. Here, Barker lets them loose, exposing their plans for the Abarat, and confronting us with the depths of their hatred, their cruelty, and their selfish vindictiveness. There’s a very real tension to this volume, a palatable sense of dread and danger that was missing from the first. As a result, I felt an emotional attachment to the characters that I hadn’t been able to form in the first, compelling me to read on, to cheer their triumphs, and to mourn their losses.
I also liked the fact that we returned to the ‘real’ world in this book. I think it was the development of events outside the Abarat, and the progression of the stories there added something to the book I didn’t realise was lacking. Maybe it’s the contrast, or maybe it’s the connection, but returning to Chickentown turned this from a good read to a great one.
There’s still a wonderful fairy tale of fable feel to the Abarat, especially with the developing backstory and the new aspects of the mythology, and I hope Barker never loses that. However, I like this darker turn towards events of significance, and I really hope Absolute Midnight carries that forward. Of course, if you’ve read the series then you understand that the title alone promises things aren’t about to get happy any time soon.