Tom Requiem is led to the gallows for the murder of Mary Slaughter, hung, and buried. But Tom was buried alive, intentionally, for the fates have a new task for him: he will become the ringleader of the Infernal Parade, a crazed cast of characters pulled into the parade to wander a sad world between life and death. The novella consists of six stories, each one tracking a character in the parade: first Tom, then his lover-victim Mary, before branching out into stranger ground. There’s the golem, Elijah, created for single-minded murder; Dr. Fetter and his family of freaks; and The Sabbaticus, a monster called forth in a fantastic realm of bleak and sadistic justice. The stories don’t have a narrative arc per se, instead focusing on the exotic characters.
Clive Barker has built an impressive reputation as a master of the “dark fantastique,” writing stories that blend horror, dark fantasy, and surreal weirdness in ways that few other authors come close to. At his best, he is a grim visionary; at his worst, he offers unique and readable strange tales. Infernal Parade leans more to that latter because it’s a bit disjointed; it originated as a series of short stories packaged with the McFarlane toy line of the same name, one story per figure/character. As such, the stories are a bit short and better at giving a feel for their character than any narrative. That said, they show that Barker’s limitless imagination shows no sign of slowing down, the stories presenting a vivid array of characters and settings unrestrained by physics or reason. That creativity is Barker’s main selling point, along with his blending of the grotesque with the sensuous, and his short stories do a great job of capturing that feel.
At the end of the day, Infernal Parade is a fascinating volume perfect for Barker fans—the fact that it’s sold as a signed and limited hardcover should be one indication. Reading it gave me flashbacks to reading his Books of Blood short stories. But readers looking for a more complete, substantial read may be disappointed by a collection that’s somewhat disjointed and inconsistent. I would have appreciated a little more meat to the stories, a little something more binding them together. Despite Barker’s wild and vivid imagination, it feels like there’s something missing from the collection as a whole, though the stand-out stories (“The Sabbaticus” in particular) are masterful. So, one that should be appreciated by Barker fans and short-fiction aficionados, especially readers who enjoyed his fantasies like Imajica or his older collections of short fiction.
Title: Infernal Parade
Author: Clive Barker
First Published: 2017
What I Read: Subterranean Press ebook, 1993
Price I Paid: $0 (e-ARC via NetGalley and SubPress
MSRP: $30 signed LE hc