King, Stephen

About the Author:

 

Stephen King lives with his wife Tabitha in Bangor, Maine, USA.  He has had more of his writings adapted into film, including 'The Shawshank Redemption' and 'The Shining', than any other living writer.  King has also written several novels under the psuedonym Richard Bachman.

 

AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:

4.3 out of 5

(13 books)

Desperation

A psychotic cop begins hauling travellers off of Highway 50 and locking them up in the nearby town of Desperation, Nevada.  However, there is far more at work than just one lunatic; in the nearby mine an ancient evil has been unearthed and unleashed, with only a handful of people, possibly chosen by God, who can prevent it from escaping forever.

This is a companion piece to 'The Regulators' (written under King's Richard Bachman pen-name) and many of the elements will be familiar to anyone who's read that book, although they're not exactly linked in the way sequels or stories set in the same world are.  Moreover, the elements of this book will be familiar to anyone who's read much Stephen King at all.  There's an ancient formless evil, a kid with special powers and a writer who's also a recovering alcoholic (King is very much a follower of the idea 'write what you know').  All these elements do lend this book a somewhat derivative feel at times.

However, do not let the fact that many of the ideas here are used ones fool you into thinking this isn't a good book.  The author has always excelled at creating compelling, sympathetic characters with layers of nuance to them and that's still very much the case here.  You feel completely engaged with the main cast and therefore the perils facing them create very real tension and fear in you, the reader.  On top of that, King's easy and evocative prose will keep you glued to the pages so that hundreds can fly by before you feel able to put it down.

If this is the first Stephen King book you read, it may well blow you away.  If you're an old hand like myself, then it's just a really good read.

4 out of 5

 

Doctor Sleep

A sequel to King's iconic story 'The Shining' (whose even more iconic film adaption King hates with a bitter passion).  The book begins following the events at the Overlook Hotel, with Danny Torrance struggling to escape the restless spirits which first plagued him there. 

We then get an abridged version of Dan's adult life in which he succumbs to the selfsame anger and alcoholism which destroyed his father before finally choosing a new life, on the wagon and working at a hospice for dying patients.  The character's struggle with alcoholism is clearly written from the author's own experience, so real and visceral is the depiction of its terrible power.

The third act of the book reveals two important new elements in Dan's story.  The first is the immensely powerful child Abra, with whom Dan shares a mysterious psychic connection.  The second new introduction, and by far the best, is the True Knot.  The True Knot are one of King's great horror creations, a group of nomads who travel the US in winnebagos in order to torture and murder children who 'Shine', using the power released by their suffering to become immortal.  Here King has taken the basic concept of vampires and given it a new twist that will make you look suspiciously at middle-aged couples sat by their campervans by the roadside for the rest of your days.

King brings the book to a stunning conclusion by having Dan Torrance confront the leader of the True Knot, Rose the Hat, at a campsite on the ground where once stood the Overlook Hotel.

5 out of 5

 

'Salem's Lot

The writer Ben Mears returns to his childhood hometown, Jerusalem's Lot, in order to confront a long-standing fear and use it as inspiration for his next novel.  However, a dark power has chosen 'Salem's Lot as its next residence and slowly the town begins to fall under its sway.

King's greatest talent as a horror writer is his ability to spend a long time telling us about the prosaic, day-to-day lives of his characters without ever boring us.  It is this slow-build of the main story thread that draws us fully into the discoveries and horrors experienced by the protagonists.

Unless you've never heard of Stephen King before then you'll know that this is a story about vampires and although they're the unsophisticated pulp vampires of the seventies, their arrival in the introverted dying community of Jerusalem's Lot is perfectly toned.

I read this book long after having read the Dark Tower series and it was nice to finally get to understand what made Father Callahan the somewhat broken man we see in 'Wolves of the Calla' and 'Song of Susannah'.

4 out of 5

 

Song Of Susannah

The sixth and penultimate Dark Tower book.  The story is split between two time frames in our own world.  In Maine in 1977 (another one set in Maine!) Roland and Eddie have to track down Calvin Tower and convince him to sell them the rose lot in New York.  This storyline opens explosively with a big shoot-out at a General Store and shows that King can write action as well as horror. 

After the meeting with Tower, the two Gunslingers go on to encounter an author named Stephen King.  There follows a scene in which King works out his own psychological demons and reveals a massive God-complex, proving once and for all that he's a total nutter.  However, it's made somewhat plausible by two things, the revelation that King (the character) is merely a conduit for Ka and the fact that in terms of being their creator, he really is God to Roland and Eddie. 

