Note: This is an article in-progress of all Stephen King books ranked, updated constantly as more books are read and ranked.
Stephen King is one of the true household names, whether you’re a fan or not.
It’s a name that is so ingrained in the cultural ethos that everyone has encountered (or at least heard of) one his novels, short stories, or movies.
It, Carrie, The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile… the list is endless. Well, not quite endless but pretty damn long.
As of October 2021, Stephen King is 74 years old and his bibliography consists of around the same number of works as his years of being alive.
A novel or short-story collection for every single year of his considerably long life. Being that prolific means that they aren’t all masterpieces, but that’s why this article exists.
Born in 1947 and having released published works since the early 70s, Stephen King has been known as The Master of Horror for decades now.
He has created some of the greatest villains in the history of storytelling, from Pennywise the dancing clown to The Overlook, a literal haunted hotel.
Read More: The Best Horror Books (Not by Stephen King)
His villains are often terrifying yet deep and often amusing. But for every supernatural ghoul, there is also usually a darker meditation on a serious issue.
Alcoholism, domestic abuse, disability, mental illness, and ageing are just some of the countless topics found in most of King’s work.
I won’t pretend that King is improving, or is even maintaining his level of quality. His rate of hits has slowed down a lot, but only a few of his creations have been absolute clunkers. This means that looking at all Stephen King books ranked doesn’t simply involve going in chronological order backwards, as some may think.
It’s been around ten years since his last masterpiece but his record has shown that they can happen when you least expect it.
When you’ve written 70+ published works (and that doesn’t include his screenplays) having an off-day is understandable.
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All Stephen King Books Ranked (From Worst to Best)
Even though many of his “Constant Readers” (as he dubs them) have read one or two of his stories (or ten), the sheer amount of novels and collections is a lot of pages for one person to get through.
However, that’s where I come in. It’s on my bucket list to read all of it. Every single page.
I’m up to around fifty so far but still have a way to go. Hopefully, this article of all Stephen King books ranked will help you be able to skip the pawns and go straight for the King!
Please note that everything you are about to read is my sole opinion and will only contain the absolute minimum when it comes to spoilers. Each item on this list has been read once, and once only, so my view could be slanted by how old I was when i read them or my mood at the time, etc.
It’s entirely possible that this list of all Stephen King books ranked could change in the future but this is how it looks so far. I will also add the new books as i read them.
And, in terms of how ranking short story collections work, i rank them in order of quality/quantity of good stories and not how many bad ones there are or just how bad. Here we go!
Here are all Stephen King books ranked — from worst to best!
Terry Maitland, a well-loved member of a community is arrested for the rape and murder of a young child. There are numerous witnesses who saw Terry with the victim and the DNA evidence seems overwhelming.
However, there is also unequivical evidence found that puts Terry hundred of miles away and gives him an alibi. Which evidence is true? And what if all of it is true?
Here it is. Le Grande Stinker. An absolute cesspit of uninteresting characters and the most horrifically boring plot King has ever put to paper. The idea behind the story really excited me. The idea that such conflicting plot points can happen and both of them be true?
Sounds fascinating to me. But this is the first third of the novel only. As this section comes to an end, the idiocy begins. The rest of the tale is sluggish and unsatisfying to a degree that King has never shown before.
If this was how King was due to end his career, not with a shout but with a fart, i would rather it just end and pass on to more talented individuals.
But, as we’ll soon see, there is plenty of life left in the master of horror.
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone — A teenager repays a kind favour by purchasing a cell phone for his much-older technophobe frend. When the old man dies, his cell phone still appears to be getting some use.
The Life of Chuck — A story of death told in reverse about how we don’t realise our impact on the world.
If It Bleeds — A bomb decimates a school and one amateur detective thinks she knows the culprit – but this someone is supposed to be dead.
Rat — An author creates isolation so he can finally finish his novel. However, the loneliness creates some chilling symptoms
If It Bleeds is the newest short-story collection by King and by far the worst. The title story follows on from The Outsider which you may have just read my thoughts on.
There are far too many ideas here that have been recycled from other King works. These stories vary in quality between average and dire and the less said about them, the better. This collection reeks of a money-grab. Stay away.
