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Book Review – Clive Barker’s The Scarlet Gospels

The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker

The wait is finally over for fans who have been wanting to read Clive Barker‘s long-awaited pairing of two of the most popular characters from his works. The Scarlet Gospels is here, and the epic horror tale that Barker weaves within it surely does not disappoint.

The Scarlet Gospels sees the Lead Cenobite Pinhead on a global path of destruction to gain power so that he may attempt to take over Hell. He seeks out supernatural investigator Harry D’Amour to be the one to bear witness to his actions. But when Harry refuses, the Cenobite kidnaps his dear friend Norma Paine and takes her back to Hell with him. Now Harry and his three friends must make the journey of their lives-literally to Hell and back-to save her.

Good news for anyone new to Barker’s work: If you haven’t read The Hellbound Heart, or any of the novels that feature Harry D’Amour, there is no need to worry. The Scarlet Gospels reads just as easily for the seasoned Barker fan as it does for someone who maybe only saw Hellraiser and/or Lord of Illusions (the 1995 film that features D’Amour as the main character). Knowing these characters better will perhaps deepen the experience for some readers, but Barker writes all of the characters-Pinhead, Harry, Caz, Norma-so well and gives enough of their backstory to make all readers feel like they’ve known them for years.

Perhaps most intriguing thing about The Scarlet Gospels is the focus on Pinhead, and seeing this character in his own world. The first few chapters introduce the reader to the sadomasochistic torturer we all know and love by having him slaughter an entire room full of magicians in the most unique and disgusting ways. He even recruits one of them, Felixson, as his servant “dog” to do his bidding for the remainder of the novel. Pinhead is still well-spoken and arrogant, but several other sides to his character are also shown-his impatience, desperation, and yes, sometimes even a little bit of fear comes forth. As with any good villain, you will go back and forth between  liking and hating Pinhead. His iconic status in the genre will be enough to endear readers to him, but he also commits many atrocities against the other characters in the novel, whom we come to like just as much. The only disappointment I have about the tome is that we are not really given that much information about Pinhead or his background. He is still a mysterious figure, and perhaps will have to remain so.

A perfect counterbalance to Pinhead is Harry D’Amour, who is gleefully sarcastic and witty, even in the face of the Hell Priest. Harry’s past and current life seem to have hardened him, but he still has a soft spot for the two people he trusts the most-Norma, and Caz King, who gave Harry all the tattoos that protect him and warn him of supernatural danger. When Pinhead takes Norma through the portal to Hell, Harry does not hesitate to follow them through to save her. At the same time, Caz and their other two companions-Lana and Dale-are just as adamant about not letting Harry go after the hell priest alone. Each character is different, but they all show the same level of loyalty that Harry has for Norma, which makes them a great team.

The second half of the novel sees the characters finally entering the underworld. Barker’s vision of Hell is not the one of fire, brimstone, and lava that most imagine it to be. It is indeed a hellish landscape with deformed demons everywhere and massive buildings of impossible architecture, but it also feels like a structured society not unlike our own, where even Pinhead has his bosses and rules he must follow. Other locations that Barker takes us to are the residence of the Cenobite priests and priestess, The Monastery of the Cenobitical Order, and a fantastic sequence at a massive lake that holds an equally massive monster, who guards the dwelling of the one and only Lucifer himself.

Though previously released descriptions of the book led readers to believe that the story would involve an epic battle between Harry and Pinhead, this does not really occur. As the plot progressed further, I came to realize that this was all Pinhead’s story, and that Harry was actually just there to bear witness to Pinhead’s actions, like Pinhead wanted him to. Not that Harry doesn’t have his own important character arc. Harry begins the novel as a sort of brooding loner, and by the end, his attitude hasn’t changed much but readers can still get the sense that he has evolved internally.

The Scarlet Gospels is a very ambitious novel with a lot of expectations behind it. Clive Barker took on that challenge and passed with flying colors. Just reading about Pinhead again in Barker’s words is an invigorating experience for fans. The plot gets exponentially more exciting as it goes from one stage to the next, and though the story is epic, the novel itself is not, at a comfortable 360 pages. So don’t miss out on this chance to travel to Hell with two of the best characters that Barker has created, and bear witness to The Scarlet Gospels for yourself.

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Written by Michele Eggen
In addition to contributing to Wicked Horror, Michele Eggen has been writing about all things horror at her blog, The Girl Who Loves Horror, since 2010. She loves anything having to do with ghosts or the supernatural realm. Her favorite films are Poltergeist and Child's Play.
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