Showing posts with label Fantasy > Dark Fantasy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fantasy > Dark Fantasy. Show all posts

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Stephen King - The Shining 02 - Doctor Sleep

4.1  ·  Rating details ·  118,908 Ratings  ·  13,819 Reviews
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King download or read it online for free here
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
Stephen King returns to the characters and territory of one of his most popular novels ever, The Shining, in this instantly riveting novel about the now middle-aged Dan Torrance (the boy protagonist of The Shining) and the very special 12-year-old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless - mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky 12-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the "steam" that children with the "shining" produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father's legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant "shining" power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes "Doctor Sleep."

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan's own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra's soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of hyper-devoted fans of The Shining and wildly satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.

“FEAR stands for fuck everything and run.”

“There came a time when you realized that moving on was pointless. That you took yourself with you wherever you went.”

“The good thing about being old, is you don’t have to worry about dying young.”

“Life was a wheel, its only job was to turn, and it always came back to where it started.”


Get ready. If I can make just one recommendation: whether you're a longtime King fan or fairly new to his stuff, it wouldn't be the worst thing to read The Shining before you get your hands on Doctor Sleep. 
Seasoned fans know that the movie, while engrossing in its own right, is very different in many ways, and doesn't even begin to plumb the psychological depths that the book does. You could read and love Doctor Sleep without doing so, but I think people's experiences of this sequel will only be enriched by first checking out one of the mothers of all horror novels.
A sequel, huh? I didn't feel much for Danny when I was going through The Shining since Jack Torrance pretty much had me by the balls, but I guess - this being a Stephen King book - I can give it a try.

Oh, who am I kidding?
There is a boy (now a man) a girl, a band of baddies with a charismatic leader, a coalition of the willing, battles to be fought, supernatural elements and magical powers. Stephen King was at this long before Harry Potter lived under the stairs. He has a preternatural (not to say supernatural) talent for writing kids, and can keep you turning pages, losing sleep, and getting back late to work from your lunch breaks.

We will presume for the purposes of this review that you have read, or at least seen one version of The Shining. If you have not, read no further, as there are details here that would be considered spoilerish were they to appear in a review of that book. And if you have not read The Shining you should probably do so before taking on Doctor Sleep, a sequel. Ok, everyone here has read The Shining, yes? All right, but we are using the honor system here, and do not want to ruin the fun of reading that one for anyone. So, as long as you’re sure…

At the end of The Shining, three people survive the carnage, Danny Torrance, a five year old with a special gift, Wendy Torrance, Danny’s mother and newly widowed wife of the late Jack Torrance, and Dick Halloran, an employee of The Overlook and possessor of a gift like Danny’s, one that allowed him to hear Danny’s psychic 911 call and return from his home in Florida in time to do something about it. What happened next?
King does not typically do sequels, if one does not count books that are part of a planned series, but

    Every now and then somebody would ask, ‘Whatever happened to Danny?’ I used to joke around and say, ‘He married Charlie McGee from Firestarter and they had these amazing kids!’ But I did sort of wonder about it. – (from EW)

One of the central features of The Shining was Jack’s Torrance’s battle with alcoholism. As with the real world, King’s fictional realm notes that alcoholism runs in families. And one of the criticisms of The Shining was that the possibility of Jack considering getting some help from AA is never even raised. If King has ever considered that to have been an oversight, I have not seen that interview. But it is clear that he has given the matter some thought.

    Jack Torrance never tries Alcoholics Anonymous. That is never even mentioned in "The Shining." He has what they call white-knuckle sobriety. He's doing it all by himself. So, I wondered what it would be like to see Danny first as an alcoholic, and then see him in AA. (from an NPR Interview)

It gives nothing away to let you know that Danny is a true Torrance. Not only does he self-medicate to quiet the terrors that still haunt him, he is far from the best person he can be.

    I knew if I did this sequel I’d have to try to put together some of the same elements, but at the same time I didn’t want to make it too similar. I didn’t want to make Danny a grown up with kids of his own, and try to replicate that whole losing-your-temper-because-you’re-drunk thing. But I did think to myself: ‘Not only alcoholism can be a family disease, but rage can be a family disease.’ You find that the guys who abuse their children were abused themselves as kids. That certainly fit Danny as I knew him. – from EW

All SK novels require a baddie, or a set of them. No disappointment here. King has again succeeded in taking the ordinary and making it horrifying.

    Driving back and forth from Maine to Florida, which I do twice a year, I’m always seeing all these recreational vehicles — the bounders in the Winnebagos. I always think to myself, ‘Who is in those things?’ You pass them a thousand times at rest stops. They’re always the ones wearing the shirts that say ‘God Does Not Deduct From a Lifespan Time Spent Fishing.’ They’re always lined up at the McDonald’s, slowing the whole line down. And I always thought to myself, ‘There’s something really sinister about those people because they’re so unobtrusive, yet so pervasive.’ I just wanted to use that. It would be the perfect way to travel around America and be unobtrusive if you were really some sort of awful creature. – from EW

This wandering band call themselves The True Knot. They feed on the essence of those gifted with the sort of talent people like Danny possess. It provides them with extraordinary longevity, but as with their Transylvanian counterparts, the need is ongoing and the supply is limited. Like right-wing politicians they are more than happy to gorge on the pain of others and are shown here feasting on the spirits set adrift on 9/11. The usual condiments for this substance they call steam will not do. The taste and benefit is enhanced, however, if their victims endure extreme and prolonged torture. Does Ted Cruz drive a Winnebago? King gives the members Damon Runyon-esque names, like Crow Daddy, Steamboat Steve and Tommy the Truck.

And what of our young heroine? Abra is born with a shining of prodigious proportions. (btw, the name Abra was inspired by Abra Bacon, a character in East of Eden) She manages to send out a signal even when she is newly arrived. She’s a good kid, despite scaring her parents on occasion with tricks like making all the silverware in the kitchen take to the air, or causing the odd earthquake when she does a mental Bruce (or if you prefer, David) Banner. Don’t make her angry. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry. Bad-ass teen girl power fuh shoo-uh. But, just as Danny needed Dick Hallorann and Tony, Abra needs help as well. That she and Danny will team up is a foregone conclusion.

As for Danny, the shining never left him, despite his attempts to wipe it out with spirits of a different sort. But he finds the help he needs and manages to put his talent to good use. He works in a hospice, the Helen Rivington House, in Frazier, NH, easing the transition for those near death, with the assistance of a resident feline, and earning himself the name Doctor Sleep, which also serves to remind us of what his parents called him.

    …It is this moment of transition that Doctor Sleep deals with and the idea, like so many of King's, came from an incidental story in a newspaper. This one was about "a cat in a hospice that knows when people are going to die. He would go into that patient's room and curl up next to them. And I thought, that's a good advertisement for death, for the emissary of death. I thought, 'I can make Dan the human equivalent of that cat, and call him Doctor Sleep.' There was the book." – from an interview in The Guardian

King has a bit of fun, naming the cat Azzie, short for Azreel, the archangel of death. Cute.

What else do you need, really? Dark vs light, colorful baddies vs our everyman and everygirl. And that is indeed enough. But it is not all that King uses. He gives us a look at how people can really help people overcome, or at least handle their problems. When asked, in the NPR interview, whether his AA depictions were from personal experience, King says that the second part of AA stands for Anonymous, so he declined to offer a yes or no, however

    You could say, having read these two books and knowing that I was a very heavy drinker at the time that I wrote "The Shining," and I haven't had a drink in about 25 years now - you could draw certain conclusions from that…I've done a lot of personal research in these subjects. - from NPR interview

AA figures very large in this story, is central really. And the wisdom one can find in AA permeates the novel, from the importance of recognizing that we need help from others, to accepting our past and dealing with it, a very strong, serious element.

King sets the time of the events by referring to external realities, like who the president is, calls on contemporary cultural references, such as a mention of the Sons of Anarchy and a Hank Wiliams Jr song. He also mentions a variety of other writers in his travels, some approvingly, (John Sandford, George Seferis, Bernard Malamud, Bill Wilson) some not so much (the authors of the Twilight and Hunger Games series, and Dean Koontz and Lisa Gardner, although he may merely be playing with the latter two). He also drops in an Easter egg reference to Salem’s Lot and make two references (that I caught anyway) to his son, Joe’s, imagined world from Joe’s book, NOS4A2.

It has been my experience with reading Stephen King that his conclusions sometimes offer a poor partner to the journey one takes in reaching them. That is much less the case here. The ending is not an alien spider disguised as Tim Curry with bad fashion sense or alien young playing with humans in a ham-fisted manner. And the journey is indeed fun. But I had some gripes. King gives Dick Hallorann a cameo here, which was fine, and the strongest of those. Tony returns for a look-see but goes alarmingly quiet at crucial moments. We could have used a lot more about Tony other than the weak explanation that is offered near the end. If the True Knot are so bad-ass, how come there are so few of them? There is an explanation offered of prey-predator stability of numbers, but I found that unpersuasive. And why the hell introduce. This is one that actively irked.

