Friday, 4 March 2011

17/111 - The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

I’m going to try to review this now without going into another tangent on Stephen King, though it might be hard (I am super excited about the announcement of his new book in November…) I’ve had The Eyes of the Dragon for several years now, but always ended up sidelining it in favour of either another Stephen King book or something else entirely. I thought that it was one of his earliest books, but it was actually published in 1987. The only reason I can think that I skittered around it for so long was that it is much more fantasy-based than much of his other stuff. I concerns Kings and a fantasy universe where magic is a reality, and whilst I like fantasy, I don’t like much of the really heavy stuff.

For the same reason, until last year I hadn’t read any of the Dark Tower series – I was afraid that it would be too fantasy-based and that I wouldn’t be able to let go and immerse myself in that world. Last year it finally dawned on me that I was quickly running out of Stephen King books, and that it would be stupid of me to ignore one of his largest works so far. So I read them. All of them, one after the other. I had read The Gunslinger previously, but I re-read it to refresh my memory of it. And I really enjoyed it. It took me a couple of months to finish all the books - some of them are pretty hefty - but I got there in the end. What was significant for me, I think, was that it opened my eyes to the fact that a good writer can write across any genre and still make their stories compelling and their characters concrete. The genre itself doesn’t matter so much – a shitty writer will probably be shitty in whatever they do.

I also knew that The Eyes of the Dragon ties in a little with the Stephen King Universe, which is another thing I really love about Stephen King. I find it really satisfying to make all the small connections, and even the bigger ones. In this case, one of the characters in The Eyes of the Dragon is Flagg, who appears in The Stand and in The Dark Tower series. He’s an evil magician full of mischief whose only aim in life is to cause the downfall and misery of others. He is ageless and more than a little crazy.

The book itself tells the story of the Kingdom of Delain, ruled by King Roland. Roland has two sons; Peter, the eldest and Thomas, the youngest. The Queen, Sasha, dies giving birth to Thomas and so the motherless Princes battle for the affections of their father, who only really has time for Peter. Meanwhile Flagg senses that when Peter ascends to the throne that he will have no place in the new Kingdom. Wanting to cause as much chaos as possible, Flagg poisons the King and implicates Peter in the murder. Thomas, the marginalised son, takes the throne.

 I enjoyed this a fair amount. If anything I thought it could have been longer. I didn’t get enough of a sense of the harm that had been done whilst Peter was imprisoned and Thomas was in power. There was a lot of opportunity to explore more of the stories of the people, or the nobles in exile, which was a bit of a shame. But already at 400 pages, I guess it was long enough. I find that quite often with Stephen King, his attention to detail and his explorations of human behaviour are so true and full that I want more and more, and could probably go on reading indefinitely. I guess he has to stop somewhere.

It’s definitely not my favourite of his, but it definitely has many of the elements in it which I consider to be integral to his style. Some particularly good moments were the complicated feelings Thomas experiences towards his brother and father. Even though some of his stories are classic battles between good and evil, King often likes to play with the boundaries between 'good' and 'bad' characters, which he does really well on this domestic front as well as on grander scales. A good read.

Next up: The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

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