Two aging journalists test the abilities of their intern to discover if she is worthy of taking up the mantle when they retire.
The regale her with the story of the town’s most famous unsolved crime, a tale which involves a dead body with no witnesses or motive as well as random and often contradictory clues. Their discussion has hidden depths and will determine the future of their company.
So i tried to give a synopsis here that may interest someone but honestly? The Colorado Kid is awful. It isn’t interesting for the most part and the ideas that ARE interesting go absolutely nowhere.
As per usual, i won’t spoil too much but the entire novel feels pointless as the answers you seek are not necessarily the answers you receive. I enjoy a “rug-pull” as much as the next person but i didn’t even feel betrayed by King here — it was worse than that. I felt bored. Thankfully, The Colorado Kid is less than 200 pages. Avoid.
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Roland’s group of Gunslingers enter a portal to a different world – our own. They are split up, sent to different places and time periods with vastly different objectives.
Callahan and Jake race to relocate Susannah, heavily pregnant with a child that may or may not be a demon. Conversely, Roland and Eddie encounter a person of vital importance – the author of The Dark Tower novels…
I sigh when i think about this novel. My love for the series was bruised heavily by Wolves of the Calla but Song of Susannah is where it was beaten. I think of this novel and wince. Where the previous book was frustratingly confused, this one is just a gigantic mess.
Stephen King adding Stephen King as a character into his novels is barmy but i also respect his cojones to do such a thing. Song of Susannah is another Dark Tower novel that reads like it was written on one of King’s benders during his early days of alcohol addiction.
The plot feels unfocused and erratic to a ridiculous degree and meanders for its entirety. Another nail in the Dark Tower coffin.
An artist witnesses an apocalypse before his very eyes as a virus transmitted through cell phone signals turns the population into homicidal savages. Halfway across the country, he risks his life to travel back to his family, before one of them is reduced to a hideous monster.
Cell isn’t a terrible novel but it does suffer from a lack of imagination. Worlds ending have been done before many times (some of those times by King himself – see The Stand) and shows like Black Mirror have become the gold standard in making horror about technology.
Cell reeks of “old man yells at cloud” energy (and there’s probably a cloud-based technology joke there somewhere too). There is little entertainment to be found here, unfortunately. A rare dud from King.
Roland the Gunslinger and his group arrive in Calla Bryn Sturgis, a town in peril from the Wolves, a gang of marauders who use anachronistic weapons to kidnap children. The group investigate and discover that the Wolves are not what they seem…and neither are the townspeople.
I hate this book. It is the 2nd worst novel in the Dark Tower series (and the next few aren’t superb either, for the most part). One element i did enjoy is the introduction of a new member of the group – Father Donald Callahan, a main character from the novel Salem’s Lot.
I think King finally lost control of his plot here and the tightness that has been present in the previous novels. In this one story alone, we get lightsabers from Star Wars, the Golden Snitch from Harry Potter, Doctor Doom from Marvel comics, talking robots and more.
The entire thing reads like King trying to capture the zeitgeist and the result is something like Ready Player One (a novel i loathe). I appreciate that King tried something new, a steampunk setting and the boons that accompany it but he also lost everything else here.
Enough to almost make me stop reading the series, if not for my demand to find out how it all ends. Fantasy lets us use our imaginations to experience wonders not possible in life but here, i found myself rolling my eyes.
Brady Hartsfield, Mr Mercedes himself,has awoken from his coma with some new unnatural abilities. He intends to complete his original plan to not only commit atrocities against the innocent but to also finally put an end to his mortal nemesis, Bill Hodges.
What a comedown. Though Mr Mercedes is by no means a masterpiece, it was entertaining and a nice change to King’s usual fare. By the time that End of Watch arrived, it was already stagnant. Brady’s petulant nonsense has already become a source of eye-rolling instead of fear.
The entire situation is a shame as Bill and Holly are interesting enough to keep me reading to the end but the plot has the opposite effect, making me want to give up. As an ending, this is a huge letdown.
A man notices he is losing weight…sort of. Every time he steps on the scale, it says he has lost weight yet his appearance doesn’t change, no matter how much he ingests. The weight just keeps disappearing. What happens when he weighs less than the air around him?