Sequels present a danger. One of the things that is stimulating about any book, any story is newness. That is why most sequels are not as popular as their predecessors. It is hard to avoid a been-there-done-that problem when working atop existing material. The next story in line is unlikely to retain the sparkle, the shine of what went before. Given the constraints, Doctor Sleep fares better than most as a follow-on. There is enough distance in the story from the events of the past, and little enough overlap with those characters that the story seems fresh. When events from The Shining are mentioned, they do inform the current action and do not distract much. In fact there could have been more of that. So, in that way, this is a very nice addition. There is another element involved. Any event, any activity, is a product of the thing itself and of the perspective from which we view or participate in it. I read The Shining many years ago. I was an adult then, in my late twenties, and remember it as a VERY SCARY story. I have not come across much in horror lit that is still scary in that way, in the several decades since. I will not have any nights (on in my case days) of lost sleep because of the images King has proferred. But then, I am getting on, and am looking at those scary things with aging eyes. Someone younger (which would be almost all of you reading this) might find them far more frightening than I did.

So while Doctor Sleep might not cause much by way of lost rest, it is good, mainstream Stephen King and thus, hardly a snooze. The Doctor of Horror is in. Wake up!
Once upon a time, there was a girl. She liked to read, but was at a crossroads between being too old for childish books, and a bit too young for cheesy romance novels with Fabio on the cover. The girl loved scary movies and all things horror and wondered if maybe there were things written like that. She asked the librarian, who handed her a book. The girl ran home and closed herself up in her room.
 She sat down and started to read a book called Carrie, by an author named Stephen King. She devoured that book and went on to read every single book by her new favorite author, including those under the name Richard Bachman. When those ran out, she explored different authors like Koontz, Saul, Cook, and Crichton, just to name a few. So many doors were opened and so many journeys taken, worlds explored, over many years. Maybe I'll get back to this story a bit later.
When I heard that Doctor Sleep was coming out I immediately pre-ordered it on Amazon. I rarely do this, but for King I tend to make exceptions. Finally, the other day my Kindle got a present.
I'll admit, for the first 15% of the book it was a bit slow for me. I started to panic, envisioning Under the Dome, which sits on my kindle shelf. A book that I've tried to read twice, without success. I didn't want Doctor Sleep, which features one of my favorite characters, to fall by the wayside and have the same fate. Luckily it picked up and I was trapped in the pages.
Doctor Sleep is said to be The Shining 2. While some parts of this may be true, for the most part it's a standalone. You do not have to read The Shining to read this. Read it anyway because it's fuckawesome. There is no spooktastic Overlook Hotel, it has long ago perished. The only real connection between the two books is Dan, our main. Dan, who was a five year old scared little boy in The Shining, now a man. A man who is a fucked up alcoholic hot mess.
The villains aren't ghosts of a haunted hotel, but beings (like vampires, I guess), who kill children who Shine. Sucking up their essence as they die.
I won't say more about the story. I'm not here to give a full blown play by play, because in essence, then why would you need to read the book?
I can say this. If someone who had never read Stephen King, asked me if this should be their first book, I would say no. I would send them the direction of Cujo or Pet Sematary, or Carrie, Salem's Lot. This is a quieter Stephen King. It is not a horror story. There's no hiding under the blankets or checking the drain in the bathroom, looking for a creepy clown named Pennywise. The bad guys aren't scary. More like washed up. Shadows of what a bad guy should be. Stephen King knows how to write villains. Randall Flagg, Pennywise, Cujo, a baby named Gage, even a prison guard named Percy. I repeat, this is really not a horror story.
For those of us who have read The Shining, what a joy it was to see some characters we loved from that book. I wish Tony had more of a story, I'm always curious about him. Perhaps a book for Tony, Mr. King?
For me, reading Dan again was like meeting an old friend after many years. He was forever frozen as a boy in my mind. Now he has come full circle. When you finish a book, normally that's it. Time goes on, you read new books, get involved with new characters. They, in turn, become frozen. What a gift to be able to revisit a character after all this time.
My final thoughts. I highly recommend this book. If you're holding out because you haven't read The Shining, don't. Doctor Sleep is well written, snarky at times as only Mr. King can be, and will suck you in. I even cried once or twice, yes, from The Master of Horror.
A very good Stephen King book.

I went to see a concert last year featuring Joan Jett, Cheap Trick and Heart. Promoters called it the Hall of Fame tour because all three bands were in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was a great show, we had a blast. I got the impression that any of these talented professionals could put on a great show in their sleep. They’ve been doing it so long that they knew their craft as well as how to win over a crowd.

Stephen King is also a wily old master craftsman who knows how to grab a reader and hold him entranced for hundreds of pages. Hell, he’s practically a genre unto himself now, leaving behind the Horror and Fantasy schools for a stage just for him. And while I would agree that he, like Joan Jett and Ann Wilson, could put on a great show without trying very hard, I think he did put some extra effort into Doctor Sleep, his 2013 sequel to his 1980 masterpiece The Shining.

While this takes off from where The Shining left off and then goes on to tell its own story, this is in many ways an amalgam of many of his best stories and returns to many of the themes that have made him one of our most successful writers. I noticed elements of Pet Sematary, Firestarter, and The Dead Zone. Besides trying to scare the heeby-jeebies out of us, King explores themes of family, life and death, extra sensory perceptions, and the demons that haunt us, paranormal and mundane.

King, a recovering alcoholic, wrote The Shining as an alcoholic and Doctor Sleep speaks from this mature, embattled perspective. Sadly, but fittingly, little Danny Torrance becomes too much like his father and has succumbed to his inherited drinking problem. King shares with us, no doubt from much of his own experience, how Alcoholics Anonymous helps Dan Torrance survive and thrive in sobriety, but also shares Dan’s rock bottom and how this hidden secret gnaws at Torrance as much as the ghosts form the Overlook Hotel. In this way, King provides an allegory for secrets held and like so much of his writing, finds the horrific without delving too far into fantasy. We are our own worst enemies – and nightmares.

Years after the tragedy at the Overlook, Dan Torrance is making his way from childhood to alcoholic despondency to an edgy and fragile temperance. Like most recovering alcoholics, he takes his life one step at a time, and one day at a time. And his gift of shining remains. Using his special abilities to help dying patients in a hospice, he has come to the sobriquet of Doctor Sleep. It is here that Dan discovers a young girl who makes his shining look dim by comparison; as his is a flashlight, hers is a light house. Dan also discovers an antagonistic group who feed on human suffering, and the suffering of those with the shining is their most cherished delicacy.

Rose the Hat. Leading this group of psychic vampires is one of King’s most devilish and engaging characters. From Northern Ireland (centuries ago – drawing on the vampire parallel) Rose was once Irish Rose, but now in her leadership role, she is Rose the Hat, appearing with a cocked to one side old top hat. King has made a good living on making bad guys scary and evil and in Rose he has given us one of his most dire, giving old Barlow a run for his money.

So I raise my lighter to you, Mr. King, great show.

The Shining by Stephen King

Stephen King - The Shining 01 - The Shining

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  840,916 Ratings  ·  15,341 Reviews
Jack Torrance's new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he'll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote...and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.
The Shining by Stephen King  download or read it online for free
The Shining by Stephen King

“Sometimes human places, create inhuman monsters.”

“Wendy? Darling? Light, of my life. I'm not gonna hurt ya. I'm just going to bash your brains in.”

“This inhuman place makes human monsters.”

“The world's a hard place, Danny. It don't care. It don't hate you and me, but it don't love us, either. Terrible things happen in the world, and they're things no one can explain. Good people die in bad, painful ways and leave the folks that love them all alone. Sometimes it seems like it's only the bad people who stay healthy and prosper. The world don't love you, but your momma does and so do I.”

“Monsters are real. Ghosts are too. They live inside of us, and sometimes, they win.”

“The tears that heal are also the tears that scald and scourge.”

“But see that you get on. That's your job in this hard world, to keep your love alive and see that you get on, no matter what. Pull your act together and just go on.”


This scene from Friends pretty much sums up my feelings about this book:

"Rachel: Hmm. (she opens the freezer) Umm, why do you have a copy of The Shining in your freezer?

Joey: Oh, I was reading it last night, and I got scared, so.

Rachel: But ah, you’re safe from it if it’s in the freezer?

Joey: Well, safer. Y'know, I mean I never start reading The Shining, without making sure we’ve got plenty of room in the freezer, y'know.

Rachel: How often do you read it?

Joey: Haven’t you ever read the same book over and over again?

Rachel: Well, umm, I guess I read Little Women more than once. But I mean that’s a classic, what’s so great about The Shining?

Joey: The question should be Rach, what is not so great about The Shining. Okay? And the answer would be: nothing. All right? This is like the scariest book ever. I bet it’s way better than that classic of yours."
If you have not read The Shining already do not overlook the opportunity presented by the publication of Doctor Sleep, the sequel, to revisit one of the best ghost stories of our time. The appearance of the follow up offers a perfect justification for stepping through those bat-wing doors for the first time. 
It has been a lifetime since I read The Shining for the first time, over thirty years ago. I enjoyed it then for its effectiveness in telling a scary, no, a very scary story. Reading it now is colored, as is all of life, by our accumulation (or lack of accumulation) of experience. We see, or appreciate colors, textures, shapes, structures, and feelings with more experienced, educated eyes. We have seen, or are at least aware of real world things that are scarier than any fictional spectres. So, what does it look like through old, cloudy lenses?

It remains a very scary story. The things that stand out for me now are not so much the deader rising up out of a bathtub to pursue a curious child, although that is still pretty creepy, or the mobile topiary, which still works pretty well at making the hair on one’s neck and arms stand at attention. But King was using the haunted house trope to look at more personal demons. And those shine through more clearly now.
He had some drinking issues at the time he wrote the book, when he was 30, and concern about that is major here. Jack Torrance is an alcoholic, no question. He also has issues with anger management, not that the little shit he clocks while teaching at a New England prep school didn’t have it coming. He did. But one cannot do that to a student, however deserving, and expect to remain employed for long. His little boy, however, most certainly did not deserve a broken arm. Jack is very remorseful, and wants to make things right. He manages to get a gig taking care of the Overlook Hotel in Colorado over the winter. It will offer him a chance to get something right after a string of getting things wrong, offer a chance to save his marriage, and offer an opportunity to work on his unfinished play. Risky? Sure. But a gamble worth taking. And his wife, Wendy, agrees, despite having serious misgivings. There are no attractive alternatives.

