Review: Doctor Sleep; Stephen King

“Another part of him, a part that shone knew better. The Overlook wasn’t done with him…” (4.5 stars) 

Source- borrowed from a friend

Published by Hodder and Stoughton, September 2013

I read the hardback version which is 486 pages 

The Shining completely creeped me out when I finally read it a couple of weeks ago. I mean, the movie had literally scared the bejeezus out of me when I was a kid (despite it being nowhere near up to the standard of the book), but there was something so much more chilling about the novel, you know? I still don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to look at topiary animals in the same way ever again. 

I actually got around to reading the Shining knowing that I had Doctor Sleep to come, and whilst this book can certainly be experienced as a standalone novel in its own right, I’m personally guessing that it would enrich people’s enjoyment of this novel if they do have the inclination to read The Shining first. For me, the events of that book were completely fresh in my mind and I think as a consequence of this, Doctor Sleep made an even bigger impression on me. Now that I have actually read both books (and pretty much sequentially), it is also hard to imagine one without the other, which given that there were decades between their publications, says a lot. 

After the events of the Shining, it’s not particularly surprising that Danny Torrance grew up troubled. Now an adult, his time spent at The Overlook hotel as a boy still haunts him; he is unsettled by frightening visions and it seems that the ghosts of his past follow him wherever he goes. After burying the demons of his childhood in alcohol, he settles in a small New Hampshire town, determined to make a fresh start. He takes a job in a hospice where his psychic ability provides some degree of comfort to the sick and the dying and is given the moniker ‘Doctor Sleep.’ 

To Danny’s surprise, he also makes contact with someone like himself- a young girl called Abra with the ability to ‘Shine’ in a way more powerfully than he ever could- and she needs his help. Children are going missing in droves, children with psychic abilities just like them, but more terrifyingly, they are being murdered by a group of people who torture them and who feed on their psychic powers at the point of death. The Shining is like a fuel to these monsters, known as The True Knot and most alarmingly, Abra is next on their list… 

This was a fantastic, powerful read that perfectly conveyed the impact that The Overlook Hotel had on Danny and that still resonates with him years after that frightening winter season. References to The Overlook Hotel and its medley of characters are littered all the way through this story and perfectly dovetailed with book one- there was never any sense of disjointedness or confusion. 

In book one, there was also more of a focus on out and out scares and a bit of gore on occasion, which wasn’t the case here. There was more concentration on character development and particularly on Danny’s journey, which I was so pleased to discover. Despite his best intentions, Danny has unfortunately inherited more of his father’s traits than he would have liked and a great majority of this book is concentrated on him trying to atone for his past mistakes. He hasn’t quite grown to be the man that I had anticipated, which makes it all the more poignant when he uses his ability to try and help others. The interaction between him and Abra is wonderful- she may be one of my favourite child characters in fiction now, a precocious, brilliant kid who doesn’t quite grasp the power that she has. 

King always crafts incredible villains and this was the case again here. The True Knot are a chillingly terrifying band of oddballs, who from the outset look decidedly harmless as they travel the length and breadth of the States in a convoy of RV’s. Led by the wicked ‘Rose The Hat’ they will certainly make me consider who is really travelling in one of those mobile homes that we pass by on the motorway in future… 

A couple of aspects I didn’t find so satisfying (hence the deduction of a half-star): how did the True Knot actually come about? You don’t really find out a whole lot about their origins and I wanted to know more. They’re vampires with a difference, but how did they evolve? What did all of their bat-shit crazy chanting mean?

Also: there’s body/mind swapping in this book between Abra and Dan, which whilst it was cleverly done and added a new dimension to the plot, threw me for a loop a bit, though saying that it doesn’t take much to confuse me… 

Other reviews I’ve read of this book have said that they would happily immerse themselves in another book within King’s Shining universe and would like to read more about Abra. As for me, I’m not so sure. I think that Doctor Sleep had a solid conclusion and it hasn’t really left me wondering what happens next, whereas with its predecessor, the possibilities were endless. 

This is a masterful story of good versus evil that is sure to appease fans of King who have long wondered “whatever happened to little Danny Torrance?” It admittedly wasn’t as frightening as its predecessor and I’m actually pretty happy with that because what I took away from this reading experience instead were its raft of solid characters (ones I came to care about), its cleverly crafted plot and that sense of relieved satisfaction where you realise that the sequel is almost- almost– as good as the prequel. 

Kudos, Mr King.

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3 responses to “Review: Doctor Sleep; Stephen King

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