Elevation was released as a stand-alone novella and i have absolutely no idea why. King can’t be struggling for money. Why not keep this in his back pocket for his next short-story collection? Admittedly that would have been the ill-fated and frankly pathetic If It Bleeds, but still.
Elevation is a strange entity in that it is extremely bland and entirely inoffensive. There was nothing particularly to like or dislike here. It just…exists. Perhaps the most baffling thing of all is that King already has a novel about extreme weight loss and that other one has actual personality. This is an odd one indeed.
“Lisey Landon lost her husband Scott two years ago, after a twenty-five-year marriage of profound, sometimes frightening intimacy. Scott was a celebrated, award-winning, novelist. And a complex man.
Lisey knew there was a dark place where her husband ventured to face his demons. Boo’ya Moon is what Scott called it; a realm that both terrified and healed him, that could eat him alive or give him the ideas he needed to write and live.
Now, it’s Lisey’s turn to face her husband’s demons. And what begins as a widow’s effort to sort through her husband’s effects, becomes a perilous journey into the heart of darkness”
I hate this book. I hate it. I hate the terminology used (“smuck”, “bool” and “SOWISA” mainly) and I hate the plot. The wishy-washy “oooooh a magical world of the imagination” is irritating and incoherent.
Yet I can’t say this book is completely terrible, unfortunately for one reason: the presentation of grief and loss here IS fantastic.
As someone who has been through (some of) what Lisey goes through, I read parts of this and thought “yeah this is accurate”.
I hate that King has nailed loss here when everything else in the book is either dire or simply not to my taste. A shame.
A famous author is murdered and his unpublished work is stolen. Before the killer is apprehended, he buries the treasure and plans to collect it upon his release. In the meantime, a teenager discovers the buried novels and plans to save his financially struggling family.
The killer discovers the theft of his alleged property and vows to get it back, leading to a collision with private detective Bill Hodges.
Bill’s second outing is weaker than the first but still an entertaining read. With Bill and Holly being such interesting characters, I welcomed more time and adventures with them. Unfortunately, there is a whiff of King going through the motions with this series rather than giving us his best work.
This novel, though acceptable, is rather stale in comparison to the previous Bill Hodges story. Part of me feels this is due to the step down in villain quality but as is visible in the placement of End of Watch, bringing back Brady Hartsfield wasn’t enough to save this series either. Tolerable.
A small, suburban community becomes a warzone as strange vehicles patrol, taking potshots at the inhabitants and murdering them indiscriminately. Why is this happening? The only person who knows is also the culprit: an unusual child with a penchant for cartoons and cowboys.
The Regulators is a King novel that was released simultaneously with a parallel book called Desperation. Both concern the same characters, antagonist and themes, but have wildly different plots dealing with threats beyond human comprehension.
Answers are given to a degree but not stated outright. There isn’t a great deal to say about The Regulators as it’s an adequate story, told adequately. Don’t expect to be excited. You’ll find more chance of that in Desperation (though neither book is hugely impressive reading).
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The Eyes of the Dragon
A king dies. His eldest son, the noble Peter ascends. He is just a teenager but he is good and just. But the king’s magician, Flagg, has plans for his own ascension and Peter is deposed, incriminated in the death of his father. Peter makes a final request while he rots away in his prison tower: his mother’s antique dollhouse…
This is a weird one. Not only is this book not horror, but some say it’s a children’s novel. King has stated it was written for his children…but the die-hard fans reacted badly, wanting King to stay within designated parameters.
This experience prompted him to write about how psychotic fans can be the enemy of an author (see: Misery). Eyes of the Dragon is by no means a bad book. It may have the honour of being the only King novel i can safely read to my (future) children. But i didn’t enjoy it, unfortunately.
The simplistic plot just couldn’t hold my attention. I still hope King spreads out into other non-horror territories, even if this one didn’t cut the mustard for me. My biggest positive about the book is another encounter with King Universe Big Bad, Randall Flagg/Marten Broadcloak/one of the other countless names he has.
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
A young girl is separated from her family while on a hike in the woods and has only the most minor supplies to survive on. Loneliness and the potentially poisonous sustenance she finds contribute to a hallucinatory experience as rescue just does not seem to arrive. Although, being in a forest, the girl is not completely alone.