Of course, we all know that the Overlook is not your typical residence. Odd things happen, sounds are heard, thoughts from somewhere outside find their way into your mind. Jack is targeted, and boy is he vulnerable.

But five-year-old Danny is the real key here. He is the proud possessor of an unusual talent, the shining of the book’s title. Danny can not only do a bit of mind-reading, he can also see things that other people cannot. And for a little guy he has a huge talent. He also has an invisible friend named Tony with whom only he can communicate.

It is difficult to think about the book without finding our mental screens flickering with the images of Jack Nicholson in full cartoonish psycho rage, the very effective sound of a Big Wheel followed by a steadicam coursing through the long halls of the hotel, and the best casting decision ever in choosing Scatman Crothers to play Dick Halloran. By the way, the hotel is based on a real-world place, the Stanley Hotel, in Estes Park, Colorado. And the Overlook’s spooky room 217 was inspired by the supposedly haunted room 217 at the Stanley.
The room number was changed in the film to 237, at the request of the Timberline hotel, which was used for exterior shots. There is so much that differentiates Kubrick’s film from the book that they are almost entirely different entities. The differences do require a bit of attention here. First, and foremost, the book of The Shining is about the disintegration of a family due to alcoholism and anger issues. How a child survives in a troubled family is key. The film is pretty much pure spook house, well-done spook house, but solely spook house, nonetheless, IMHO. There is considerable back-story to Jack and Wendy that gets no screen time. You have to read the book to get that. Jack is a victim, as much as Wendy and Danny. You would never get that from the slobbering Jack of the film. The maze in the book was pretty cool, right? I liked it too, but it does not exist in the book. I believe it was put in to replace the talented topiary, which is the definition of a bad trade. There is significant violence in the book that never made its way into Kubrick’s film, but which very much raises a specter of domestic violence that is terrorizing real people living in real horror stories. There are a few lesser elements. Jack wielded a roque mallet, not an axe. Danny is not interrupted in his travels through the corridors by Arbus-like twin sisters. And the sisters in question are not even twins. Thereare plenty more, but you get the idea. An interesting film, for sure, but not really the most faithful interpretation of the book. King saw that a film that more closely reflected what he had written reached TV screens in 1997, with a six-hour mini-series version.
Irrelevancies of a personal nature
The opening shot was filmed on the Going–to-the-Sun Road in Montana’s Glacier National Park in Montana. I have had the pleasure (7 times in one visit) and recommend the drive wholeheartedly. It is a pretty narrow road though, so you will have to drive carefully. Bring along the appropriate musical media for the best effect, Wendy Carlos’s Rocky Mountain, and dress warmly. It was below freezing when I reached the top of the road, in August. Some exteriors for Kubrick’s film were shot at the Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon. I visited but did not stay there back in 2008. Sadly I do not have any decent personal photos from the place. I can report, though, on a bitof kitsch. There is a place in the hotel where an ax is lodged in a block of wood, with HEEEEERE’s JOHNNY on the ax, a tourist photo-op. And yes, I did. Sadly, or luckily, the shot did not come out well, so you will be spared.

Back to the book, Danny’s talent is a two-edged sword. He is afflicted with seeing more than anyone his age should have to see, but on the other hand, he has a tool he can use to try to save them all. Whether he can or not is a core tension element here.

King is fond of placing his stories in literary context. He peppers the text with references to various relevant books and authors. I expect these are meant to let us know his influences. Horace Walpole, author of The Castle of Otranto, a Gothic classic, is mentioned, as is Shirley Jackson, of Hill House fame. King had used a quote from this book in Salem’s Lot. A family saga rich with death and destruction, Cashelmara is mentioned as are some more contemporary items, like The Walton Family, the idealized antithesis to the Torrance Family, Where the Wild Things Are and novelist Frank Norris. The primary literary reference here is Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, which is cited many times. There had been a costume ball back in hotel’s history and it is the impending climax of that party, the unmasking, that looms here. And toss in nods to Treasure Island and Bluebeard for good measure.
King often includes writers in his work, avatars for himself.

    I write about writers because I know the territory. Also, you know it's a great job for a protagonist in a book. Without having to hold down a steady job, writers can have all sorts of adventures. Also, if they disappear, it's a long time before they are missed. Heh-heh-heh. – from an AOL interview 
Jack Torrance is a writer as well as a teacher. The play that Jack is writing undergoes a transformation that mirrors Jack’s own. In fact, there is a fair bit or mirroring going on here. Jack’s affection for his father as a kid was as strong as Danny's is for him. His father was an abusive alcoholic. While Jack is not (yet) the monster his father was, he is also an alcoholic with abusive tendencies.
I never had a father in the house. My mother raised my brother and I alone. I wasn’t using my own history, but I did tap into some of the anger you sometimes feel to the kids, where you say to yourself: I have really got to hold on to this because I’m the big person here, I’m the adult. One reason I wanted to use booze in the book is that booze has a tendency to fray that leash you have on your temper…For a lot of kids, Dad is the scary guy. It’s that whole thing where your mother says, ‘You just wait until your father comes home!” In The Shining, these people were snowbound in a hotel and Dad is always home! And Dad is fighting this thing with the bottle and he’s got a short temper anyway. I was kind of feeling my own way in that because I was a father of small children. And one of the things that shocked me about fatherhood was it was possible to get angry at your kids. (from the EW interview cited in Extra Stuff)
He’s right. I have had the pleasure and I know. Wendy gets some attention as well, as we learn a bit about her mother, and see Wendy’s fear that she has inherited elements of her mother’s awfulness.

Not everything shines here. There are times when five-year-old Danny seems much older than his tender years, even given his extraordinary circumstances. It struck me as surprising that there is no mention of anyone suggesting that maybe Jack might attend an AA meeting. But these are like single dead pixels on a large screen.

If you want to read horror tales that are straight up scare’ems, there are plenty in the world. But if you appreciate horror that offers underlying emotional content, and I know you do, my special gift tells me that The Shining is a brilliant example of how a master illuminates the darkness.
Quite simply put, The Shining is the best horror story I have ever read. It scared the hell out of me.

Over a period of time, I have noticed certain standard "motifs" in horror stories. One of these I call "The Lost Child". Such stories will typically involve a child, who can see what the silly grownups cannot see (or, even if they do see, don't acknowledge because it goes against reason and logic): and who fights, however high the odds stacked against him/ her are. Danny Torrance is such a boy.

Danny can read minds. He can see the frightening thoughts inside his Dad's and Mom's heads ("DIVORCE", "SUICIDE") but is powerless to do anything about it. Danny does not know that he has a gift; he takes it as a matter of course, until Dick Halloran of the Overlook Hotel tells him that he "shines on".

Jack Torrance, Danny's Dad, reformed alcoholic and struggling writer, is trying to put his life back together after a tragedy. He gets what he sees as the ideal chance when he lands the job of caretaker of the Overlook Hotel for the winter. In the snowed-in hotel with only his son and wife Wendy, Jack assumes that he will get enough quality time to be with his family, patch up old quarrels, and write that breakout novel.

But the Overlook has other plans. The hotel, which feeds on and grows in strength from the evils committed on its premises, wants Danny-permanently-to join its crew of ghostly inhabitants. And to do that, it needs to get to Jack...

The novel slowly grows in horror, starting with mild unease, moving up through sweaty palms and dry mouth, to pure, gut-wrenching terror. Jack's slow slide into madness is paralleled by the growth in power of the hotel's dark miasma, and Danny's extraordinary capabilities. We are on a roller-coaster ride into darkness.

The world of grownups is often frighteningly incomprehensible to young children: these fears seldom die as we grow up, but remain dormant in our psyche. There are very few of us who does not have a ghost in our childhood somewhere. It is when the writer invokes this ghost that story gets to us. King does a masterly job of awakening that child, and putting him/ her in the midst of childhood terrors through the alter ego of Danny Torrance, lost in the cavernous corridors of the Overlook.

There are a lot of passages which literally creeped me out in this novel (the topiary animals, the fire hose in the corridor, the woman in the bathroom to name a few). As King has said elsewhere, the monster behind the door is more frightening than the monster slavering at you: this book is full of such monsters. More importantly, you will keep on remembering your own boogeymen while you are reading; and long after you finish, you will feel the urge to look behind you.

Horror stories are a form of catharsis. As King says, the writer takes you to the body covered under the sheet: you feel it, and are frightened. At the same time, you are relieved that the body is not you.
About as perfect a haunted house story as can be, King was at his best here.

It's as though he built a haunted house and then filled every nook and cranny with detail. King is also at his best in regard to characterization, all well rounded and complete, we know family relationships, group dynamics, all the old hidden buried fears.

King touches base with psychological elements, theological, metaphysical, spiritual, and cryptic aspects of a ghost story to wrap the reader in a blanket of horror.

