*THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS*
Here’s to another gargantuan Stephen King novel with a too-smart-for-his-age boy protagonist who is the key to saving the day (I just read The Institute by King a few months ago, and this book, though different plot-wise, at least wears a similar coat). In Fairy Tale we have Charlie, who is a 17-year-old boy who lost his mother to a car accident and watches his father suffer through years of alcoholism. When Charlie meets the neighborhood recluse, Mr. Bowditch, and the old man’s dog Radar, his life changes. Hailed a hero for calling 911 and saving Mr. Bowditch’s life, Charlie becomes the cantankerous old man’s caretaker, creating an unlikely friendship. After Mr. Bowditch passes, Charlie is left with a strange inheritance: keys to a magical kingdom that literally exists in the shed out back.
This novel is classic King. He’s able to establish his setting very convincingly (being from Chicago myself, it was nice to see familiar suburbs and streets name dropped) & we are made very familiar with all of the characters quickly. King is able to not only write wonderful dialogue after so many books, he still finds a way of getting me to stop reading (or listening, in this case) and contemplate what he’s just written.
This novel seems like a departure of format a bit for King. I wouldn’t describe this novel as horror, or as fantasy, or even really as urban fantasy. I guess it’s technically a portal fantasy, since Charlie goes from our world into a literal fairyland. It’s also essentially two novels in one: the first third of the novel is almost a straight literary story about a boy who finds friendship with an old man and his dog. After Charlies enters the shed, however, the story turns into a fantasy tale with magic, strange animals, and a great dark evil.
I found the first part of the novel very engaging, and the relationship between Charlie and Mr. Bowditch had an authentic feel to it. I even liked the first part of the story when Charlie’s in the other world. He goes on a quest to find a sundial that de-ages people (and animals). He hopes to make Radar, who is on death’s door, a young spry dog again. He fulfills this quest about halfway through the book.
King is usually very good at exposition. He has a character (usually the protagonist) find someone with knowledge of his or her predicament, and that someone sits our protagonist down and tells them a long story. It’s one of the best parts of a King novel, in my opinion, since I love infodumps when they’re done well. Fairy Tale’s exposition, however, felt long and drawn out for very little reason. King follows his formula of having a knowledgeable character tell Charlie what’s going on, but I felt that a lot of the details we’re given aren’t very relevant. There is a section of the story where he literally goes from one person to another and has them tell him things in long conversations.
The rest of the novel finds Charlie stuck in a dungeon with other prisoners, forced to fight for the amusement of a mad, obese king (who sounds a little like Baron Harkonnen). After enabling a daring escape, he goes on to fulfill his role as a prophesied prince. I wanted Charlie to just go home already.
I found myself listening to the audiobook at a faster speed, because I was looking forward to the ending. The book was good enough not to DNF, but not good enough to savor either. I just didn’t really care that much about the plot or the characters once Charlie finished saving Radar. King could have wrapped up the book about 60% of the way through and it would have been a nice tale about love, friendship, and animal companionship with a magical twist and a sweet ending, but it was much longer.
If you’re a King fan, I have a feeling you will still be glad you read this book, as I am. It wasn’t my favorite King, but it was better than some of his other work.
Final Rating: 6.5/10
‘Fairy Tale‘ was published in 2022 by Scribner.
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