The Eyes of the Dragon (Stephen King)
The Eyes of the Dragon is a charming pure fantasy novel that is unlike anything the author has ever written. The story is set in a mystical, far away kingdom, and has many of the staples of a fairy tale, but with several mature elements in addition to more morally ambiguous characters. The story, relayed to us by a realistic, entertaining narrator, is an surprisingly enjoyable read with few flaws, though fans of King's horror works will want to approach it with caution as there is nothing truly horrifying about it.
One of the biggest problems with the book comes in the opening few pages. Instead of just starting the story, we are treated to background narration on the kingdom, the main characters, and the dynamic between them. This segment takes a long time to get through, and the plot doesn't advance at all. Not to mention, the manner used to characterize and world build at this point is rather forced, with plenty of tell but very little show.
If it wasn't for the engaging narrative presence, these early scenes would have fallen completely flat. Our narrator pops up throughout the book to offer commentary, speculation, and bits of back story. This aspect is nothing like King has ever done before and he handles it fairly well. He creates a very casual, familiar atmosphere, though sometimes the narrator is used to remove some of the subtlety in the story and characters.
The characters are interesting and complex for the most part. The main character, Peter, is a near universally respected and good hearted character, which makes his plight all the more sympathetic. His brother, Thomas, is the most morally complex character in the story If there is one that I didn't like, it would be Flagg, our antagonist. He is the embodiment of evil much like Palpatine of Star Wars, with no redeeming qualities at all. He is very powerful, perhaps implausibly so, but our heroes are able to defeat him with no real cost. As the least imaginative of our main trio of characters, he seems kind of disappointing. The cast is rounded out by a handful of minor characters that each seem to represent one trait or ideal. Ben, Peter's closest friend, and Dennis the butler are symbolic of loyalty. Anders Peyna, a judge that is initially tricked by Flagg, embodies the ambitious pursuit of truth and justice, becoming one of the more interesting side characters through his changing perception towards Peter. Minor character Naomi seems a bit out of place and doesn't bring much to the story besides a cool pet and a feminine presence otherwise completely lacking after about the 75th page, but she is the exception. The characters overall are very solid.
When the story actually takes off, the rest of the book is sheer brilliance. Flagg cruelly manipulates events to paint Peter as the murderer of his father, the king. Peter is then exiled to the top of a huge tower. What no one realizes though is that Thomas, the King's other son, witnessed the murder and knows the truth. What follows is an excellent fairy tale that draws on its share of absolutely implausible events (Peter's plan to escape the tower involves a huge rope made out of threads from old napkins) and touchingly human moments. Though the story is somewhat predictable and prone to some moments of relative inactivity, it is overall very creative and feels right when compared to the other elements of the book. Much like The Long Walk, the author brings Peter's plight to us in a very empathetic way, vividly describing what it would be like to live in an open-windowed tower high above the ground for years without ever being able to leave. The climax is somewhat disappointing, and Flagg goes dangerously close to "raving lunatic joke of a villain" territory, but the story is really good otherwise.
Further sweetening the pot are the beautiful black and white drawings sprinkled throughout the book. The drawings really had to the whole story book feel, while also making events and characters a bit easier to picture. Most importantly though, they look really good. The drawings are a perfect compliment to the skilled writing present throughout the book. Excellent descriptions and strong metaphors make the drawings more of a bonus than a necessity, while solid dialogue and good action scenes bring the latter half of the book to life.
Eyes of the Dragon is a very good foray into whimsical, decidedly fantasy writing. Fans will enjoy the strong characters, interesting plot, and fantastic writing while only a few hollow characters and a slow start detract from the experience. It isn't King's strongest, but it is a surprisingly enjoyable tale.