Teenage hero Charlie Reade embarks on a fantastical journey in the horror author's new novel.

Once upon a time, Stephen King wrote a fairy tale, although the prolific author takes a third of this book, or around 200 pages, to make clear that the title of his latest opus is entirely, enjoyably unironic.

The lead character and narrator of Fairy Tale is teenager Charlie Reade, whose father descends into an abyss of alcoholism following the death of Charlie's mother in a car accident. The desperate high schooler prays that his father stop drinking, promising that he will do something in return, should that come to pass. When his father does get sober, Charlie sets about performing good deeds, ultimately volunteering to help a grouchy and reclusive elderly gentleman named Mr. Bowditch, who has broken his leg and hip after falling off a ladder. While essentially acting as Bowditch's nurse, Charlie becomes attached to both the old man and his similarly geriatric dog Radar, just as Bowditch warms to Charlie. Yet the teenager is also aware that there is something strange about his charge, who keeps a bucket filled with gold pellets at his house and a shed from which Charlie hears "a scratching, followed by a weird chittering noise that stood up the hair on the back of my neck. Not an animal sound. I'd never heard anything like it."

Stephen King
Cover of Stephen King's novel 'Fairy Tale'
| Credit: Simon and Schuster

We won't spoil what Charlie discovers in that shed and the details of the wild adventure which ensues. But having spent a hefty chunk of Fairy Tale seemingly setting up a horror-thriller in the same vein as recent books like 2018's The Outsider and 2019's The Institute, King pivots to a fantastical zone which has far more in common with his Dark Tower series of novels. 

King has said that Fairy Tale was prompted by a question he asked himself early in the pandemic: "What could you write that would make you happy?" Reading the result, it is hard not to be infected by the King's enthusiasm as he introduces his many heroes and villains, growing a giant beanstalk of a novel from the unpromising handful of beans real life had given him and the rest of the world during those dark COVID days. If some of the world-building comes across a little still-under-construction, Fairy Tale remains an enjoyable journey into the kind of realm King seemed to have abandoned some time ago. Certainly fans of the author's previous fantasy work can look forward to living happily, if not ever after, then at least until they finish the book. Grade: B

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