Tortured Souls is finally available in print. That might mean something to the hardcore Clive Barker devotees, but not much to anyone else. It’s had a hell of a time getting here. The project was unique in its creation. Barker designed Tortured Souls with comic book and toy creator Todd McFarlane. It became a successful action figure series. Barker designed the characters, beautifully sculpted by the people at McFarlane and then packaged each toy with a chapter of the titular novella. The chapters were all centered around the specific character they were packaged with and only when you collected every toy would you have the whole story. It was a novel idea for the time.
But it made it pretty hard for people who just wanted to read more Clive Barker, especially for those who discovered it after the action figures had gone out of print. It was the closest thing he had written to Hellraiser since writing the storyline for the second film. These characters returned the author to his horror roots and are very akin to the Cenobites in design. It’s almost a sister story to that mythology, maybe even detailing the origins of the original Cenobites. More than anything, it reads like a guide to the imagined world of Primordium, where these beings make their home. The narrative is somewhere between a straightforward novella and a short story collection. Each chapter feels individual, but they do connect. It is all one story.
In the fourteen years since the toys were released, Tortured Souls has been labeled essential Clive Barker reading, but it was always the one thing that people couldn’t easily get their hands on. It’s amazing that a book treatment like this hasn’t happened before, given that the success of the action figures led to a second series and it has almost been turned into a movie at least twice—once in live action and once as an anime.
Fans have had to resort to ordering the toys on eBay just to read the novella, but thanks to Subterranean Press, those days are over. They’ve given this small but important piece in Barker’s bibliography the treatment that it deserves. There were a couple different editions announced when the book was announced, but given that most of them are out of print they can get pretty pricey. Those who just want to read the story would be better off buying the eBook. It’s well formatted and easily readable.
But for those who just need this to finally sit on their shelves, the trade edition of the novella is probably the way to go. With a cloth cover, impressive layout and interior illustrations, it’s worth the $30. Most books that fall just short of 100 pages can’t claim that. But this is a special case. The treatment that’s been given to the story and the amount of time fans have been patiently waiting make the price justifiable.
The novella itself is well written, thoughtful, classic Barker even though he was writing it as—essentially—a marketing ploy. He took what could have been a cash grab and turned it into simply another way to tell a story, and it works. It’s a must for any Clive Barker fan and would actually work great as a primer, almost a sampler plate, to introduce new reader’s to the author’s work.