I felt very apathetic about this one. I don’t think this is necessarily the fault of the novel. I think there are a few personal factors that stopped this book from being higher on my list.
One is that the “Tom Gordon” in the title is an American baseball player and baseball features heavily in the plot and in the young girl’s hallucinations. Like most British people (i imagine), i have almost zero knowledge or interest in the sport.
I know that it resembles our school game called “rounders” and i recognise words like “pitcher” and “umpire” and so on. But anything else is gibberish to me. The other reason is the genre. Survival stories are like watching paint dry for me. Again, this list is my personal feelings only so you may feel completely differently.
Billy, an arrogant, obese man accidentally kills an old woman with his car and then uses his connections as a lawyer to receive no punishment. The husband curses him with one word – “thinner”. Billy begins to lose weight rapidly…but it shows no sign of stopping, no matter what he ingests.
Another shorter novel, Thinner is a story that feels perfect for an episode of The X-Files or The Twilight Zone. There isn’t a great deal to this story, really. Man is bad, man gets cursed, man tries to save himself. Though the descriptions of Billy’s torment are gruesome, Thinner feels…half-hearted.
I didn’t really feel like Billy was actually apologetic for the suffering he caused. It seemed to me that he just tried to fix things out of self-preservation rather than an actual realisation. This isn’t a bad story at all but i did find it an unsatisfying one. Good ending, though.
The Long Walk
The USA is controlled by a military dictatorship. Every year, 100 boys are given the “opportunity” to take part in The Long Walk – a competition to see who can walk the furthest. The winner receives a prize of their choosing. The 99 losers will be executed.
I remember the day in university I was recommended this one. It took me a whopping 13 years to listen to that recommendation but I’m sad to say that the wait was not worth it.
The synopsis of this novel gave me goosebumps. The chilling dystopia we expect to encounter is left unfortunately vague, making the novel feel unfulfilling as opposed to mysterious. We receive glances at the world outside of The Walk but not enough to make us invested.
Children dying for the glory of the nation is an interesting concept in theory and also a sickening one but somehow the plot loses lustre quickly and becomes a slog.
King is rumoured to have originally written this book before any other, which would make perfect sense. There are hints of undeveloped genius here.
King even went on to write about another dystopian competition but the other one would prove to be a vast improvement (see The Running Man).
One man has had enough. Bart Dawes walks into a gun store and purchases two powerful killing machines.
He begins to dismantle his life piece-by-piece until he is the only person left in his life. It’s him against the world. The only question is how much of an impact he can make on it before his time is up.
This is a vague synopsis. I am very aware of this. But the official synopsis is no clearer on what this book is actually about. “Man has breakdown” is probably not enough of a description to make something original or enough to draw the reader in and I am not eager to post spoilers.
The protagonist had experienced a devastating situation before the story began (one that I relate to more than I would like) and is even now experiencing difficulties but even so…I had absolutely no idea what Bart’s motivation was for his actions. Or to put it accurately, I couldn’t understand them.
Yes, the character is experiencing some turbulence but he uses this (almost mild) situation to cause pain and suffering to hundreds of others in his personal and professional lives.
This is even more irritating because this story is well-written for the most part. It’s just a shame that the plot is literally just a man making a out of a molehill.
I don’t know what else to say about it. Call this one a Wild Card.
Four old friends meet up for their traditional hunting trip in the deep forests of northern Maine. A deep bond is shared between the 4 men and their childhood friend – a very special young boy with unique talents. Their trip will not go as planned. The 4 friends fight to survive as government helicopters and unexplained lights fly overhead.
I can’t put into words how disappointed i was reading this. I literally just finished reading it and don’t remember the last time a novel made me actually annoyed about reading it. The first third of the novel (around 200 pages) is a treat.
There is superb tension and body horror and even emotional – actual, gripping emotion. The relationship that the 4 protagonists have with their childhood friend known as “Duddits” is incredibly heart-warming and by far the best element of this story.
But when the chapter viewpoints start giving us the thought processes of the villains (human or otherwise), the veil slips and the novel descends into mediocrity and eventually becomes such an irritation that i felt negatively towards myself for not just closing the book and never thinking about it again.
