15 January 2015 Leave a comment
Author: Stephen King
Summary: First came the days of the plague… Then came the dreams…
Dark dreams that warned of the coming of the dark man. The apostate of death. his worn-down boot heels tramping the night roads. The warlord of the charnel house and Prince of Evil. His time is at hand. His empire grows in the west and the Apocalypse looms.
Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5
Review: I’ve owned this book for many years, but at 1421 pages, i always found it far too intimidating to start reading it. For the last two years one of my aims has been to read fewer, but longer books. So, i finally convinced myself to pick up this beast and get on with it. I feel very accomplished right now.
The book spans just pre-apocalypse, apocalypse and post-apocalypse, which suited my apocalypse-loving reading habits to a tee. I did especially love the first half of the book, with the plague slowly spreading, and the population slowly and then more quickly dying off. I loved the army trying to cover it up and the media being forced to play it down. It happened very much the way i could see it happening for real. Also, i went through both a sinus infection and a chest/throat infection while reading this book. Coughing, having a headache and feeling fatigued while reading about a flu-like pandemic killing off 99% of the population is a little unnerving, but totally added to my reading experience!
We follow several characters’ narratives, and at first it was difficult to keep track of people and plots and, even more, it was difficult to get into the stories. Just as things were getting interesting in one narrative, it would stop and you get thrown into another. After a few chapters of each, and once i had my head around who was who, the switching actually became more exciting, as i would remember where that character had been and was keen to get back and see how things would go. I had my favourites, of course, but my most favourite characters were secondary characters. Those the main characters met on their journeys. Tom and Glen would 100% be my favourites, and i loved them the moment Nick and Stu (respectively) met them.
There were two other stand out characters for me, because of how my feelings for them changed through the course of the narrative:
Frannie is the only main female character. She is the only female who we meet pre-apocalypse and whose journey we follow throughout the book. At first, i loved her. She was independent and free thinking. She didn’t follow the typical or easy line that was expected of her, and i admired her for that. But. As she and her companions made their way across the United States and finally settled with other survivors of the plague… she became weaker, meeker, more stereotypically feminine. She cried a lot and was generally extremely emotional and unable to control her emotions, even making decisions on them in committee meetings. She was portrayed as a typically stubborn and selfish woman/wife, who put herself and her family first and insisted her man/husband to the same. By the end she bored me and i massively disliked her, which i disliked.
Larry is another character who took my feelings for and opinions on him for a trip. At first, i disliked him immensely. He was selfish, egotistical and reckless. He was useless; no good for anyone–even his mother said so. Even though his dreams and his journey were taking him east, i thought it was a pretty safe assumption that someone would turn; a character we were made to feel on side for would, for want of a better term, “go evil.” I thought Larry was a prime candidate for this because, although he wasn’t bad, he wasn’t good, either. He struggles with the idea–the knowledge–that he is a selfish person, but i thought he would eventually simply embrace it and head on over to the dark man. Instead, Larry travels not only the United States, but also a wonderful character arc. He becomes the leader of a group of survivors and successfully leads them east, he takes on more responsibility when they reach the new community, and he–well, I wouldn’t want to spoil the ending. Suffice to say he fights adamantly against his selfish nature and wins, though continually struggles and wonders if he’s winning at all. In many ways i think he was the best of them all.
The second half of the book i had a lot more issues with, generally. There was a point when the whole feel of the narrative seemed to shift. It was as though time had shuffled forward a year or two, instead of only a week or two. All of a sudden the survivors had set up a base and were in touch with large groups who were making their way there. Larry’s group had suddenly gone from four to fourty. Nadine was suddenly in a grey area, being lured by the dark side and i kind of hated her. The shift was sudden and jarring and took a while for me to settle to. I think the missing transition was never made up for, and the second half just didn’t have the build up that the first half had.
By the last leg, i think the editor on this book had given up or fallen asleep. You can say i’m nitpicking, but i wasn’t looking for inconsistencies, they were simply very obvious to anyone who cared enough to pay attention. So, four people are instructed to walk over 700 miles with only the clothes on their backs and to not carry anything. This is adhered to in so much as they scavenge for food and water everyday. But. What about the sleeping bags they curl up in every night? Or the coffee they drink every morning that eventually runs out? They’re making this trek for several chapters, so these things bothered me for a good while.
The biggest disappointment, i think, was the defeat of the dark man and his people. Because, really now, the good guys did nothing. Nothing. I mean, they did stuff. They sent spies, they walked to Las Vegas, they laughed in his face and made some noise. But they did nothing to aid in his destruction. Ultimately, the good guys could have stayed home with their feet up drinking tea and having naps, and the dark man and his people would have killed themselves. I won’t go into mega spoilery details, but if you’ve read the book, stop and think it over. What exactly do the good guys bring to the fight? Nothing. So, really, it all felt kind of pointless to me…
The second biggest disappointment was the superfluous last 60-odd pages. I am not a fan of drawn out here’s-how-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after endings. And okay, this wasn’t exactly the “happy ever after” stuff, but it dragged on after the anti-climatic climax and urgh. I love books that end with a bang, or an ambiguous ellipsis. I hate books that end and then carry on a bit more and slowly, so slooowly just fade to black. My interest fades to black, too.
The one redeeming feature of the ending was the message to take away. Which, summarised, is “Society sucks and humanity will always kill itself.” In a slightly less crass way, as the book itself says:
Postpone organisation as long as possible. It was organisation that always seemed to cause the problem. When the cells began to clump and grow dark. You didn’t have to give the cops guns until the cops couldn’t remember the names… the faces…
And that idea, that theme, is slowly hinted at, revealed and explored throughout the book. And is 110% why Glen Bateman, the sociology professor, was the best character in the entire book; he saw it coming right from the start, but still fought hard as all fuck for humanity.
This is the seventh book i’ve read from my Classics Club list.
This knocks three squares off my Bookish Bingo: Made into a TV (mini)series, over 500 pages and features supernatural powers.