Sequels come with certain pre-conceptions, particularly in cases where the original has had a sustained period of success and is one of the defining classics of a whole genre. Add to the mix that the author is a worldwide bestseller not known, outside of his Dark Tower series and books with Peter Straub, for revisiting old characters and you get a sense why advance buzz for Doctor Sleep has been awash with phrases like “highly anticipated” and “eagerly awaited”. However this weight of anticipation could have a detrimental effect on your enjoyment of this engrossing, multi-layered story.
If you approach Doctor Sleep expecting The Shining: Part Two you are going to be disappointed. This is no horror movie franchise style sequel where they take everything that worked in the first instalment and turn it up to eleven. King resists any urge to rehash the original story and the novel is all the better for it. This is more a continuation of Danny Torrance’s story than a revisit to old ground. By showing us how Danny deals with the trauma of his time at the Overlook and the loss of his father; King opens up a much broader narrative that spans the country. Whilst this robs the book of the intense, claustrophobic setting that enabled events in the original novel to be ratcheted up to almost unbearable levels of tension and suspense it does allow for a more expansive battle of good versus evil that draws more parallels with books such as The Stand and IT than its predecessor. The sacrifice that is made for this is of the scare quotient of the book which falls well below that of The Shining and leads to perhaps the biggest criticism of the book; it doesn’t raise the hairs on the back of your neck as often as you’d like.
The reader is shown the immediate aftermath of the first book’s events, including this book’s most genuinely creepy scene which echoes events from room 217 of the Overlook. This provides the connection to The Shining before jumping forward to Dan as an adult where heavy drinking to dull the effects of his ‘shine’ have turned him into an alcoholic and we see him reach the bottom of his downward spiral before redemption is offered in the form of a confrontation with the True Knot –a group of vampire-like beings who feed off children with ‘the shining’ and disguise themselves as RV-driving old folk in order to blend in to society – who are on the trail of Abra Stone, a young girl who may have the most powerful ‘shine’ ever seen. The way Danny’s life has gone allows King to introduce two of the major themes of the book. Firstly, that of addiction which can also be ascribed to the True Knot’s constant desire for ‘steam’ – the essence given off by children with the ‘shine’ when they are tortured and killed. Second is the pressure to either live up to the achievements of your parents or to strive to avoid their failings. This represents Dan’s biggest challenge in the book, even more so than his fight with the leader of the True Knot, Rose the Hat, and is epitomised in the most stirring quote of the book when Dan describes his father:
He was good and bad and I loved both sides of him. God help me, I guess I still do.
The other major theme of the novel is death, understandably a topic of interest to King given his own near death experience in 1999. Dan, revolted at his selfish act in response to a one-night stand, hits the road in search of a fresh start which comes when a voice within tells him to disembark from a bus in the town of Frazier which leads to a role as an orderly at a local nursing home where, with the help of a cat named Azreel, he is able to use his ‘gift’ to help certain patients pass on. This earns him the nickname ‘Doctor Sleep’.
Dan Torrance has his childhood experiences to fall back on this time around which allows him and his young protégé Abra Stone to be more proactive in tackling the situation than the reactive nature of the response he and his mother Wendy were able to engender. This robs a little more of the tension from the situation as their victory seems less in doubt but conversely it does create more of a sense of thrill in the reader as they take the fight to Rose the Hat and her bunch of ‘shine’ harvesting, polyester wearing, RV driving, monsters.
The stuff we expect from a King novel is all present and correct in Doctor Sleep; the characters, in particular Rose and her closest members in the True Knot, are given wonderful depth so they aren’t just merciless beings who won’t stop until they have taken what they want from Abra. They display loyalty and selflessness to their ‘family’ and they make the case that their drive to survive and prosper is an innate part of their nature that they have little control over. The settings are evoked in an effortless mix of description and dialogue, and King’s use of short chapters and foreshadowing help to keep the reader turning the page and make the plot twists when they come; consistent and logical. Whilst it doesn’t quite reach the heights of his recent novel 22/11/63 it still warrants a place comfortably in the second tier of his works and as an answer to “Whatever happened to Danny from The Shining?” it more than satisfies.
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Release Date: 24 September 2013
If you enjoyed our review and want to read Doctor Sleep by Stephen King please consider clicking through to our Amazon Affiliate links. If you do you’ll help keep the This Is Horror ship afloat with some very welcome remuneration.