** I watched the 1980 Stanley Kubrik film recently and this made me want to reread the book (which I need to anyway). Kubrik's film grasps the psychological elements of the book and delivers an extra large thin crust The Works pizza of haunted house horror. Jack Nicholson's portrayal of Jack Torrance is still the defining image of this tortured man. While some critics have derided the slow pace of the film (atypical for jump-out-and-yell-BOO! horror fliks of the time) I felt that Kubrik was building the tone and mood of the story to the grisly final moments. King himself has attributed mixed emotions to the film as an adaptation, but has consistently agreed that the imagery of an internal struggle with the dark side of Jack's psyche is a contribution to the horror film genre. King also disagreed with the casting of Nicholson who too closely identified with insanity (due largely to his exceptional work in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest). Interestingly, King himself was battling alcoholism while writing the classic and viewing his work and Kubrik's vision from this perspective adds greater depth to an understanding and appreciation of both.
His best book is 'The Green Mile,' but since it doesn't quite fall under the Horror category, it is either 'Shining' or 'Carrie' which take top prize.

There is not one single detriment to this well-known tale of the disintegration of the American family within the realm of the un-dead. King here is as he has never been since: metaphoric and concise. He usually adds fact upon useless fact that converts a 400 page work into something more gargantuan, &, therefore, less enthralling.

King is not a fan of the Kubrick film, and it is easy to see why. His story is about the build up of tension, the "shining' a catalyst that promotes a bridge between the haunts & the humans. The boiler burns, blows everything up just as Jack Torrence forgets his humanity and becomes an ego/id complex. His selfishness & his alcoholism (a hereditary illness... another theme about family "curses," and weak threads) leads to savagery. The ghosts are the manifestations of a child's bruised home-life and the suffocation and claustrophobia have more to do with that tragic past than the hotel's eerie interior.

I place this masterpiece next to 'The Exorcist', a tale that is more than just a simple tale of demonic possession. To say the 'The Shining' is just a ghost story is something Kubrick ran with... completely ignoring the pathos of a family eating away at itself. The Torrences suffer because they had been broken prior to the stay at the Overlook... it seems that for this one all the stars aligned and all the ingredients for one of the most amazing horror stories of all time mixed exquisitely. This one was the one that made King king.

Black House by Stephen King

King, Stephen - Black House

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  45,332 Ratings  ·  1,282 Reviews
Black House by Stephen King download or read it online for free
Black House by Stephen King
Twenty years ago, a boy named Jack Sawyer travelled to a parallel universe called The Territories to save his mother and her Territories "twinner" from a premature and agonizing death that would have brought cataclysm to the other world. Now Jack is a retired Los Angeles homicide detective living in the nearly nonexistent hamlet of Tamarack, WI. He has no recollection of his adventures in the Territories and was compelled to leave the police force when an odd, happenstance event threatened to awaken those memories.

When a series of gruesome murders occur in western Wisconsin that are reminiscent of those committed several decades earlier by a real-life madman named Albert Fish, the killer is dubbed "The Fisherman" and Jack's buddy, the local chief of police, begs Jack to help his inexperienced force find him. But is this merely the work of a disturbed individual, or has a mysterious and malignant force been unleashed in this quiet town? What causes Jack's inexplicable waking dreams, if that is what they are, of robins' eggs and red feathers? It's almost as if someone is trying to tell him something. As that message becomes increasingly impossible to ignore, Jack is drawn back to the Territories and to his own hidden past, where he may find the soul-strength to enter a terrifying house at the end of a deserted track of forest, there to encounter the obscene and ferocious evils sheltered within it.


I hate that the first thing you see of a review is the number of stars it's given.

Someone's feeling about a book is not easily reduced to a five-point scale. And even once that is done, how do I know what five stars means to you? How do you know what five stars means to me?

For me, a five star book is a book that I believe is worth the time and energy you're going to spend reading it.

If, (and this is key) you're into that sort of book. (Horror, Mystery, Fantasy, Hardcore Gothic Gypsy Steampunk.)

A six-star book, is a book that I believe is worth your time and energy even if it's *not* the sort of thing you're into. (Generally speaking, this is the sort of book I'll give a promotional blurb for.)

Unfortunately, there isn't a six star option here on goodreads.

Generally speaking, a four star book is one that irritates me or disappoints me in one or two moderate ways.

A three star book has several moderate irritations, or one big one, or or something that was irritating all the way through.

Keep in mind that I can be extraordinarily critical of my books. Things that irritate me might not ever even show up on your mental radar.

Further complicating things is the fact that sometimes I'm willing to give a book a bonus star due to extenuating circumstances. If the writer is doing something new and exciting, for example. If they're trying something really difficult or if it's their first book, I'll often give an extra star.

So. To the point. Did I enjoy this book? Yes. I didn't know there was a sequel to the Talisman until I saw this in an airport a week ago. I enjoyed reading it. Held my attention. Pleased me with its craft.

Is it for everyone? No. So here's the breakdown.

** What I personally liked about this book:

It was told in present tense, and done well. Not a lot of folks can pull that off.

The narrator was almost an active character, almost like a tour guide through the story. He/she speaks directly to the reader at points, saying things like, "Let's see what's going on over at the old mill..."

Again, it worked well. Extra points for that.

Also, it was set in Wisconsin. Which is kinda fun for me.

**What you might like about this book:

Everything that you normally like about Steven King's stuff. Interesting characters. Alternate worlds. Nice tie-in with the Talisman and the Dark Tower stuff.

Nice description. Nice special effects. Nice tension and suspense. Nice characterization.

**What you might dislike about this book:

It's a large, rambly story. A lot of the book is spent in atmospherics, developing non-essential characters, and digressions, rather than action and moving the story forward.

The Talisman was a cool adventure story. A young boy goes out, explores a strange world on a quest to save his mom.

This book isn't that. There's no real adventure. They don't even get into the other world until the last 80 pages or so.

Children in danger. (I'm sensitive to this, having a kid now myself. It can be a dealbreaker for some folks.)

Extreme potentially even gratuitous violence and gore. (But again, we're in the horror genre, so....)

So there you go. Isn't that better than some arbitrary number of stars? Now you can make your own choice about whether you want to read it. Or not. It's up to you. 
Each time I pick up a Stephen King book, I am struck by the different writing voice I find. Truth is, I had expected it with Black House, sort of, being co-written with Peter Straub, and yet I was struck all the same. 
King/Straub narrate much of this tale from a moving bird’s-eye perspective, floating in and out of each character’s stance and location, with a twinge of humor on the side. They don’t even try to hide the fact that this account has been written in a book, by two writers even. I thought this was funny, and I thought the style of writing was unlike many of the other King works before it. Believe me, I tried to deduce who wrote what. Was this King’s chapter, or was it Straub’s? “King-ism’s” came through of course. They always do. But overall, I could not tell. Then I found the reason why - while watching an interview of Stephen and his son Owen no less. Even they could not tell who had written what when looking back at their new book Sleeping Beauties. During their collaboration, they had edited and rewritten one other’s work along the way, thereby melding it. There was the answer.

How did Black House fare compared to The Talisman? Pretty well, I’d say. Here’s the part where I admit that I cannot remember much of The Talisman. I am bummed about that, but just a little. Although I think it’s more than a good idea to read The Talisman first, it’s not going to kill the story if you happened not to. Black House looks back at the twelve year old Jack Sawyer and his quest across America, while creating a whole new chapter in the process. Jack is now an adult with no memory of the long ago journey to save his mom’s life. (Don’t worry Jack, I forgot too!) But his memory will return, and with it will come the recollection of that other world called The Territories. And as I read about his recollection, these words came through:

    ”There are other worlds than these.”

That is not a line taken from Black House, although it could easily be one. The quote belongs to Jake Chambers from The Gunslinger. I bring this up because the story of Black House fits so well with The Dark Tower series. I don’t think there’s another book outside of the series that is closer to it than this one. The Talisman may be in some ways, but it seems to me that half the purpose of Black House is to tell a story of The Dark Tower that needed telling. Fine by me. Some of the things in those other worlds are a little bit “out there”, so to speak. Weird creatures. Wild ideas. And that’s fine too, cause the stories are always strong. Like this one.
It's been a long time since I read this book. I remember reading it when it first came out, when I was in my late teens, and really enjoying it, but it's clear that I forgot sooo much about this book. I remember this one having more to do with the Dark Tower - but just how much, and in what detail surprised me. I almost wish that I hadn't read it now, that I'd waited until later on in my upcoming Dark Tower re-read with my bookclub, so I could read it at a more appropriate place within the Dark Tower timeline.

But oh well. Sometimes one must live with the choices that are made.

It's not really fair to call this book a sequel to The Talisman. I don't know what else to call it, because it IS that... but it sets the expectation that it will be similar to The Talisman, and it's not at all that. Talisman was an adventure, a quest, and yes, there was some dark and grim stuff in there (The Elroy Thing, Sunlight Gardener, Morgan & Morgan, etc) and but it never felt hopelessly grim and depraved. This does. Not that I'm complaining, I loved it. But this is the evil twin that has been kept in the attic and fed fish heads making its appearance after 20 years. It came from the same stock, but it's not friendly or altogether sane.

This is a dark book. It's a slow burn of a book. It's a character study book. It's a police-procedural-in-hell book. It's a Dark Tower book. It's a Stephen King book... so I don't know why anyone would expect anything less than the previous statements.

We pick back up with Jack Sawyer 20 years after we left him, and he has made a career and a life for himself as a homicide detective. He's forgotten - or blocked - all memories of his previous quest to save his mother, and has tried to live as normal and mundane a life as possible, despite the fact that he had touched the Talisman, and it conferred a lasting good luck on him that made everything he wanted to do that much easier. However, Jack has pulled the plug on his career after seeing a black man murdered on the Santa Monica Pier and it dredges up some memories of Speedy Parker - and he gets the hell out of dodge. Moves to an idyllic little town in Wisconsin and never plans to be a cop again. Except of course for the fact that Ka is a wheel and he doesn't have a choice. Someone is killing children in his new hometown, and of course nothing is ever what it seems when King's writing.

