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The long-awaited third book of Barker's series has finally arrived.
This middle volume has the strengths and flaws of its predecessors. Heroine Candy Quackenbush and evil Mater Motley continue to take center stage, and both continue to be vehicles rather than fully fleshed characters. Mater Motley furthermore turns out to be a pawn for the Nephauree, a Lovecraftian race of tentacled creatures from elsewhere who have in mind the utter destruction of the Abarat. Candy gets a love-at-first-sight subplot devoid of emotional resonance, based as it is in neither conversation nor interaction. The sometimes lovely, often purple prose is peppered with corny dialogue (declarations of love while facing death; "comic" bickering between John Mischief and his brothers, who are heads on his antlers). True moments of terror (Candy's alcoholic father as the preacher of a church powered by Abaratian evil) vie for attention with the flora and fauna of Abarat and the adventures of a chosen one who conveniently always has the right spell, in what is either an homage to fantasy tropes or a glaring example of the stereotype. Barker's powerful, often unpleasant illustrations continue to play off the text, sometimes confusingly—captions and more careful placement of images would help readers make the connections.
All in all, fans will revel and newcomers will be baffled. (Fantasy. 13 & up)