4 out of 5 scaly stars
I read this a hundred years ago and couldn’t remember the story! I knew there was something about a dragon and an imprisoned prince. It was cool to re-read this (as an audiobook) and experience it again. In the weird way that memory works, I did remember much of it as we went along.
This is a fantasy – which some people think is unusual for King, but it’s not. So much of his stuff is actually fantasy. This reads like a fairytale, one you are sure you heard as a kid. It briefly touches the outer rim of the Dark Tower series, King’s sweeping fantasy series that is kind of epic, kind of western, kind of urban fantasy. This is straight up fantasy. In the Kingdom of Delaine, the King and his two boys are trying to get over the death of their Queen, a kindly, gentle woman, who died giving birth to her 2nd child, Prince Thomas. Her older child Peter, who benefitted more from her upbringing (getting 5 years of it) is very much like her, and Thomas is more like his father. There is also Randall Flagg. If you read King, you know him as Walter or the man in black who fled across the desert and was followed in the Dark Tower Series, or the Walkin’ Dude from the Stand. He is a magician and “advisor” to the King. And he’s deep down dirty evil.
They say we all mythologize our births. Who said that? Somebody did. But both boys have a mythology behind their conception. One interesting thing: I believe Roland the King (not that Roland) could be seen as asexual. He never had an interest in sex. His own mother held the throne for a long time, and it wasn’t until after her death that he knew he needed to marry and produce an heir, and he was later in life. Flagg knew about this and would give him a “tonic” so he could visit his wife. However, we get the name of the story from the fact that Roland killed a dragon. After, as was custom, he ate the 9 chambered heart, and he had no need of Flagg’s tonic to visit his wife. Nine months later, Peter was born. He was always a good looking, well behaved boy with a princely air, the apple of his father’s eye. Later, Flagg seemed desperate to produce another heir for the kingdom and gave the King an extra strong tonic, one that drove him nearly mad. The act with his Queen that night was basically rape. Thomas was born and the Queen died (there is more to it than that but – spoilers). Sadly, he was not as smart, not as athletic and good-looking as his brother. Even his good points are often overlooked by his father in the glow of Peter’s achievements.
We are told again and again, that despite his actions, Thomas is not truly a bad boy. I thought that was interesting. King is sorta famous for breaking the fourth wall (or is it the third page? discuss) and for spoilers. He will tell you what is going to happen but he will tell you something and in such a way that you tear through the book to find out what the hell is going to happen!!!??? And it also tells us that something wicked is in the wind… and that would be Flagg. He has befriended Thomas and is slowly dropping poison in his ear, and fostering any bad tendencies and jealousies the young Prince has. Because you see, Flagg doesn’t want Peter to take the throne. He sees no future for himself in a Kingdom ruled by Peter, and Flagg has a future in mind….
In a marvelously roundabout way, Peter ends up imprisoned for his father’s murder and Thomas is put on the throne. Sadly, everyone believes Peter did it. I like to think it’s just mob mentality… because Peter was so loved. It doesn’t take long for Thomas’s reign, poisoned by Flagg, to go sour. He’s crowned “Thomas the Lightbringer”, but soon people call him “Thomas the Taxbringer.” And the headsman’s axe is a constant song on the wind. Left and right, people are being executed for treason and sedition. The remaining nobles flee, and word is they are about to join forces and become rebels. Peter hears these rumors from listening to his guards and begins to think about his escape plan.
Peter has had a plan since he first was imprisoned and it’s pretty ingenious. With help from his old friend Ben, a girl named Naomi and her dogs, plus his butler Dennis (who is actually a young man and was unwittingly involved in his imprisonment) his escape plan is put into action.
I loved this. It feels nostalgic, like a good fairy tale should, but it’s also different and new. I listened to the audiobook, and this was really my first fantasy type audiobook. I usually listen to classics or my Regency romance. So it was the first time listening to a book that had action and oh my gosh, not only did the narrator bring it when it came to acting out the scenes but his voices were amazing. His Flagg was almost dragonlike – it was low and menacing and sibilant. There is a two headed parrot who made me physically cringe when he burst out his prophetic warnings and squawking. He could be an old man or a child or a drunk soldier. It was incredible. What completely sucks is that the audiobook doesn’t clearly state who read it. I went to the Overdrive site. I listened to the beginning of the audiobook and then went to the end of it, and had to fast forward to the very end to find out who it was. It was Bronson Freaking Pinchot. From Perfect Strangers, and another King work, The Langoliers. And he brought it.
Let me know – what do you think of King? Have you read this one?