What follows is a grim, but excellent story that builds and builds. We encounter some old friends, make a lot of new ones (and more than a few enemies as well) and shit gets real. And surreal.

I don't really want to talk too much about the plot or the story because it's best if one experiences it for themselves. It is a great book, and can stand alone - though you will get much more out of this if you are familiar with Jack's history.

I loved most of the characters in this book, even the ones I detested. Wendell Green and Charles Burnside, I'm looking at you. In that order. Charles is what he is, and he does what he does and there's no punishment harsh enough for that. But for some reason, my disgust and rage really homed in on Green, and I felt like he was the most shitty person in this whole book. All of the other evils were evil, pure and simple. They wanted to kill and destroy and tear down the walls of the universe because that's what evil does. But fucking Wendell Green is just a shitty human who thinks way too highly of himself and is out for blood because he thinks that he's King Shit of Turd Hill - only nobody else recognizes that yet. He's the Rita Skeeter of French Landing. The shitty fucker. Shoulda been left for the Sisters. Just sayin'.

ANYWHO... I loved Henry and Beezer and Mouse and Jack and Dale. All of these guys make me so proud of them. Even Bear Girl, in her small, small bit part, impressed me and kind of broke my heart. She's a rock, that girl. I would have liked a bit more about Mr. Munshun and The Big Combination. I wanted a bit more about what that was FOR. Obviously it was EVIL... but just what was it powering?

Still... this is a great book, if a little tiny bit draggy at times. Like I said, it's a slow burner of a book. It takes a bit of patience, as often King's books do, but I think they pay off in the end. If I had ONE complaint, it would be the romantic element of the story. Ugh. Come on. It was unnecessary and so obvious and blah blah blah skim. Yeah, I get it, she's pretty... he's pretty... they are "interesting" and now instalove. Gag me. Leave out the instalove, and I'm golden. I could not care less.

Otherwise, excellent stuff.
In the early eighties, Stephen King and Peter Straub embarked on the ultimate coming-of-age tale. The Talisman easily solidified the collaboration's super status. Then, nearly two decades later, they returned to their literary roots. Black House portrays a different Jack Sawyer, now a semi-retired Los Angeles detective. He won't remain there much longer, though. By requesting his expertise in a major case, a colleague-turned-friend leads him to Wisconsin, where his life will be irrevocably numerous ways.

Black House is very different from its predecessor. One of the most significant changes is the unique writing style. Almost everything's shown by way of what I like to call "an eagle's eye" view. This can be somewhat difficult and frustrating to adjust to, and I completely understand that critique. It's also a little slow at first. We're not actually reunited with Jack until the first 60 or so pages.
My first time through the Coulee Country, I struggled with it a bit, too. But it being a King novel, I knew a big payoff was inevitable.

And maintaining his "I'm retired" mindset, Jack is reluctant to aid the local police investigation of a string of grisly serial killings. It's only until a young boy is abducted that Jack agrees to assist the authorities.

With the addition of a handful of eccentric characters (including the ever positive, delightful, and beloved Henry Lyden,) we're given recurring appearances of one or more characters from The Talisman.

One new addition, named Charles Burnside, alludes to a less than pleasant childhood, leaving something to be desired. I wanted to know more. For instance, how exactly was he mistreated (presuming, of course, that was the case,) what were his parents like? Who were his parents? What events helped form the individual shown throughout the novel?
More importantly, can he be empathized with, knowing what we do about him? Should we be expected to? I felt next to nothing for him, whatsoever. Unless my utter abhorrence of him is put into consideration. That particular emotion resonates in every fiber of my being. But if I may return briefly to the aforementioned alluding, my heart does go out to him. Though all too fleeting...

How about his time in Chicago? He displays an abundance of scorn which tells the reader of his pent-up resentment. What specifically happened there, though?
That being said, I love the duality of ol' "burn, burn's" voices and/or accents. (In general, it's always a pleasure to find elements of duality in fiction, but in this case, I think King and Straub pulled it off exceptionally well.) Reminiscent of some nefarious-yet equally skilled- ventriloquist, the sequence baffles the mind in every sense of the word.

Additionally, I think I probably would have been more impacted if our killer had been less supernatural and more human.
Why do I emphasize this point? Because, as of late, I've come to realize that villains who are more less fantastical (Rose Madder's Norman Daniels or The Shining's Jack Torrance, to name a few) have a much larger affect on me.

I almost wish that the killer's identity had been withheld a bit longer. I believe if they'd done so, it would have created a much more suspenseful, biting-your-nails quality. Then again, the story's pretty dark and creepy. King and Straub probably weren't very interested in its mystery; contrarily, this story is very horror-orientated.

All throughout, a recurring theme is explored in interesting way(s:) repressed memories. This literary technique is seen in multiple characters, primarily our protagonist, Jack Sawyer.
On a related note, scientific studies indicate that particularly traumatic experiences often result in repression, as a defense mechanism. And speaking personally, I'm a firm believer. I can recall very little of my childhood.
I'm not the only one, either. King and Straub said it best: "Amnesia is merciful." Indeed.

The final showdown (and the all-important journey toward that end,) felt slightly long-winded, but the psychological aspects almost demand it. As for the battle itself, I am torn. On the one hand, it is quite phenomenal. On the other, there's a comic book quality which renders it somewhat unrealistic. As a result, I'm left with many questions whose answers I'd be interested in learning.

Then, due to unforeseen events, Jack is inadvertently transported back to his past, so to speak. By taking their story in this direction, King and Straub present a few very suspenseful closing pages. I was literally holding my anxious breath and hoping for the best. I also realized the depth of my love and admiration for this amazing man. And through certain revelations, things are left open. There simply MUST be a 3rd book!!

Jack's story isn't complete.
I absolutely loved this book. It's funny, because I picked it up immediately after reading The Talisman, and at first I was put off by the shift in tone and feel of this one. I wanted more Talisman style fantasy adventure, with the lovable young Jack Sawyer. What I got was a cold, detached, present-tense narrative that watched everything from above and showed a landscape that was totally out of place with the book I had just finished. This is supposed to be a sequel!

But am I ever glad I stuck with it. The present voice grew to become a comfort, and as the narrator became more attached to the characters, so did I. This is still not the same book, but oh my, what a book it is.

I said that The Talisman reminded me somewhat of a blend of Lord of the Rings and Tom Sawyer. Well, for this one, throw in some Silence of the Lambs and even a touch of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The villains were delightful in how wicked-evil they could be. The heroes were flawed, yes, but so human and I couldn't help but pull for them all the way. There were even a few times near the end where I wanted to pitch the book out the window. But I couldn't, as I had to keep reading until there was no more.

I've heard that King and Straub are planning a third collaboration. After reading Black House I must say I hope they do. And I won't wait 9 years to read the next one, I can say that much.

The Talisman by Stephen King

The Talisman by Stephen King

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  88,267 Ratings  ·  2,413 Reviews
The Talisman by Stephen King download or read it online for free here
The Talisman by Stephen King
On a brisk autumn day, a twelve-year-old boy stands on the shores of the gray Atlantic, near a silent amusement park and a fading ocean resort called the Alhambra. The past has driven Jack Sawyer here: his father is gone, his mother is dying, and the world no longer makes sense. But for Jack everything is about to change. For he has been chosen to make a journey back across America--and into another realm.

One of the most influential and heralded works of fantasy ever written, The Talisman is an extraordinary novel of loyalty, awakening, terror, and mystery. Jack Sawyer, on a desperate quest to save his mother's life, must search for a prize across an epic landscape of innocents and monsters, of incredible dangers and even more incredible truths. The prize is essential, but the journey means even more. Let the quest begin. . . .


My favorite book of all time! To me, it is just the perfect epic hero's journey story. I love that it takes place in the early 80s; I love the grittiness and ugliness of what happens to Jack as he travels back and forth between this world and The Territories, and I LOVE the character of Wolf.

The first few chapters are a little slow and not very exciting, but they are important and hold crucial story points that will come into play later, so to anyone reading this for the first time, I recommend sticking it out and reading on...because it quickly turns to great once the story gets going! I could not put it down the first time I read it, which was in 6th grade.

This is the only book, besides Catcher in the Rye, that I can pick up and just read a few chapters here and there when I feel like it. I don't need to read the whole book front to back anymore, but I do love just getting that taste every so often.

I know I am paid to be a writer for my day job, but here's the thing: It's hard for me to write reviews, since I don't always know how to describe what makes a book "good" in a way that is eloquent and persuasive. Despite that, I do just want to make it known that this is, indeed, a VERY GOOD book. Read it. I'm open to discussing it with anyone.
Twelve year old Jack Sawyer's mother is dying of cancer and the only thing that can save her is The Talisman. Can Jack cross America and The Territories to claim it and save his mother?

I first read The Talisman while waiting for the last three Dark Tower books to be published. Thanks to the magic of getting older, I forgot 95% of what happened. When the ebook fell into my lap, I was ready for a reread.

Brief Side Bar: This book fell into my lap because Goodreads offered me an ebook of my choice in order to share my notes and highlights. At first, this seemed like a pain in the ass but it wound up being pretty useful when formulating my review. Also, it beat carrying the massive hard cover around like a cave man.

