Monthly Archives: April 2013

3) The Eyes of the Dragon

By: Stephen King

Date Finished: 04.01.13

by Stephen King

“That is the story, and sometimes stories tell more than histories, and more quickly, too.”

My very first Stephen King novel!  And, boy, was this a great place to start.

The story revolves around the royal family of a country called Delain and the king’s advisor Flagg, who is in fact an evil magician.  Flagg’s only desire is for power without the potential for personal harm, which is best achieved by whispering in the ear of a weak king.  Unfortunately for Flagg, the crown prince, Peter is a strong, kind, and clever boy — the very opposite of what he needs.  Before knowing the danger, Peter falls into the trap set for him and must find a way out of it for the sake of his kingdom, which Flagg has brought to the brink of ruin.

King’s storytelling is exquisite with a self-referential narrator that is in no way involved in the plot.  This narrator speaks with a casual voice making him feel like he’s in the room with you.  It’s not exactly a campfire story, but it has that level of intimacy.  There are also many times throughout the book when the narrator says, “That’s something you must decide for yourself.”  This mantra is certainly audacious, but it works.  Hats off to you, Mr. King, for knowing exactly how far you can push the boundaries.

Speaking of boundaries, this book redefined short chapters.  It’s absolutely absurd to reach Chapter 70 when you’re only halfway through a book, but I love the brevity of scenes.  And at the end, as all the storylines converge, the chapters shrink rapidly until they’re only half a page.  This simple device brilliantly propels the story forward.  Throughout, the pacing couldn’t be more perfect as one antidote flows seamlessly into the next, providing a lengthy and intricate backstory.  It’s not an idle history either, as every detail becomes crucial to the bigger story — at least from the narrator’s view, since we are invited to decide for ourselves.

It’s a delicious tale, but I most love how the characters are introduced and how complete they are, from the crown prince to the nameless palace guard.  You can tell that each person who makes it onto the page has their own history and motivation, whether or not it’s explicitly mentioned.  Happily, the narration allows us to intimately know several different characters.  Even the sled dog gets a chapter of her own.  The specificity of the characters makes every interaction significant and rich.

In a nutshell?  Seamless.  Riveting.  Marvelous.

At the end of the day: Really, really, really for me

2) A Gift of Magic

By: Lois Duncan

Date Finished: 02.15.13

by Lois Duncan

A dying grandmother leaves some less traditional gifts to her grandchildren — to Brendon, the gift of music, to Kirby the gift of dance, and to Nancy the gift of magic, or in this case, ESP.  Due to their father’s job, the family lives a largely nomadic life until the two girls are freshmen in high school, then their mother brings them to her hometown in Florida.  Nancy (the one with ESP) has the hardest time adjusting to a settled life and fears losing her sister to world of dance.

I didn’t realize until I read through an interview at the end, that I had read an updated version of the book.  The slang had been altered and it seems some significant character changes had been made.  Specifically, the two girls had originally been in seventh and eighth grade, but in this version became ninth grade twins.  The choice to make them twins seems natural, but the change of age was not particularly helpful.  Duncan’s intention was to make the girls older so the book would fit in with the young adult genre which was just emerging at the time.  Unfortunately, the rest of the story doesn’t support a young adult audience these days.

As a girl who’s read tons of fantasy novels, I expected true magic, but got ESP instead.  I’m not sure I approve of using the term this way, but I do love how Nancy’s ability was readily accepted.  It had become a natural part of the family’s life style and while they exercised some caution around strangers, the main characters were surprisingly nonchalant about the whole thing.   It was certainly refreshing the way this special ability was handled.

I also liked the attention given to the other characters, especially Kirby and Brendon.  Nancy is the clear main character, but it was nice to see the others through their own perspective.  Unfortunately, the two biggest events in the book happened to the lesser characters.  Nancy is a practiced worrier and experiences real fear, but no personal danger.  Also, both these events happen near the end of the book and are hardly addressed before it’s over, which is a bit of a let down.

Duncan does play with expectations in an interesting way throughout.  Nancy has wonderfully strong convictions due to her ability to see the future, but while the heart of what she says comes true, her interpretation is often wrong.  This doesn’t happen in a sitcom kind of way, rather in a genuine, growing up kind of way.

At the end of the day: For my younger self, perhaps