The other story is set in 1999 New York, where Susannah struggles with the demon Mia for control of her body.  Mia's past is revealed and also gives us some foresight of the land of Thunderclap into which our heroes must go in the next book.  Hot on Susannah's heels come Jake, Oy and Don Callahan who, as they follow her to the 'Dixie Pig' become increasingly aware that they may be going to their deaths. 

I absolutely loved this book and found only three things wrong with it;  1) the cliff hanger means we have to wait to see what happens to Susannah, Jake and Callahan; 2) there's a rather bad taste joke about the chances of the World Trade Center collapsing; 3) King seems to have confused the character of Walter (the man in black) with that of Marten (who appears as Flagg in book four).  I'm sure he'll pass it off as part of the story, but it seems a silly mistake to make.

Followed by 'The Dark Tower'.

5 out of 5

 

The Dark Tower

Book seven and the end of a long road for fans of the series.  King uses this book in an attempt to truly tie together his entire writing career, as it combines elements from a great many of his most famous works, running from Walter's reminiscence of when he laid waste to an Earth under the name Flagg ('The Stand') to a creature that eats emotions and transforms into a clown and an insect ('It') and including characters from ''Salem's Lot', 'Hearts In Atlantis' and 'Insomnia'. 

The book has a good many ups and downs.  One of the best 'ups' is where the ka-tet of gunslingers, minus one of their number (I'll let you find out for yourself who's first to die), take on overwhelming odds to free the enslaved Breakers and save the beam that supports the Dark Tower.  However, one of the 'downs' is the Mordred storyline which will leave you thinking, 'okay, just get on with it and have the confrontation!'. 

Another thing I didn't like, and which King actually addresses in the text, is the increasing inclusion of made up words.  Ka-tet I could deal with, but here King bombards us with dan-tete, can'ka-no rey, ves'-ka gan and a variety of others, as if he suddenly decided to create a language only his fans understand (a la Tolkien's elvish) at the eleventh hour. 

As for the ending, I won't say whether I was pleased or disappointed (I'm not sure I've decided yet - these books certainly leave you pondering), but I will say that it's clever and probably appropriate.  After all, ka is a wheel.

4 out of 5

 

The Drawing Of The Three

The second Dark Tower book begins with Roland being severely injured by lobstrosities (I won't even try to explain).  Knowing that he is dying, he happens across three doorways in reality, opening onto our own world, and sets about trying to draw forth the three who will accompany him to the Dark Tower, as prophesied in 'The Gunslinger'. 

The story becomes increasingly bizarre and yet remains completely believable, thanks to King's remarkable talent and vision.  Roland's character deepens as he is forced into companionship with Eddie and Susannah/Detta and their stories are also remarkably compelling, with Eddie's struggle with drug addiction and Susannah's struggle with the vile woman who shares her mind. 

Finally, Roland's confrontation with 'Death' is riveting and reveals alot about what happened to Jake in the previous book.  Another stunningly disturbing and emotional story that I found totally engrossing.

Followed by 'The Wastelands'.

5 out of 5

 

The Eyes Of The Dragon

Now, Stephen King is a great writer and I'm very glad I had already experienced that before reading this particular piece of trash.  With this book King has tried to combine his background in horror writing with a lively fantasy tale for children; however, what he achieves is a massive failure on all fronts. 

I'll deal with them one at a time:  first, the horror.  The horror element of this book is the sort of dire pantomime evil you'd expect from a late-night B-movie.  The villain, Flagg, is frankly ridiculous and his evil ways and assertions that he will decapitate the prince will have you laughing rather than shuddering in terror.  This was such a disappointment if you've read Flagg's other incarnations in King's books. 

Next problem is the target audience.  I'm not ashamed to read books written for younger readers because, in the majority of cases, the author knows not to patronise the kids which therefore make the books fairly adult and, once again, here King stumbles.  The prose gives you the impression that the author is trying to communicate with a particularly dull-witted five-year old and lacks flow, imagination, vocabulary and a basic sense of style. 

Finally, I come to the story itself.  King hasn't even bothered to come up with a new story, instead using a very familiar-feeling tale about a king who is poisoned by his magician, a prince wrongly accused of the crime and exiled and another prince corrupted into a puppet ruler by the magician.  It's all so deplorably unoriginal that I struggled to read the book all the way through, because I already knew exactly where the story was going. 

