Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

This is the sequel that most King fans have awaited for years – a follow-up to the events of one of his most iconic and best-loved books. Set several decades after the events at the Overlook Hotel, Daniel Torrence is now in his 30s and desperately trying to escape his haunted past. Yet he has never been able to do so. He still sees the woman in the bathtub and some of the other ghosts from the long-gone hotel.

He’s spent his life in and out of Alcoholics Anonymous, jail, taking cocaine and lurching from job to job. Little Dan is now a very haunted adult and it is to this difficult chapter that we see him once again dive into the world of The Shining. He starts a job at a hospice and begins using his powers for good – helping people pass over. But the past won’t let go and he soon hears of a group called True Knot who are killing children with “Shining” powers to absorb their essence (what they call “steam”). Dan takes it upon himself to help these kids in a way of putting his life back on track and in danger at the same time.

On his journey, he meets Abra, a teenager girl with an especially powerful Shining ability who predicted many global events including and most notably the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Naturally, the True Knot’s members are keen to harness Abra as an unlimited supply of their not so legal high. A botched group-toke of a victim with measles makes them even more determined to seize her for themselves. Their logic is flawed, but Dan decides that he will protect Abra and the others from this malevolent group of cultists. The book takes us from confrontation to showdown and on a road trip back to the place where Dan had his first showdown with evil entities – the site of the Overlook Hotel. Without Halloran to help, can this drunk finally get his life on track?

Although this starts off pretty much as you would expect, the story takes several sudden surprising twists. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re looking for an essential rehash of The Shining you’d best look elsewhere. There are plenty of references to the original book, but the comparisons are there purely as reminders of Dan’s past and as plot devices, nothing more. I feel this is a good thing to branch out the world of Shining into cults and to show Dan as a haunted figure. The power of a writer like King acts in the ability to surprise and Doctor Sleep certainly delivers on plenty of surprises.

But it’s not without its faults. It’s largely a gripping story but it does feel familiar in places. Alcoholism and a troubled past are themes of King’s works, often writing about his own experiences with booze. It sometimes makes King’s characters seem like stock characters, which is a shame because that often detracts from his story. Talking of which, it lags at times. It’s more of a thriller than a typical King horror.

This is a good, solid read but not amongst my favourite King books.

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