By JENN ADAMS
At this point in his career, prolific author Stephen King has already given us plenty of material. For the past fifty years, he’s been churning out best sellers at a pace unmatched by any writer of his caliber around the world. Just six months after the release of Gwendy’s Final Task, King released FAIRY TALE, a novel that signals a bit of a departure from his usual style and possibly a new phase in his career. King returns to the fantasy genre 18 years after his celebrated completion of The Dark Tower series with an adventure into another world. Not Midworld, his nebulous fantasy realm that contains the Tower, the Beams, and the Dark Man himself. Not Delain, the world Jack Sawyer crosses to save his mother. This world is Empis, a realm of skeleton armies, mermaid-eating giants, and a magic sundial that can turn back time itself. While this world doesn’t specifically connect to any place King has written about before, it does bear out a prophecy from The Gunslinger, King’s first notable fantasy novel: “there are other worlds than these.” At more than 600 pages, FAIRY TALE is a large and unwieldy bridge between our reality and a new world filled with dangerous adventures.
Charlie Reade is a high school senior when he stumbles upon his injured neighbor, Mr. Howard Bowditch while walking home from school. Feeling like he owes a debt from the past, Charlie sees Mr. Bowditch to the hospital and sticks around to feed and care for his elderly dog, Radar. As he grows closer to the old man, he becomes more and more curious about Mr. Bowditch’s reclusive lifestyle, the gold pellets hidden within his crumbling house, and mysterious noises coming from a shed in the backyard. When Mr. Bowditch suddenly dies, Charlie is faced with a choice: journey to an alternate world in order to save Radar’s life or remain in our world and enjoy the short months he and his new canine companion have left. Charlie descends the long and winding stairs into Empis and faces an adventure the likes of which few of us have ever seen. But will he be able to return?
King’s newest novel could be split neatly into two parts: our world and Empis. The first third of Charlie’s adventure involves the early death of his mother, his father’s resulting descent into addiction, and his burgeoning friendship with Mr. Bowditch. We’re instantly drawn into Charlie’s inner life and it’s tempting to want to stay there for the entire novel. The story picks up a bit once he meets Mr. Bowditch and, just like Charlie, we fall head over heels in love with Radar. Charlie’s love for the “good girl” endears him to the reader despite the fact that his overall personality is rather dull. A dog lover himself, King writes Radar with so much compassion that she becomes an important character in the story and a believable reason for Charlie to risk his life. The friendship that develops between the much older Mr. Bowditch and his teenaged assistant is reminiscent of the relationship King explores in his recent novella, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, and the much darker, Apt Pupil, a novella from his first collection. As King enters the twilight years of his career, these mentor relationships begin to take on new meaning and the prolific author seems to be reckoning with the legacy he will leave behind.
It’s perhaps not surprising to learn that Charlie does venture into the new world. The first part of this journey is a road adventure as he struggles to take Radar to the magical sundial that will give the two new friends more time together. In order to get there, he must travel through the lair of a hideous giant named Hannah and her equally depraved daughter Red Molly. These hideous beasts are both terrifying and disgusting, the perfect foil for a fantasy adventure. Unfortunately we don’t get to spend much time with them. King is more interested in the haunted city and a terrifying tyrant ruler called Flight-Killer. While some of Charlie’s journey through Empis is thrilling, particularly a night trek through the haunted city, this stretch ultimately proves to be confusing and ill-defined; a frustrating slog through a world we don’t really understand. Radar is sidelined for large stretches of the narrative as well and it’s difficult to resist skipping ahead a few pages to get back to the heart of the story.
King’s newest novel is very good. True to form, the seasoned author draws his characters well, making us reluctant to leave them behind. However, FAIRY TALE bears little resemblance to the horror King is known for. The novel is pure fantasy, more akin to his Dark Tower series than his time in Derry or Castle Rock. But Roland’s adventures with his ka-tet consist of eight novels and a multitude of tie-ins and connections in other work. FAIRY TALE ultimately feels like two different novels jammed into one. The sections in Empis feel rushed and hastily developed while the sections with Charlie and Mr. Bowditch feel forgotten by the end of the book. King tends to reinvent himself every seven years or so and it’s likely this will be the beginning of a new phase in his career. We may see more jaunts to this fantasy world in the future, but for now, what we have is an entertaining romp that sags a bit in the middle.
He’s written fantasy along with horror his entire career? Almost all of his novels are related in some way to his fantasy universe. He’s almost written more fantasy novels than any other genre of you remove his mystery novels, and most of his horror is fantasy based. But even if we’re talking true swords and sorcery fantasy then he’s no strange to that either. Eyes of the Dragon came out decades ago.
Glewwurn, you took the words right out of my mouth. This is nothing new for King or long time King fans.
Fairy Tale is exciting & enchanting in so many ways! Not 1 of the 600 pages lags i ANY WAY!! You’re obviously not an avid reader!
Also, S.K. has written horror, thrillers, mysteries, stories of elation, love stories & even some poetry. I am a constant reader & have read 42 of his 64 stories. When YOU have read that many of his works, perhaps it will make YOU a true critic! L. Deeney
To review this novel without any reference to the homage to Lovecraft (a writer who does not deserve homage) is rather silly. Right or wrong, the influence of Lovecraft is all over the landscape
Yip. Got to mention the strong nod to Lovecraft in Fairy Tale.
You might want to read up on Ms. Adams before you make an accusation like that. For one, according to your volunteered stats, it appears she has read more Stephen King than you. I’ve also literally never met anyone in my life who is a bigger, more thoughtful and more passionate Stephen King fan. Just because someone has a different opinion than yours does not make them any less of a knowledgeable fan.
It was a good read. His character names and language use were a bit out of his normal style but he did a great job placing you in the other world. It had plenty of twists and turns, and didnt lack interesting thrills. If you are a fan of King, it’s definitely a bit different, but for sure has his personal style.
It was one of my favourite stories. I fell in love with all the characters, some reminded me a bit of Neil Gainmam folk. I started reading King in 1978 with The Stand and haven’t stopped since.
I loved it! I only felt the first 200 pages was a little to wordy. And could have been cut down a bit.
I loved it! I was hooked from start to finish. Loooved the plot and characters. I thought the pace of the novel was just fine. Stephen King knocked this one out of the park. Magic, Adventure, Horror and Fantasy all in one and tied together with a nice, big, red bow! Go read this book! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Loved the book from the beginning and was sad when it ended. I feel this way after most King novels. The characters come alive with the angst of being human , whether they are fighting with the hero and good or are dark and destructive.
Read and ENJOY.
Iam a big SK fan and really liked this book. I was so endeared to many of the characters and he put in a lot of words that caused me to look up the definitions which I love to do! Yes, the love of that dog was tugging at my heart!
I have been reading Stephen King since my youth.. I am 63 now. I absolutely LOVED this book. I hope he writes more like this in the future.
I fell in love w Mr. King in 1976 when I read Salems Lot. I’ve read and own all his books. I agree his work is a combo of horror and fantasy; and leaves the door open to future reality like The Stand vs COVID.
I an not quite through half of Fairy Tale but as one commented, it’s a page turner.
I can’t wait to get it.i was hooked when I read what was there