I urge children, fantasy lovers and horror fans alike to avoid this book like the plague.  For God's sake read King's awesome Dark Tower books instead!

1 out of 5

 

The Gunslinger

Dark Tower book one.  Written by King over the course of sixteen years, 'The Gunslinger' became the beginning of the author's most personal work, The Dark Tower series.  Seamlessly comprised of a series of linked short stories, this book is a great piece of literature.  Its genius comes from the fact that the world of Roland the Gunslinger adheres to no rules and nothing is fixed, creating an ethereal dream-like quality that I can't say I've encountered in any other book (except the other Dark Tower books of course!). 

In this book we slowly come to know Roland, the last of a noble breed of warrior-guardians, who chooses to give up all other concerns beside the hunt for the man in black, and beyond that his quest to reach the Dark Tower at the centre of all realities.  Roland is a masterfully created character, being both tragic and heroic and, ultimately, something of a monster. 

This book mixes Western, horror, fantasy and science fiction creating a book of such character and diversity that I command everyone to read it and shall personally feed those who don't to the Slow Mutants.  And keep your eyes peeled for a crow whose favourite phrase is "Screw you and the horse you rode in on".

Followed by 'The Drawing Of The Three'.

4 out of 5

 

The Stand

I'll say first off that I read the author's expanded edition of this book (weighing in at a hefty 1421 pages) and had high expectations of what some call King's best book.  I can honestly say that my expectations have never been so dramatically exceeded! 

The book begins by revealing the dramas in the lives of its numerous main characters (although primarily Nick, Stu, Fran and Larry).  One of King's greatest talents is his ability to focus in on the ordinary in order to help us connect with the extraordinary and that is how he plays it here.  Just about anyone reading this book will be able to relate to one or all of its main characters in some way. 

The story moves along, following the progress of a bioengineered superflu, created as a weapon by the U.S government, as an accident rapidly spreads it across America.  Of all the dark themes featured in this book, the most terrifying scenes are where the U.S Army, focusing its resources on covering up its involvement and the very existance of the plague, begins summarily executing members of the civilian media.  Originally conceived during the Cold War, this is King's sharp jab at the political attitude that anything goes as long as you're not caught doing it.  The most chilling element of these scenes in the book is the tragic and horrifying believability of it all.  Worse still, and again bringing up Cold War parallels, is where the U.S deliberately spread the plague to China and Russia to ensure mutual destruction. 

The few survivors of the plague struggle with the creeping insanity of a world without rules and all but devoid of people.  Eventually, however, they begin to experience dreams of an old black woman, Mother Abigail, and a sinister dark man, Randall Flagg.  These dreams draw a line in the sand and King separates the good from the evil in the way of classic fantasy.  However, as you can expect, it's not nearly that simple and both sides are filled with individuals who are divided within themselves.  Finally, four men of the Boulder Free Zone head west on a mission from God, to face down Flagg in his own base, Las Vegas. 

This book is by turns humourous, depressing, uplifting, terrifying, exciting, intriguing and always thought-provoking.  Questions are asked about the nature of good and evil, the structure of society (Glen Bateman's character - a sociologist - is the perfect tool for pulling our own culture apart piece by piece) and King doesn't always see fit to provide answers, quite deliberately.  If ever human nature was condensed into a mere (!) 1400 pages, then this is the book where it happens. 

Genuinely one of my favourite books of all time.

5 out of 5

 

The Wastelands

Darl Tower book three.  By now you'll be beginning to wonder about Mr. King's sanity, but by no means will you wan't to stop reading about Roland, Eddie and Susannah as they begin their journey to the Dark Tower. 

The story begins with the brilliantly mindbending paradox that threatens to destroy both Roland and the boy Jake, in our own world.  Jake was killed before meeting Roland in 'The Gunslinger' but Roland then prevented Jake's murder in 'The Drawing Of The Three' and this discrepancy is tearing both characters' minds apart (and maybe yours too!).  The only way to save them both is to complete the drawing of the three and bring Jake into Roland's world, but evil forces are turned against them. 

Later, the questors (including a billy-bumbler - again, I won't try to explain) enter the post-apocalyptic city of Lud.  In the creation of Lud and its inhabitants King has outdone himself and I guarantee that you will find your sleep haunted by the city's drums (all guarantees not legally binding). 