The Talisman is a coming of age tale and also a quest story. Jack Sawyer's mom has cancer and the only thing that can save her is The Talisman, a mysterious McGuffin housed in a haunted hotel all the way over on the opposite side of the country. Fortunately, Jack can cross over into The Territories, a fantasy/pseudo-western that exists alongside earth. Still with me?

Co-written with Peter Straub at the beginning of the 1980s, The Talisman simultaneously feels like a dry-run for the Dark Tower and a collection of Stephen King's greatest hits up to that point. Jack's trek across the country is not that unlike the ka-tet's journey to the Dark Tower and the Talisman is referred to as "the axle of all worlds" on several occasions, just like a certain Tower. King flirted with the concept of twinners in other books, though not by name. I have to believe Jack Sawyer is linked to Jake Chambers in some way. Maybe King didn't think he'd ever finish the Dark Tower so he worked as many ideas from it into The Talisman as he could.

The "greatest hits" notion I mentioned? Specific scenes seemed like they were almost lifted from other king books. The talk Speedy gives Jack is a lot like the talk Danny Torrance gets from Scatman Cruthers (I know that's not his name but I can't think of it at the moment) in The Shining. You also get King staples like the spooky tunnel. There were echoes of other, earlier King books in the mix that I've already forgotten. Not only that, there were some future echoes as well. The Alhambra hotel, anyone? Also, there were numerous things that would be revisited during various points of The Dark Tower.

So where is Peter Straub in all this? Honestly, I can't say since I've never read any Straub solo books. However, there are a few times in the text where the writing lacks a certain Kingliness. I'll chalk those up to Straub. There was some backtracking I didn't care for that I'll also blame on Straub.

For a kitten squisher of this size, there wasn't a whole lot in The Talisman that felt like it could be pruned. It takes a long time to hoof and thumb across America and The Territories and Jack Sawyer goes through several hells on the way. Oatley and Sunlight Gardener's boys home were the worst, in my opinion. Give me a railroad trip over a radioactive wasteland over those two places any day.

A co-worker of mine said King is at his best when writing about kids. I didn't agree with him at the time but I saw where he was coming from some ways into this book. While I thought Jack, and later Richie, talked more like seventeen year olds than twelve year olds, what twelve year old doesn't want to go on an adventure? I'd visit the Territories now, as a 40 year old kid.

I felt for Jack's companions at times but I would also be frustrated trying to travel with Wolf. More than once, I would have left Richie behind, though. When Jack finally reached the Agincourt, I had the put the book down so I could finish it at home rather than sneak read the rest in my cube. The big showdown at the end reminded me a lot of something that happened in The Wastelands. I was also really glad of how the ending turned out, the ending of Cujo still fresh in my mind.

The second time through The Talisman was just as enjoyable as the first time thanks to the magic of forgetting. Trial run of the Dark Tower or no, The Talisman is an enjoyable epic and a taste of things yet to come from Stephen King. Four out of five stars.
4.5 Stars. Can't classify this one as horror, but THE TALISMAN is one wild and woolly action-packed fantasy ride!

"Traveling" Jack Sawyer is a good kid and 12 years old when he and his mother flee Los Angeles for New York ultimately ending up in an empty, creepy hotel in New Hampshire; and while Jack questions the moves, he knows deep down his mother is not well.

As the days pass and his mother's rest periods become more frequent, a worrisome Jack explores a closed amusement park nearby and is soon befriended by a gnarly old black janitor...Lester Speedy Parker who tells him incredible stories of a parallel world and a magic juice that can transport him to a place where he can acquire the secrets of THE TALISMAN and hopefully save his mother.

His danger infested quest from east coast to west with flips from a world of evil doings and enslavement to one with bizarre creatures beyond your imagination has an unlikely friendship for Jack with a 6'5" Wolf that will break your did mine.

For me, THE TALISMAN brought back memories of King's Dark Towers series, and while a chunkster at 700+ pages, entices me to re-read it in the form of a graphic novel so I can see the creeping tree roots, the evil abusive bar owner, the camp-school from hell, and visually experience the train ride through the "blasted land" as a scared, but brave young Jack Sawyer grows up fast to save his friends and mother and complete his mission.

Entertaining and fun read with a young-adult feel to it.
Recently, a good GR friend agreed that the word 'magical' is a great way of describing The Talisman. In turn, she shared a quote by Markus Zusak:

“Sometimes you read a book so special that you want to carry it around with you for months after you've finished just to stay near it.”

Only now can I not only fully agree, but appreciate the sentiment behind Zusak's words.. although it's uncertain if he was referring to this particular novel. It's incredibly profound, and they describe my feelings toward The Talisman perfectly. (Thank you, once again, Michelle.)

Yet there's more to it than mere magical elements. Much more. At the heart of the story is 12-year-old Jack Sawyer, whose sold purpose seems to be his ailing mother's salvation. In order to acquire that, however, he must venture east.. and beyond.
In the days leading to his departure, Jack meets the truly invaluable "Speedy" Parker. Insodoing, King & Straub expertly introduces the Constant Reader to him, as well. The duo transports you there, right alongside them. They are long-lost friends, indeed!

This being my 3rd reading, they took me on a roller-coaster of a journey which surpassed my considerably high expectations. With that admission, I have another valid confession: I tend to be a very analytical reader, especially compared to my previous experiences with the book.
One scene, in particular, stands out as slightly unrealistic: our protagonist's leave-taking. I seriously do not recall having this reaction. Perhaps with age and maturity, we perceive things differently, thus reacting in various ways, I really don't know...

Part II: The Road of Trials, is easily a favorite section of mine. As the title suggests, it chronicles the genesis of Jack's epic journey. It's life-altering, as his adventures help form the man he is to become. This is precisely why I love the section so very much.

"..Another light perhaps eight blocks down changed to green before a high dingy many-windowed building that looked a mental hospital, and so was probably the high school.."

The words conveyed to describe the bleak beauty of Oatley are utterly amazing and awe inspiring I believe is evident in the previous passage.

The character of Wolf is very memorable (I haven't forgotten him since my first reading, in 1999.) He's beloved, and so masterfully crafted that you can't help the urge to run toward him with a warm embrace. In times of sorrow, joy, or imminent danger, your heart goes out to him. it breaks your heart, really. Well, it did mine, anyway.

As the journey continues, the reader is treated with an attribute rarely given by the so-called "latest and greatest" writers of today. In Jack, for instance, we learn much about his personal character (as opposed to the superficial,) to the point that it almost feels like an invasion of his privacy. King & Straub delve deep, exposing cherished memories, childhood fears, and the like. Most interestingly, the mind-set of the characters.

The juxtaposition between Jack and Richard Sloat still astonishes me. One thought plagued me, relentlessly, and that is, How is it possible for two individuals-who are polar opposite of one another- to be so incredibly close? It hardly seems plausible, even now, yet it's true. Brilliant work, King and Straub!

I'd never experienced this before, but at a certain point, I had a genuine Eureka! moment, which commenced with the realization that this duo were clearly influenced by C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and, to an extent, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

P.491: "..The coats and suits are gone, the floor is gone, but it isn't crisp white snow underfoot; it's stinking black dirt which is apparently the birthing ground for these unpleasant black jumping insects; this place is by no stretch of the imagination Narnia..."

492: ".. And later that day, he takes all of his storybooks--The Little Golden Books, the pop-up books, the I-Can-Read books, the Dr. Seuss books, the Green Fairy Book for Young Folks, and he puts them in a carton, and he puts the carton down in the basement, and he thinks: "I would not care if an earthquake came now and opened a crack in the floor and swallowed up every one of those books. In fact, it would be such a relief that I would probably laugh all day and most of the weekend.." "

By the fourth and final section, aptly entitled The Talisman, I absolutely loved every word. I though that it couldn't possibly get any better, but I was mistaken... by far.
From the Blasted Lands to the very end of their adventures, and virtually everything in between, this one has it all. Excluding the spectacular conclusion, I really enjoyed and have much respect for the chapter centered around Richard's past, and-ultimately- how he deals with it.

On a side note, Jack's mother, Lily Cavanaugh, felt very distant throughout most of the novel. I had the impression that she was, in a way, detached from reality. And aside from her debilitating illness, I barely felt anything for her at all. That is, until the end. This development impacted me greatly!

If I had a critique to give, I'd comment on the novels' wordiness. And it can be a bit long-winded in places, but its innate visual enhancements make them almost necessary. Hardly a critique at all, eh?

Up next, Black House. I haven't read it since the initial HC publication, circa 2001. I remember practically nothing of the text, so as you can probably imagine, I am very much looking forward to this one!
One of the things that I love the absolute best about Stephen King's books (most of them) is that they are immensely re-readable, and depending on where is in one's life, or how many of King's other books one has read, the experience could be completely different each time.

I have loved this book for a long time. It's a quest, it's a great story with great characters, but more than that, it's almost like a prototype of where The Dark Tower series would eventually go... An alt universe mini microcosm of Roland's quest for the Tower.

There's so much to love in this book - except Peter Straub's involvement anyway, which is something that I usually try to forget. It is no secret that I'm not a fan of Straub's writing. I've tried, and failed miserably, at reading two of his books now, and I've decided that his writing is just not for me. Whatever his involvement was in these books, Stephen King made it palatable to me. He blurred the lines and blended the edges so that it seems seamless and painless for me to read.

