This book is exactly what the cover says: a fairy tale by Stephen King. The story is both familiar with elements integrated from a pantheon of fairy tales and new with supernatural oddities and twists that only Stephen King’s odd imagination can provide.
All elements of a classic fairy tale exist, including a common person who, through a positive character trait, learns of a great secret, explores that secret, finds an evil enchantment, and becomes the hero by chasing the evil away. And though there are some King-esque twists—replete with a supernatural darkness that any fan might expect—the story still includes the ultimate criteria of a fairy tale: a happy ending.
But what makes this book stand out, as is the case with the majority of King’s works, is the quality of the character development and storytelling. Charlie Reade is a relatable hero, and his relationship with the cantankerous Mr. Bowditch and his loyal dog Radar, is poignant and touching relationship. The first third of this book is a moving, emotional read that in itself is worthwhile, and this is before we even reach the fairy tale world.
King effortlessly weaves in the backstories of these two main characters such that we understand their motivations and actions - and the reason for Charlie’s quest into the fairy tale land of Empis. Charlie must face dwarves and giants, solve mazes and puzzles, and even survive a tournament to the death, all the while encountering charming friends and hideous foes. But where the real-world characters have a history that make them compelling, the characters of Empis lack that depth. Once in Empis the stakes, though higher, seem less important than Charlie’s family and relationships in the real world. And maybe that’s how it should be.
At just over 600 pages, this is an epic story, but with King’s immersive storytelling, it is a fast-paced, engaging read.