Try this one at your peril – or give up after 200 pages and then watch the movie instead. That first section of the book is the only thing keeping Dreamcatcher so high on this list.
Women all over the world have been hit with a mysterious illness. When they fall asleep, they never wake up naturally. But somehow they still live, in a state of perpetual slumber.
They can be awoken temporarily, but it is always accompanied by extreme violence. What could be causing such a phenomenon? And just who is the enigmatic Eve Black?
Technically this was co-written with King’s son Owen (as opposed to his even more talented son Joe Hill) but I’m still counting it. Sleeping Beauties is a rare novel that lives up to the hype.
And by that, i mean that i heard it was adequate and it ended up being adequate — no more, no less. I was really intrigued by the central premise — calling the disease “Aurora” made me chuckle – but the hefty book couldn’t keep my interest.
By the end, i was reading just out of curiosity. Some would say this is enough – the author took my money and gave me something i chose to complete. For me, this isn’t the case. I wanted more. Sleeping Beauties does have some cool elements (perhaps King’s most female characters in one novel) but it isn’t enough to make it stand out.
Nightmares and Dreamscapes
Highlight: The End of the Whole Mess – A man writes a journal for future study. The world is ending and he attempts to provide guidance to those who will survive…if any exist.
I imagine you’ve noticed the first word of this review is “highlight” singular and not plural. There is no hidden meaning here – this collection is just not very good. It’s fine. Totally fine. But that’s about it.
I really struggled to put these stories as highlights because the entire thing is a dreary mess. There isn’t much here that I would say is bad, either. It’s just there. It didn’t entertain me, but still made me read all 1000 or so pages.
The more I read, the more my optimism drained. I was almost begging for a great story, just one that would be at home in Night Shift or Skeleton Crew. I only read one.
The End of the Whole Mess is a quiet and subdued warning about how science is a double-edged sword — that it can make us gods but also create the end of all things. This story discusses both sides of the coin and is the only thing I read here that left a lasting effect.
I have thought about this a lot and the best description I can give for Nightmares and Dreamscapes is that it is a collection that has great writing but terrible, unoriginal plots.
One of the main heroes turns out to be the villain? Check. Evil children? Check. Tourists find a weird place and get murdered? Multiple checks.
The original ideas that actually are here (for example, some sentient teeth and a severely disgusting ritual) are either over-written to the point of being boring or under-written to the point of being paper-thin.
This book is 1000 pages of the colour grey. If Nightmares and Dreamscapes was a flavour, it would be vanilla. Some people like vanilla but it’s just not enough for me.
A long stretch of highway has become the playground for a lone cop to execute his own brand of law and order. Is this a case of a man drunk with power or is something else guiding the policeman’s hand? The answers are to be found in the abandoned mining town of Desperation, Nevada.
A superior story to its sister-novel (The Regulators), Desperation is a decent if unremarkable entry in the canon, featuring some fun but subtle references to The Dark Tower.
This is a novel of the grotesque, featuring some stomach-churning descriptions of not only the dead but also the living, as characters rot from the inside out, poisoned by the evil within them. A book of faith and fate, you can do much worse than Desperation. Tak!
A moral code isn’t something usually associated with hitmen but Billy Summers fits the bill (no pun intended). Billy is told his target is a “big fish”, giving the chance for him to earn millions of dollars with just one bullet.
Billy’s usual marks aren’t worth anywhere near as much money…which makes Billy suspicious. He plans to earn his final pay check and retire in peace but nothing quite goes to plan.
King’s newest novel (as of October 2021) is an enjoyable romp and far less serious in scope than his older novels. This results in Billy Summers focusing almost entirely on entertaining the reader (excluding some minor meditations on the concept of legacy).
The downside of this is that the novel has very little staying power and is guaranteed to leave almost no impact on the reader or on King’s legacy. There is an incredible reference to one of King’s best novels here though that put shivers down my spine. Almost worth a read for that alone.
Danny (now “Dan”) Torrance, survivor of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining, is a 40-something alcoholic. Fearing he will become just like his father, Dan checks into Alcoholics Anonymous and vows to turn his life around.