The book ends on a cliff-hanger with the heroes attempting to match wits with an insane genius of a monorail, but rather than leaving you feeling unfulfilled, the ending will leave you thirsting for more!  Things get weirder, but also better and better.

Followed by 'Wizard and Glass'.

5 out of 5

 

The Wind Through The Keyhole

Dark Tower book 4.5 (according to King himself).  This book, written years after the completion of the series, takes place between 'Wizard and Glass' and 'Wolves of the Calla'; featuring a tale within a tale within a tale.

At first I was very dubious about the idea of King revisiting the Dark Tower series.  It was his magnum opus and, unlike so many multi-book series authors, it was finished.  To go back and plop another novel amid the other ones seemed somewhat sacreligious and, if I'm honest, a bit of a cynical money-grab.  However, the truth is that it took me all of two pages to settle happily back into the adventures of Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy.  They felt like old friends who I'd not seen in far too long.

Another element which worried me was the 'tale within a tale within... etc' concept.  I had found Roland's flashbacks some of the harder parts of the main series to get through; enjoying them, yes, but wishing things would get back to the main protagonists in the 'now'.  However, here Roland's storytelling was my favourite aspect.  Basically, he tells a story of one of his youthful adventures to his ka-tet and amid that story, the younger Roland tells a fairytale to a young boy.  It was the fairytale, whose title is shared by the novel, which was by far the best part of this book.  It is a perfectly-formed coming-of-age story about a young boy who braves the wilderness, a dark wizard and the myriad dangers of Mid World in order to save his mother and bring justice to his father's killer.  And it doesn't hurt that elements of that fairytale are clearly foreshadowing of other characters and events in the larger Dark Tower series.

Compared to the other books of the series (well, except 'The Gunslinger') this a quite a short book and, of necessity, doesn't have anything that will cause lasting impressions on the overarching plot.  However, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read which happily took me back to the darkly wonderous world of the Dark Tower.

Followed by 'Wolves of the Calla'.

5 out of 5

 

Wizard And Glass

Dark Tower book four.  Roland and company continue their quest to reach the Dark Tower, but as reality begins to fall apart around them, Roland recounts the story of his early life as a Gunslinger. 

The majority of the book is taken up by Roland's tale, which is a mixture of Western and love story.  This core flashback, does admittedly drag at times, but when you finally get through it you will have such a deep and insightful understanding of Roland, who was always a bit of a mystery before, that it will have all been worth it.  King should be applauded with the sincerity of feeling he instills in the relationship between Roland and Susan Delgado and the Big Coffin Hunters are the perfect counterpoint to the three young Gunslingers. 

The ending is slightly odder than usual (and that's saying something), with Roland, Eddie, Susannah and Jake putting on ruby shoes to enter an emerald city to see the resident wizard.  All told, this isn't quite as good as the previous books but is nevertheless an enjoyable next step towards the Dark Tower that haunts readers as much as the characters.

Followed by 'The Wind Through the Keyhole'.

4 out of 5

 

Wolves Of The Calla

Dark Tower book five.  Here, the Gunslingers go to the aid of Calla Bryn Sturgis, a town threatened by the impending attack of the Wolves.  But there is more going on than it first seems, with a new addition to their Ka-tet, the appearance of the most powerful stone of the Wizard's Rainbow and Susannah being plagued by a new fractious personality. 

The introduction of Callahan is a masterstroke, allowing King to take an old character (from 'Salem's Lot') and unveil how, after his departure from the original story, he travelled to various levels of the Dark Tower.  Also, the mystery of the Wolves adds both tension and intrigue that ends explosively in the story's finale. 

The new characters are all of exceptional quality, being 100% believable, with their own hopes, fears and psychosis.  The old characters also continue to develop as Roland has to deal with increasing decriptude, Susannah comes to realise that she is pregnant with a demon's spawn, Eddie begins to accept the responsibility of being Roland's first and foremost apprentice and Jake becomes a man and a gunslinger at the same time.  (Oy also develops the ability to speak more and also do a Roland impression!). 

Comic, tragic, scary, inspirational, dreamlike and harshly real, 'Wolves of the Calla' is a contradiction of ideas that somehow manages to come across entire coherently.  I'm only sorry that there's just two books left to come before the series is finished.

Followed by 'Song of Susannah'.

5 out of 5

Collaborations & Anthologies:

Legends (here)

Read more...

Fantasy (here)

Horror (here)