Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Imajica, by Clive Barker

The Earth is one of five Dominions, and a wizard wants to Reconcile them, which may or may not be apocalyptic.


HarperCollins, 1991, 824 pages

Imajica is an epic beyond compare: vast in conception, obsessively detailed in execution, and apocalyptic in its resolution. At its heart lies the sensualist and master art forger Gentle, whose life unravels when he encounters Judith Odell, whose power to influence the destinies of men is vaster than she knows, and Pie "oh" pah, an alien assassin who comes from a hidden dimension.

That dimension is one of five in the great system called Imajica. They are worlds that are utterly unlike our own but are ruled, peopled, and haunted by species whose lives are intricately connected with ours. As Gentle, Judith, and Pie "oh" pah travel the Imajica, they uncover a trail of crimes and intimate betrayals, leading them to a revelation so startling that it changes reality forever.

Imajica is a very 90s epic fantasy; it's got ties to our world, but a pseudo-Victorian aesthetic despite being set more or less in the modern world, but its 800-plus pages span across five "Dominions" (parallel worlds that only mages, called "Maestros," can reach), conspiracies going back centuries, and a bunch of strange creatures like "Nullianacs" and "Mistiffs," a god called Hapexamendios, cities like Yzordderrex, and characters with names like Pie'oh'pah, Quaisoir, and Chicka Jackeen. It's got a very Stephen King vibe, as there is lots of horror and gore, and it also reminds me a lot of Mage: The Ascension, an RPG that was very much an artifact of the 90s. Another comparison that comes to mind is Dickens at his most verbose, if Dickens were alive today and writing fantasy novels, and had also just discovered that he's allowed to write sex scenes, and kind of liked yaoi.

The main character, John Furie Zacharias, aka "Gentle," begins the book as some kind of louche playboy, but we eventually learn he's a Maestro, one of the hidden mages dwelling in the five Dominions of the Imajica, of which Earth is the Fifth Dominion. Two hundred years ago, he was part of a plan to Reconcile the Dominions, making them mutually accessible again, but for some reason the attempt failed, badly, and Gentle ended up without his powers or his memories.

His ex-lover, a woman named Judith (who never has a last name, which says something about her role both in the story and metatextually) survives an assassination attempt by a shapeshifting creature called Pie'oh'pah, who later assumes Judith's form and tries to have sex with Gentle. Pie'oh'pah and Gentle will end up going on adventures together in the other Dominions, and having lots of weird sex; Judith will end up hooking up with the Big Bad, the Autarch who lives in the Fourth Dominion, and having lots of not quite so weird but still very explicit sex. There are quite a few multi-page sex scenes, including with the pansexual shapeshifting genderqueer thing Pie'oh'pah, which seem to serve little purpose except for the author to get his kink on. It's a very 90s book.

The plot is lengthy and complicated, full of big reveals and twists and new characters coming out of the woodwork (sometimes literally). On the one hand, it seemed too big for one book, but on the other, I am kind of glad it wasn't written as a series, as it probably would be today.

Imajica is a weird, imaginative, and overly bloated fantasy-horror novel that I wish I'd enjoyed more, because it's quite the epic and there are a hell of a lot of unique creatures and characters; it reads very much like the author's unfiltered imagination spilling out onto the page once the acid trip wore off and he managed to start outlining a plot. I'd probably have enjoyed it more as a younger person, when it might have blown my mind a little more, but today it seems like a book that's just trying too hard to be trippy and sexy. There's a great epic fantasy buried in here, but it went on too long for my tastes.

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