The Abarat Quartet is a planned series of four books by Clive Barker. So far, three of the books have been published. Although Clive Barker is best known as a writer of horror fiction, the books are meant to be young adult literature, although they still have horror elements in them. Along with being written by Barker, it is lavishly decorated with paintings by him, detailing his surrealistic imaginings.
The books take place in the eponymous land of Abarat, which is styled in such a font that it looks the same upside down and rightside up: a graphic design that I couldn't duplicate here. Abarat is a vast archipelago, 25 islands on a vast sea. Each island is perpetually in a different hour of the day, and with a different mood based upon the hour. A tyrannical ruler, Christopher Carrion, the ruler of the island of midnight, wants to rule all the realms of Abarat. Into this weird fantasy realm comes Candy Quackenbush, a typical young woman from a boring town in rural Minnesota who wants to escape. The idea of a "normal kid" being dropped into a fantasy realm under conflict is not a new trope in young adult novels, to say the least. The first three books of the series have been Candy learning about the wondrous and horrific sides of Abarat, all while getting more and more wrapped up in the plot by Carrion to rule (or destroy) Abarat.
As far as the basic plotline and characters, there is nothing that new in these books. What sets it apart is just how much Barker's imagination is in overdrive. While I have given a sketch of the world, I have not even described the main supporting characters, let alone the myriads of characters and creatures that only come on for a page or two before disappearing. The creatures that populate the realms of Abarat are bizarre chimeras that defy easy description, but which Barker has described at length and painted in detail.
One of the problems I have had with the books so far is that while the books have a surplus of imagination, I sometimes feel like Barker is throwing in everything that crosses his mind. While other fantasy writers have gone to the trouble of designing a realistic fantasy world, Barker's world doesn't seem to be that concerned with biology, physics or history. It is very dream-like in its quality. Whether this is a plus or a minus depends on how fantastical you like your fantasy.
I have not yet discovered, after three books, where exactly Clive Barker is going with this. As I have said previously, I am in general of two minds about the works of Barker. On one hand, I feel that his imagination and innovation are important contributions to the fantasy genre. Secondly, I often feel like his books are reaching towards a point that they do not quite reach. The Abarat Quarter, from the first three parts I have read, fits this pattern.