Barker has his own distinct vision of the architecture and hierarchy of the underworld, and he brings it to life in painstaking detail with this new novel. Right from the first pages, we are witness to the return of the beloved Priest of Hell, disrespectfully known as “Pinhead” but never to his face, and his epic crusade to essentially take over Hell. It is an interesting new way to look at an established character, especially one who we have seen mainly in short scenes in the films, his new ambition all consuming.
In fact, the most fascinating thing we get from this novel is the extended view of who this Lead Cenobite really is, as compared to who he would like to be, and who the audience perceives him as. Despite all of the intimidating and serene speeches of suffering we have seen over the years, we learn that Pinhead is in fact very low on the totem pole of Hell. All of his interdimensional meddling over the years has essentially been keeping this priest in his place as a glorified dog catcher, collecting up strays and mutts who chance upon the unassuming portal in the shape of a puzzle box.
The Scarlet Gospels documents his time and rise to power as he assuredly slaughters and slays through the ranks of the Underworld. Of course that means we are introduced to many characters, including armies of angry demons and wise old alchemists, all the way up to the Lord of Hell himself, Lucifer. But the Lord of Hell is not alone in showing us these sights. Tying together some of his other literary work, Barker crosses the paths of his iconic Cenobite with the fascinating character of Harry D’Amour and his friends. D’Amour is a character that originated in the short story The Last Illusion (brought to the screen by Scott Bakula in the film Lord Of Illusions) and made an appearance in Barker’s giant fantasy epic Everville. His vast knowledge of supernatural events and somewhat unlucky knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time put D’Amour and his friends directly in the path of Pinhead’s crusade. The story of D’Amour and his friend’s involvement is a fascinating one early on in the novel, and their involvement is central to the world Barker is building. They are especially good comic relief and add a heart and a more human point of view to the spectacle.
And what a spectacle it is! An epic war in Hell, instigated and carried out by the priest who has had enough of his miniscule position and has ambitions bigger than any mortal or demon. The final third of the book is an action-filled war of epic proportions deep in the bowels of Hell, putting Pinhead in a position we fans had never imagined. The warrior of Hell has come to take over, and he has all manner of magic and torture at his disposal, and will stop at nothing to achieve his lofty goals. It is immensely satisfying reading, written in an excitable style by one of the great imaginers of our generation. It isn’t often that a complete re-invention of a decades- old character is successful, but this one hits all of the right notes. This novel is what King was talking about back in the 80s when he had seen the “future of horror”. The future is now. Clive Barker is back and Pinhead has come to take over.