It (Stephen King)
The plot concerns a group of middle aged friends banding together to defeat an ancient evil that they wounded 27 years prior. Flashback sequences tell the story of their first encounter (these flashbacks make up roughly 70% of the book). The rest is told as they try to remember the first encounter and strengthen their bonds for the final encounter. Character perspectives are spread fairly evenly between each of the six main characters, and this somewhat detracts from the novel. There is a big problem with repetition, It tries to kill the children far too many times with nothing of consequence happening. Certain chapters involve something relatively similar happening to each character, the first time this happens is OK, because it is used more to introduce the characters. The other two or three times were somewhat gratuitous, consisting of It scaring each child in a different way based on their own fears. Interludes provide the town of Derry with some back story, and the events in the town's past are far more insidious and effective as suspense building tools than the children's random encounters.
The final act is both incredibly good, and incredibly bad. Intertwining the final events of both their childhood encounter and their encounter as adults, there is no shortage of tension in these final scenes. As the groups work their way through the sewers and into It's later, suspense builds and builds. Occasional cut aways to Derry suffering from an unprecedented storm that ruins the downtown area further add to It's mystery and power. The explanation of what It was and how it came to be was a bit over the top and unnecessary, I was more than happy to picture him as simply the sum of all children's fears, but the author paints a more definitive (but still somewhat mysterious) picture of It's origins. The fight vs. the monster is fantastic and unconventional, It is built up as having such great power, and the author has enough of a reputation for less than happy endings that the final outcome is very much in doubt. There is a VERY graphic scene between the children after they defeat It the first time, and, while the author is definitely trying to make a point (not simply being perverted) I didn't like it at all.
Characters in this book are constructed very proficiently, even minor characters like the parents of the group, and the school bullies. The seven themselves are very relate able and about as life like as you are going to find. Their backgrounds are somewhat cliche, but excellent group dynamics and realistic behavior make each of them enjoyable protagonists. Each also has a part to play in the context of the story, not one of the seven feels forced or unimportant. The author also puts effort into establishing depth for secondary characters too, making them an integral part of the main group's lives, and keeping them consistent from scene to scene. Even tertiary characters like neighbors and sales clerks are woven into the story very well. Characters that appear in only a chapter or two are referenced numerous times create a persistent, detailed environment for the story to unfold in. At times the sheer amount of characters can feel overwhelming, and, as good as the main group was, I couldn't help but feel that there was a few too many, especially during the final chapters when certain characters all but disappeared for scenes at a time.
The author uses excellent, appropriate language to paint a picture of the world through a child's eyes during the flashback sequences, and maintains a fairly solid tone for everyone he chooses to tell the story through. Dialogue is realistic for both setting and characters. There is a great amount of time spent describing the environment of the city, and it is so effective that many of the landmarks become as familiar to you as they do to the main characters. The destruction of downtown at the end of the novel is much more interesting due to the exacting and skillful descriptions.
It packs its fair share of scares and gore, but excellent characterization and a very focused, detailed setting bring the novel to life in a way few horror novels manage.