Anyway. This read through I loved it just as much as the last time I read it, but I also felt like I had a better understanding of some of the characters. Jack has always been one of my favorite characters, but this time through, I felt much more empathy toward Richard. This poor kid has gotten the shit end of the stick from life. His father is a dick, he has no mother (took off? dead? Nobody knows. She's not even mentioned.), and his only protection from the insanity of the life his father imagines for him is to delude himself into complete, 10000000%, no exceptions Reality with a capital R. The poor kid doesn't even like fantasy books.

Yet, he and Jack had very similar experiences. Both have fathers who could travel to the Territories, and both boys watched their fathers disappear and reappear in very different areas than where they left. The only difference is that while Jack's father left him and went to experience and learn from The Territories, Richard's father went to exploit it. And so their kids' individual experiences of the Territories they couldn't understand were miles apart in terms of experience, and it's all down to their fathers' ideas of what the Territories should be.

He had fantasy related PTSD before he could even read. That's got to be traumatizing.

I loved Richard's growth though. Even though he refuted and rejected every possibility of what was happening for 90% of his time in the story, the way that he eventually came to terms and acceptance was impressive. I don't know many 12 year olds who could create those kinds of life-changing coping mechanisms, and then break them down in a matter of days. So the fact that he started to forget what happened is either massively unfair to him, to work through everything for nothing, or incredibly just and compassionate. If you were to ask Richard, I think he'd choose the latter.

I also felt slightly that Jack was a bit cruel and selfish this time through. His treatment of Wolf and Richard at times was thoughtless for their needs, and it really broke my heart at times. I get that in the greater scheme of the quest and its goals, sometimes one must do things that are cruel, and make hard decisions... But it was the little things, like Jack thinking that Wolf would enjoy a double-feature in a movie theater when he knows that loud noises scare him, and he's never even heard of a movie in his life. Can you imagine how terrifying that would be? Poor Wolf. It's just a small example of how twelve year olds just haven't developed their full sense of empathy yet.

Speaking of Wolf... I really hated how he was read for the audio of this book. I loved, LOVED Frank Muller's reading for the first three Dark Tower books, but this one was just all wrong. Everything was so gruff and growly, and Wolf was even more so. It just had the complete wrong feel for me. I'm glad that I only listened to a little bit of the book on audio.

Anyway - overall... love this book. Totally recommend it. It's awesome. Go read it. :D
This has always been one of my favorite Stephen King books, as well as one of my favorite books in general. It's one that I've read numerous times, so I was thrilled when the sequel Black House was chosen for the June 2010 group read in the Stephen King group here, because it gave me an excuse to reread this one. Again.

I love Jack. Love. He's so good and pure and honest and brave and willing to do what is needed to do the right thing. I love the way that he starts out scared and unsure and needing a hand-hold, and in the course of three months grows into a strong and confident and heroic force to be reckoned with. But the thing that I love the absolute most about Jack, is that he's still human and still vulnerable. He's willing to give everything up to save his friend - this friend who is the son of the man who has caused all of Jack's misery and suffering. He knows the value of friendship and loyalty and virtue, and he lets nothing sway him from that. I ♥ Jack Sawyer. I'm gonna have a T-shirt made. ;)

There's a lot of realistic darkness and grittiness in this book, but a lot of magic and light as well. Oatley and the Sunshine Home for Wayward Boys are two of the most awful places I've read about in a YA book (which I do consider this to be), but they could both, magic aside, really exist, which makes it even worse. Especially with the Sunshine Home, as my area just had a huge scandal with a Cash-For-Kids program, where a local judge was taking bribes to send kids to correctional facilities to pad their numbers for more state funding, etc. Pretty crappy stuff, but it happens every day. I love that feeling of realism, even though it's clearly fantasy. I sometimes wish that I had a version of the Territories that I could flip off to myself from time to time.

I've always considered this book to be a Stephen King book, not a Stephen King collaboration with Peter Straub. I'd read lots of King, but nothing of Straub's before... until recently when I tried to read a short story collection of his. I say "tried" because I didn't care for it and didn't finish it. But I bring this up because this time, whether it's simply because I have been on GR talking to friends from the UK and have noticed some of their wording and phraseology, or because I read a couple of Straub's short stories, or a combination of both, I feel like I could see some of the contributions that Straub made here. Simple things like using "outsize" instead of "oversized", etc. I also felt that some of the more quirky-weird things were probably Straub's -- not that King has any shortage there, but it was just the feeling that I got, and one only has to read the first story in "Magic Terror" to see why. The Territories trees for one (A BOY! OUR BOY??), but there were a few things that I felt had the Straub stamp on them.

Yet King's hand is clearly ALL OVER THIS, mainly in the characterizations, as usual. I still, to this day, marvel at his ability to make me know and understand a character in just a few lines. For instance, when Richard is describing Reuel Gardener (whose name is a mere typo away from "cruel"), he mentions that he "Sometimes heard really peculiar noises coming from out of Reuel's room, and once saw a dead cat on the garbage thing out in back that didn't have any eyes or ears. When you saw him, you'd think he was the kind of person who might torture a cat." (Pg. 443) You can take this line or leave it as is, but as the human pet of two beautiful cats myself, I shudder to think of the kind of person who could torture a cat like that. My imagination gets going (unfortunately) and I think of the way it would be done, and the cruelty that would be needed, and I get sick to my stomach. All from a throwaway passage about a throwaway character. But that's what makes King my favorite. He makes it real, effortlessly.

This book does require more than a bit of belief suspension. The main point that this sticks on for me is that Speedy mentions to Jack in the beginning that there are far fewer people in the Territories than there are in our world, so not everyone has a Twinner. Yet almost EVERYONE in the book has or had a Twinner - even the thugs from Richard's school. The odds of that are just too high, and so you really just have to accept it and move on. And then there's the case of Morgan's train, which exists dually in the Territories and America. If Jack boards the train in the Territories in the Outposts (corellating to the midwest), and exits the train in America in California, did the American version of the train start running its course all on its own? Just something to think about...

And finally, here are some odd little tidbits I noticed.
- The Black Hotel has a kind of consciousness or life, and uses it in a manner similar to the Overlook from The Shining (which was only written a few years before this was published). The two hotels are not alike in any other way, but I thought it was interesting.
- George Hatfield, another reference to The Shining, crops up here as a student at Thayer School (where Richard attends), who is in the process of being expelled for cheating. You'll remember him as the stuttering debater who ended Jack Torrance's teaching career in Vermont from The Shining.
- The Quonset hut next to the train tracks outside of the Blasted Lands is reminiscent of the Quonset hut in Thunderclap from Wolves of the Calla...
- Time zones are mentioned backwards here (there's a mention of Morgan being woken up at 2am California time, which is midnight Springfield, IL time), which could indicate a link to the Dark Tower series, as directions shift... Either that or someone just got really confused. :P

Anyway... I really love this story, and I think it will remain a favorite for years to come. :)

The First Law 03 - Last Argument Of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

The First Law 03 - Last Argument Of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

 4.26  ·   Rating details ·  74,076 Ratings  ·  2,888 Reviews
The First Law 03 - Last Argument Of Kings by Joe Abercrombie download or read it online for free here
The First Law 03 - Last Argument Of Kings
by Joe Abercrombie
The end is coming. Logen Ninefingers might only have one more fight in him but it's going to be a big one. Battle rages across the North, the King of the Northmen still stands firm, and there's only one man who can stop him. His oldest friend, and his oldest enemy. It's past time for the Bloody-Nine to come home.

With too many masters and too little time, Superior Glokta is fighting a different kind of war. A secret struggle in which no one is safe, and no one can be trusted. His days with a sword are far behind him. It's a good thing blackmail, threats and torture still work well enough.

Jezal dan Luthar has decided that winning glory is far too painful, and turned his back on soldiering for a simple life with the woman he loves. But love can be painful too, and glory has a nasty habit of creeping up on a man when he least expects it.

While the King of the Union lies on his deathbead, the peasants revolt and the nobles scramble to steal his crown. No one believes that the shadow of war is falling across the very heart of the Union. The First of the Magi has a plan to save the world, as he always does. But there are risks. There is no risk more terrible, after all, than to break the First Law...
This story is a trilogy, so if you haven't read one, this are the links to the other books:


Because, even after the first two volumes, every character will STILL surprise you. Because Glokta is the best fantasy character I've found since Tyrion Lannister. Because Logen is a mushroom-cloud-laying motherfucker. Because you should've seen it coming but you didn't. You really didn't.

Because even "gritty" fantasy writers are usually afraid to go this far against expectations. Because you will laugh. You will get angry. Because you will hate the ending. Because the ending is perfect. Because the last surprise is on the last page.

Because every combat sequence is spot on. Because every character's actions are spot on. (Despite the fact that we sometimes don't need quite as much explanation as we get.) Because we need more fantasy authors willing to give people like Terry Brooks, Margaret Weiss, Tracy Hickman and Robert Jordan a really good wedgie. (Giving dead people wedgies might be in bad taste, but it's occasionally necessary.)

Because worlds with swords and sorcerers are boring when they're perfect. Because people are boring when they're perfect. Because perfect things are boring. Because this series is totally not boring. Because in some ways Abercrombie's series works better than A Song of Ice and Fire (in some ways, just some, not all of them, please put down those rocks).

Because it's time to read something entirely made out of awesome. Because this is it. Because. Just because.

"Say one thing for Last Argument of Kings, say it's dark fantasy at its best" Logen's father said. After finishing the book and the trilogy, I decided to give this book a rating of 5 stars. Why? well, as Logen Ninefingers always said "you have to be realistic about these things."

