Written by: Randall Stephens
When Stephen King announced Doctor Sleep, the much-anticipated sequel to The Shining, he promised “a return to balls-to-the-wall, keep-the-lights-on horror.” King delivers, though in a subtler, more nuanced way than he did with The Shining. The Shining was in-your-face horror, the claustrophobic shock of being trapped in a narrow space where your worst nightmares are becoming reality. Doctor Sleep, by comparison, often feels like more of a love story, albeit one that takes place in a world where equally insidious evil lurks just down the road. There is an immediately noticeable chasm between the two books, but nonetheless, Doctor Sleep is a phenomenal read, sure to be an instant classic. Lovers of the horror genre, and particularly fans of Stephen King, should be sure to take a look.
Dan Torrence (as he’s known now) is all grown up. The Overlook may have burned to the ground, but Dan is still haunted by his fateful time there. His preternatural ability – which he still calls “the shining” – is as strong as ever. Other than that, however, Dan is no longer the Danny we once knew. He’s taken to drinking, and in many ways, he’s become more of Jack Torrence’s son than he ever was, lacking only his father’s Overlook-induced insanity.
Shortly after the start of the book, Danny finds employment at a hospice, helping people make the transition to the other side. He soon comes into telepathic contact with Abra Stone, a child also gifted with the shining. The two develop a strong bond, but soon Abra is threatened by the novel’s antagonist, the True Knot, a group of vampire-like beings that feed off the “steam” gained from the death of children with the shining. Unlike what I expected, the ghosts of the Overlook aren’t the novel’s villains, though they do make the occasional appearance.
Like all of King’s novels, Doctor Sleep is well-written, highly readable, and immensely entertaining. I personally think this is the best book that King has released in years, and I’d rank it is as my fourth or fifth favorite King book of all time. King’s character development in Doctor Sleep is better than it has been in any book since The Stand, and the novel is far more fast-paced than most other King books. I’m a huge fan of King, but I often feel like his stories drag on and on. Doctor Sleep is continuous action and character development, and the book was truly difficult to put down.
Doctor Sleep is a treasure trove for long-time fans of Stephen King. There are numerous nods to King’s works, and towards the start of the novel, there’s a clever reference to Charlie Manx from NOS4A2 (a recently release by King’s son, Joe Hill).
As this is a sequel, there are numerous references back to The Shining. Sadly, however, Doctor Sleep does little to illuminate the events of its legendary predecessor. If there’s a weakness in this book, that’s it: the connection to The Shining often seems forced. Stephen King could have easily written this book with a new character and used a different term for Danny’s preternatural ability. The trailer for Doctor Sleep says, “Danny Torrence grew up. So did his demons.” The line is nothing more than a clever marketing ploy: Danny’s time at the Overlook has little connection to Dan’s battle against the True Knot.
Overall, Doctor Sleep is very much worth a read. If you like the genre, or if you’re a fan of King, you should put this towards the top of your list. While the novel will likely not achieve of the fame of its predecessor, and while there is an enormous chasm between the two books, this is still one of the best books I’ve read this year. Stephen King has long been known as the master of horror, and Doctor Sleep is a classic example of how he earned that reputation.
Who Will Like This Book: Lovers of the Horror Genre, Fans of Stephen King, and Even People Who Rarely Pick Up Horror Books.