Britisher Barker, horror's Wunderkind, has dazzled in several short-story collections (The Human Condition, In the Flesh, etc.), but disappointed in his one previous novel, the unwieldy The Damnation Game (1985). Never mind: his new dark fantasy, an epic tale of a magic carpet and the wondrous world within its weave, towers above his earlier work--and, despite some serious flaws, manages via its powerful and giddy torrent of invention to grasp the golden ring as the most ambitious and visionary horror novel of the decade. Barker attempts nothing less here than the resurrection of the imagination as the prime force in human destiny. To do so, he posits a race of magicians--the Seerkind--as always having cast spells of delight alongside humankind. But at the dawn of this century, modernity's onslaught forced the Seerkind to retreat within a magical fortress--a carpet. As the story begins, young Cal Mooney, an office grind with a fanciful heart, chances upon the rug and is transported into the enchanted fields and towns of ""The Fugue""--the marvelous land woven within the rug. Cal faints from this vision; when he awakes, the rug is gone--and in its place are Immacolata (a demonic/erotic spirit) and Shadwell the Salesman (a human embodiment of the Seven Deadly Sins), veteran seekers for the rug Who, believing that Cal knows its location, pursue him with all the hounds of hell. After ferocious battles with evil entities, Cal links up with Suzanna--descendant of the carpet's dead caretaker--who soon learns that Seerkind blood courses in her veins. Eventually the two track down the carpet, and, after it unweaves in northern England, visit the Oz-like land of The Fugue. But Shadwell follows them there and destroys the magic land in a ocean of blood. As homeless Seerkind wander England, their ancient enemy, ""The Scourge"" (an incredible creature akin to a mad fallen angel), wreaks havoc on Seerkind and humanity alike--until at novel's end Cal and Suzanna harness their personal powers of wonder to defeat Shadwell and Scourge and to re-create The Fugue. Like Barker's earlier fiction, this complex work erupts with explicit sex and violence--but now the shocks punctuate a raging flood of image and situation so rich as to over-flow Barker's abilities to formalize it. Nearly every page teems with original ideas; what's missing, however, is an emotional vigor to backbone all this activity; Cal and Suzanna remain distant creations. Here Barker has unleashed literary genius without taming it--though cemented his position as the major horror rival to King.