Book Review: Fairy Tale by Stephen King

Book Review: Fairy Tale by Stephen King

Fairy Tale by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“That much is true about songs (and many stories) even in my own world. They speak mind to mind, but only if you listen.”

Fairy Tale has been one of my most anticipated reads of the 2022 since it was announced. I preordered it in February, the day it first became available. So to say my expectations were sky-high would be an understatement. Reading anything you’ve been looking forward to for that long with your hopes for it residing somewhere in the clouds is always a tenuous undertaking. While Fairy Tale didn’t disappoint, it couldn’t quite live up to the hype in my head.

“it’s the stories of our childhood that make the deepest impressions and last the longest.”

Something that King does wonderfully well is coming-of-age stories, and that was on full display here. This is, at its core, the story of a boy and his dog. And that core was my absolute favorite thing about the book. I felt a little bit in love with Charlie as a character, and his relationship with Radar was just the sweetest thing. He’s had a lot of struggles in his life, but somehow he is still good. Well, mostly. Charlie is a pure soul with a kernel of darkness at his core. This darkness serves him well on occasion throughout the story, though sometimes he regrets it in hindsight. But he’s overwhelmingly good. The bond he forms with Mr. Bowditch as he seeks to pay it forward, so to speak, after his dad stops drinking, was heartwarming.

“There’s a dark well in everyone, I think, and it never goes dry. But you drink from it at your peril. That water is poison.”

Speaking of his dad, I loved seeing someone struggling with an addiction without becoming a monster, and actually trying to do better. Alcoholism is used so often in fiction to propel forward a plot, and King himself has used it many times in the past. But there was something refreshing about how it was portrayed so hopefully in Charlie’s dad. The relationship between Charlie and his dad was beautiful, even with its scars. I thought this showed trauma and response to said trauma in a very believable, balanced light.

“A brave man helps. A coward just gives presents.”

I found Fairy Tale reminiscent of other stories by King; specifically The Talisman and Hearts in Atlantis, both of which are works I adore. The coming-of-age, boy on a journey, portal fantasy with a period of captivity, all reminded me me strongly of The Talisman. Even the tone was similar. And Charlie’s relationship with Mr. Bowditch, and how that relationship revealed an entire hidden world, were very much in keeping with Hearts in Atlantis. For some reason, I actually found that portion, which comprised the first third of the novel, more emotionally compelling than the fantasy aspects that come later in the novel. It was when Charlie finally entered the shaft shown on the front of the U.S. edition that I thought the story would pick up, and yet that’s when I found myself having a harder and harder time focusing on the plot.

“You never know where the trapdoors are in your life, do you?”

Even if this wasn’t my favorite King book, I did still really like it. And I think it’s going to hold up really well to rereading. King did a lovely job capturing the eponymous fairy tale vibe while still maintaining his unique voice. There were a host of interesting characters, a fascinating world under a dark curse, and plenty of stakes. The protagonist was likable with a ton of heart. But something about the body of the plot seemed to drag. While I found myself thinking about the book often, I wasn’t feeling compelled to keep reading or sacrifice sleep, which is a feeling a tend to associate with King’s work.

“Time is the water, Charlie. Life is just the bridge it flows under.”

I think my main issue with Fairy Tale is that I firmly believe it would’ve been a far stronger novel if it were about 150 pages or so shorter. King tends to have a problem with bloat in his novels, and this one unfortunately was no exception. It was very good, and I would give it a solid 4 stars, but with some tighter editing it could easily have been one of my favorite books of the year. I actually think I might have enjoyed it more in audio than in print, so I plan to reread in that format sometime in the not-too-distant future. However, I will say that I was very pleased with the ending. King doesn’t always stick the landing, but he did here. He even poked a bit of fun at his readers for wanting a happy ending even as he delivered one.

“good people shine brighter in dark times.”

It may not sound like it from this review, but I did very much enjoy Fairy Tale. It gave a quintessential King story with a wonderful new setting and an even more wonderful protagonist. And I will always have a weakness for any story about a boy and his dog. I just wish the book had been edited down a bit. However, I really can’t wait to reread this, because my expectations won’t be so unreachably high. Which means that I have little doubt that Fairy Tale will blow those more tempered expectations out of the water when I return to it someday.

You can purchase this book from: Blackwell’s | (Support independent bookstores!)Amazon US | Amazon UK | Audible | (Another way to support independent bookstores!) | Book Depository (Free shipping worldwide!)

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