September 24th, 2022- October 28th, 2022
Fairy Tale is the latest from the king of horror, Stephen King. The title truly fits this lengthy novel. It is a fairytale, with all the classic cliches and premises of good vs. evil, betrayal, forgiveness, and greed. Yet, very dark. The Brothers Grimm would be proud.
The beginning third of the book feels like a sappy hallmark story, but the relationships are genuine and unique. The story follows a traumatized teenager named Charlie Reade. This poor kid lost his mother to a horrific accident and his father has attempted to heal the pain through booze, forcing Charlie to take on the role of parent in the household. Eventually, his father gets the help he needs and the two find a way to move on with their lives.
Overtime, Charlie befriends the elderly, neighborhood recluse, Mr. Bowditch, after finding him injured behind the house. He feels obligated to make sure Mr. Bowditch mends and gets back on his feet because of his past behavior. He also falls in love with the man’s aging German Shepard, Radar.
While Mr. Bowditch is in the hospital, Charlie housesits, and takes care of the dog. He discovers that Mr. Bowditch has a secret. He’s rich. Filthy rich with gold. He has a bucket full of gold pellets in his safe.
Unfortunately, Mr. Bowditch later dies, leaving some bread crumbs for Charlie to follow and explore through some tape recordings.
Based on the tapes, there’s a well on the property that leads to another world (Empis) plagued by disease. All the inhabitants of this strange place, crawling with insects as large as a cat, suffer from discoloration and grotesque disfigurements. Their facial skin seems to sag, and their eyes, nose, and mouth slowly close up. He also learns of a magical sundial that has the ability to turn back time, which Charlie plans to use to save the dog from the same fate as Mr. Bowditch.
Once Charlie descends the well, he meets many unique characters, including a princess, and he finds that the Royal Family who once ruled and loved this strange land had been butchered and overthrown. In the Royal Family's place is a tyrannical lot of skull-faced soldiers pulsating with toxic blue aura, gluttonous giants, and their leader.
After Charlie meanders through the city undetected, he finds the sundial and turns back father time on Radar, returning her to her once youthful self. But, during his attempt to return back to his world, he is captured and taken to the dungeons where he meets more alluring characters (Prisoners).
There, he learns of a bloody tournament that he is forced to partake in where the challengers fight to the death in front of rapturous spectators. Slowly, the prisoners around him realize that Charlie is special and that he is there to fulfill a prophecy of a prince who will return Empis to its glorious roots. He doubts it, though.
When all hope seems lost, a message arrives from outside the city, and he leads the few prisoners who have survived the tournament in revolt. They force their way out of the dungeons, defeating many foes along the way and finally reuniting with the true heir of the Royal Family.
After preparation, the group moves on the tyrannical regime and attacks, slinking deeper into the city’s underground to overthrow the leader. Here they find that the leader is merely a puppet, controlled by an entity of pure evil and unearthly size and furocity. Will they prevail and heal this once magical land?
This novel was a slowburn. The beginning third crept along, but also creatively developed the relationships between Charlie, Mr. Bowditch, and Radar. Emotions ran deep with each page turn, and I felt Charlie’s pain and the old man’s love for his dying dog.
The action picks up well after Charlie enters Empis on his quest to save Radar. He builds enigmatic relationships with the infected and those apparently immune to the plague, and the world itself is brilliantly displayed through King’s imagination.
As always, King delivers intrigue throughout the story, while also keeping an emotional attachment to the characters. Vivid imagery is embedded in each chapter. There’s a reason why he is the master and has done it for so long.
I really enjoyed this novel. It was heart wrenching, emotional, and terrifying. Powerful relationships were developed and the action delivered. Just what I come to expect from the King. Probably a hundred pages too long, but overall a great, satisfying read. Definitely worth the investment and time.