Tortured Souls: The Legend of Primordium
by Clive Barker
Cover Artist: Bob Eggleton (also interior illustrations)
Review by Benjamin Wald
Subterranean Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596066366
Date: 28 February 2015 List Price $30.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Tortured Souls: The legend of Primordium, by legendary horror and fantasy writer Clive Barker, tells the story of a pair of unlikely lovers. The story is set in the city of Primordium, a somewhat indeterminate time and place that resembles ancient Rome. Zarles Krieger is a freelance assassin, who murders the father of Lucidique, but then becomes convinced by her of the corruption of the political order he serves. So convinced, in fact, that he agrees to be transformed by Agonistes, a mysterious creator of monsters, so that he has the power to bring down the corrupt regime. The transformed Krieger and Lucidique fall in love, but the remnants of the old regime seek to return to power, and their machinations endanger the lovers.
Barker's previous work was characterized by richly evocative prose and a talent for mixing anxiety and tension with lush eroticism, lending his monsters an uneasy carnality that was a deep part of their impact. In this work, however, neither of these traits have come through. The prose feels rushed and simplified, perhaps seeking a kind of fairy tale effect, but mostly ends up falling flat. And even when the monstrously transformed Krieger and Lucidique make love, there is no particular eroticism or titillation, just flat description.
The story is very compressed. The novella is only 88 pages, but it feels even shorter. I read the entire thing in an hour or so. There is nothing wrong with shorter works, of course, but this work feels rushed. We never get a sense of the characters at all. Krieger agrees to be turned into a monster to defeat a regime he served just moments ago, based on a few lines of dialogue. Lucidique never seems to react to her fathers murder at all. This makes the characters feel very thin, their actions more a matter of plot necessity than any deeper motives.
Overall, Tortured souls is deeply disappointing. The plot quickly degenerates into just one random event after another, and without strong characters or interesting writing style to hold it together, even a short novella manages to outstay its welcome.