Last Argument of Kings is the conclusion to the First Law Trilogy and it completely delivered on all aspect of great quality dark fantasy. It provides a fitting ending to the trilogy, it's dark, funny, bloody, oh yes it's really bloody, intense and packed with fast paced actions. Out of 670 pages around 300 pages are filled with war, death, and Abercrombie wrote it in a way that we, the reader feels we are truly in the middle of all the chaos and mayhem with all the characters. Actions scenes, torture scenes are all vivid although sometimes there is way too much details into some unnecessary stuff imo. However, it doesn't change the fact that Abercrombie really pay attention to details and gave one heck of a fine trilogy into the literature world.

Joe Abercrombie will now be included into one my favorite author lists along with Brandon Sanderson, and at the same time along with Mistborn trilogy, these trilogy are going to my favorite shelves. Any fans of dark fantasy and Song of Ice & Fire series will definitely have a blast with this series like I am. Thank you for reading my reviews and thoughts on this book!

Side note:
-Obviously this book is not for kids, "you have to be realistic about this" unless you want your kids to be a torturer or some kid who goes rampage on their lego and screamed he is the Bloody-Nine.
-The Bloody-Nine is probably one of the most badass characters I've ever had the chance to encounter in fiction worlds. (Not literally of course, otherwise.. you know, I'll be dead.)
-"If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” - Ramsay Bolton

The end of this series is a cleverly crude mirroring of it’s opening, and it’s just so damn hilarious. I’m saying no more regarding that, but Abercrombie never fails to make me laugh. Logan Nine-fingers is such a great character; he really is one of the strongest aspects of this series.

His wise courage allowed him to defeat the impossible. Only he would have survived such an ordeal. Abercrombie sure knows how to write an excellent battle sequence, but the one on one combat at the end of the book a whole new level of gripping. It was tense. It was exciting. And it felt like it could have gone either way. Every stroke of the sword was vital. One wrong move and it was over. The odds were against Logan; he faced a terrible foe, but Logan is a survivor. He has been through so much in his life, and he will continue to face his enemies until he falls. He is unshakable.

His proficiency for killing grants him a new beginning by the end. He is in a position where he could go anywhere and be anyone. It will be interesting to see how far the character goes in the future. Now I’ve of course read Red Country but I want to see Logan after that. I hope one day that we finally get to see his end, whatever that may be. I think we need to because at the moment Logan’s story is far from over. An origin story would also be quite good. We know the basics of where he came from, but to read about it all would be great.

Strong endings all round

Now I’ve just been babbling about Logan so far, though he is not the only great character in this series. Sand dan Glokta stands amongst my favourite characters in all fantasy fiction. He is on par with Tyrion Lannister in his wit, cynicism and intelligence. He is the unsung hero. He is the cripple; the man twisted with rage and despair, but he also pulls through it and continues to serve his country despite his many personal daemons. He finally gets his due, one deserved and one justified.

As I said with Logan, I would love to see a reprisal of this character. His newest novels (The Shattered Sea trilogy) whist in themselves quite good, simply are not on par with his first trilogy. The tone isn’t the same. The story is no where near as good. So I think a return to this world is in order.

The last book in Abercrombie’s dark fantasy trilogy. Done. Dusted.

It’s going to be a while before I’ve properly assimilated everything that happened over the course of the series. It’s quite something, and it’s well worth your time if you enjoy genre fiction.

Last Argument of Kings – thoughts

Strange and painful events seemed to follow in his wake like stray dogs barking behind the butcher’s wagon.

Like I mentioned in one of my earlier reviews, it isn’t clear whether this wants to be (dark) heroic or (dark) high fantasy. It does contain elements of both; It’s very, very violent and bloody at times, but it also has moments of hush and awe. As expected, the action sequences are spectacularly impressive, especially any featuring Logen Ninefingers, or more particularly, The Bloody Nine.

[He] stood still and caught his breath, the sword hanging down by his side, the grip cold and wet in his clenched fist. He’d never been much of a one for moving until it was time.
“Best tell me your name, while you still got breath in you. I like to know who I’ve killed.”

I’d be hard pressed to select just one word to describe Abercrombie’s writing, but something that did spring to mind was “immediate”. There is an intimacy and urgency to the prose that pulls the reader in, kicking and screaming, for better or worse, until everything is played out. At almost 700 pages in pretty small print this is no light read, and yet it’s over before you know it.

The characterisation in this story and in this entry in particular, is extraordinary beyond my ability to describe. The POV characters are fairly ambiguous for the most part and you’re never quite sure just who is going to carry the day as the biggest bastard, or beloved, of the series. I think, though, that I’m not alone in being partial to master Ninefingers, who is easily one of the most bad-ass and provocative anti-heroes to grace (if you could call it that) the pages of a book.

It meant nothing to [the Bloody Nine] who men were, or what they had done. He was the Great Leveller, and all men were equal before him. His only care was to turn the living into the dead, and it was past time for the good work to begin.

A word of honour has to go to Inquisitor Glokta, whose inner musings are a delight and whose story is rife with intrigue and delivers the most surprises.

It always amazes me, how swiftly problems can be solved, once you start cutting things off people.

As with the previous books, there is a lot going on, mostly concerned with warfare. Siege, battle, bloodbath, siege: wash, rinse, repeat. Despite that, it remains a fascinating story that manages not to be overshadowed by the mayhem. The (extended) ending is likely the portion that readers will quibble over the most, but it’s a fantastic achievement all in all. Great stuff all round.

In a recent review of a different book I made a comment regarding the use of (crude) expletives during certain, um, scenes of intimacy. The same thing happens here, but it didn’t seem so out of place at all. This either makes me the biggest hypocrite in the universe, or this is just that good a book.

You have to be realistic about these things. 

"Book 3, the final one! We're almost there!"
"Yes, Sir, Mr.Abercrombie."
"So, let's see. We casted characters already and invented plots. What needs to be done now."
"Perhaps an ending?"
"Really? Aren't you enjoying my fabulous characters?"
"Of course, but you know, a good story needs an ending."
"Did Robert Jordan knew that? Does Martin think so?"
"Well, I'm not sure..."
"And they sold way more books than I did."
"Hm, this is true. But weren't you going somewhere with the story?"
"You're right, but maybe that's not the point of a story."
"Really? I'm confused."
"There is a lot of rothfuss lately on the internet about stories within stories about storytelling without telling a story."
"And people like that?"
"Apparently a huge kvothient of the peer group does. Maybe I should write something like that."
"A little late for that now, ain't it, boos?
"Well, what else is successful?"
"Star Wars, boss."
"That's an idea, finishing a trilogy and then living on it, creating tons of follow-up stuff and Merchandising. Maybe we even get Natalie Portman to play a role in a crappy prequel."
"Natalie Portman is mentioned quite often in book reviews lately, isn't she, boos?"
"Makes you suspicious, doesn't it?"
"So, we're still in need of an ending. Was way easier with the brginning."
"That's it!"
"What's it, Sir, Mr. Abercrombie?"
"We don't need an ending, we need a beginning."

And thus the third book in Abercrombie's First Law trilogy ends with an epilogue chapter called "The beginning".

This book lived up to its predecessors from end to beginning and has a few surprises for the reader.

As always, the characters are well executed and outshine the other elements of Abercrombie's writing.
So, if you're a reader for whom characters are the most important part of a book, you can easily add a 5th star to the rating.

All in all the series is a fun ride that cleverly plays with a lot of fantasy tropes and likes to turn them on their heads.

If I wanted to be really picky, I could tell you that the world-building lacked a bit for my taste and that I personally had preferred it to have a few better developed antagonists from the Ghurkish side, but that's not really what the book wants to be good at.

So, I would highly recommend it to everyone, who's not afraid of a bleak world and cruel events.
I'm definately delving back into the First Law universe with the three standalones, but most likely not right away.

"Mr. Abercrombie, sir?"
"About these Northmen..."
"What about them?"
"There's more of them now. Here's a little girl with a huge hammer..."
"Well...I'll think of something."

This is the conclusion of a grimdark fantasy trilogy. At this point practically everything I can say about the plot will be full of spoilers, so the most generic description will have to do. A war is raging in the north between Union and united barbarians. Another war is about to start in the south: people led by powerful and practically indestructible flesh-eaters quietly prepare to conquer Union - unless the northern barbarians do it first. Everything seems to be lost, but some powerful people still have some cards to play (very weak ones I might add).

This is the book to which I can finally give 5 stars without any doubt. The writing quality is still top-notch, the characters remain interesting and some of the weak ones from previous books finally developed into real 3-dimensional ones. There were enough plot twists in the book to keep me interested in reading throughout the whole book and I did not see quite a few of them coming. The power play behind the scene is revealed at last with some very much unexpected shadow puppet musters.

Speaking about the whole trilogy: is it worth reading? The answer is definite yes with some minor reservations. This is a grimdark fantasy, have no doubts about it. For the most part it successfully avoids being too bloody and macabre, but do not expect it to be shiny happy read: it is not. There are plenty of gruesome moments in there: consider the fact that one of the main characters is an Inquisitor whose job is exactly what you would expect from one and who happens to be very efficient at what he does - it is impossible to avoid very dark moments.

The first book really takes its time to set up the board and the game pieces - while it is not boring at all, much more excitement starts from the second one onward. You will also get much better understanding of the whole picture after the first book.

My final recommendation: definitely read the trilogy, but beware of its dark nature; if dark fantasy is not what you like, avoid it even if this is one of the best examples of this particular sub-genre. The writing quality is excellent, the characters and their development are very good, and some of one-liners are outstanding.