His path leads him to the True Knot — a coven of “psychic vampires” who feed off the pain created when those with the ability to “shine” are tortured. The True Knot need to feed to survive and the their next target is someone closer to Dan than he realises.
This is one of the rare books that is inferior to the movie (thanks to master horror director Mike Flanagan). Doctor Sleep is another of King’s works (especially the later works) which delights and bores in equal measure. There are some fantastic elements here.
Rose the Hat (leader of the True Knot) is creepy and sexy at the same time and her group feel like manky, goblin people instead of the usual “cool” serial killers you find in media. Some of the scenes where the villainous group “feed” are obscene — violent and violating.
And the last 100 pages are extremely satisfying but unfortunately, i cannot say why due to spoiler reasons. But the rest of the novel feels rather safe and uninspired and i felt very little interest or empathy in the characters. A fair but disappointing sequel.
A small American town. Quiet. Friendly. Doomed. Bobbi Anderson walks in the woods and trips over a piece of metal. Something is stuck in the earth.
She decides to dig it out and discover what the item is. But Bobbi’s desire to uncover the increasingly mysterious object becomes more than desire. And slowly, the townsfolk begin to be infected by the strange appeal of the dig.
I really struggled with this, in multiple ways. I struggled to want to read this at times…and other times, I struggled to put it down. I struggled to decide whether I should stop reading.
And I struggled to say whether I liked the book or not. There were times during my reading that I was seriously impressed. The characters are interesting and their individual stories are often fascinating and exciting.
But unfortunately, the overarching plot of the novel is not my thing. This sci-fi story is decent…but it’s just not worth continuing and the 1000 pages is just not necessary. “The town goes crazy” is a trope that King sometimes aces but here, it doesn’t hit the mark.
The Talisman (with Peter Straub)
“On a brisk autumn day, a twelve-year-old boy stands on the shores of the grey Atlantic, near a silent amusement park and a fading ocean resort called the Alhambra.
The past has driven Jack Sawyer here: his father is gone, his mother is dying, and the world no longer makes sense. But for Jack everything is about to change. For he has been chosen to make a journey back across America–and into another realm.
The Talisman is an extraordinary novel of loyalty, awakening, terror, and mystery. Jack Sawyer, on a desperate quest to save his mother’s life, must search for a prize across an epic landscape of innocents and monsters, of incredible dangers and even more incredible truths.
The prize is essential, but the journey means even more. Let the quest begin”
Once again, I am sad to say that this one is a “it’s not you, it’s me” book. The Talisman is well-written and unusual, reminding me very much of a more family-friendly version of The Dark Tower but for some reason, I didn’t really connect with it.
The events felt very much like a string of random occurrences rather than a journey created by cause and effect. King may be the Master of Horror but his record of fantasy stories is definitely a mixed bag. I won’t be reading the sequel so that won’t be on this list FYI.
Carrie White is a naive and sheltered schoolgirl, bullied by her peers and abused by her family. Carrie has some unusual abilities and is considered sinful by her god-fearing mother. One final prank will unleash Carrie’s rage, turning what should be an important milestone in life into a nightmare – for Carrie and everyone else.
Carrie is a superb first step to take into the world of Stephen King. It was my first step. For a newbie, there is a bit of everything – family drama, crime, pseudoscience and, naturally, horror. King’s first published novel has been bettered many times since release but the themes and story beats King is known for started here.
The slow-build of atmosphere and dread – the knowledge that something bad is going to happen – to a crescendo is something that would become a calling card for the author. Commenting on the concept of bullying, religious fanatacism and also the mistreatment of the unknown, this is a good read but not one of King’s best.
The Gunslingers approach their final battle. Susannah gives birth to her son, Mordred, who isn’t completely human and hunts his father with an iron will and a thirst for murder. There will be a showdown with The Man in Black and The Crimson King, and Roland will finally enter the Dark Tower and see what horrors lie within.
Is this the end or the beginning?
I won’t pretend that the final novel in this colossal series is great. It isn’t. But there are moments where i was reminded of just how good the series had been at one point. There is a chase sequence in Castle Discordia that made me physically uncomfortable because it was so tense.
The opening — Father Callahan and Jake vs the cannibalistic inhabitants of The Dixie Pig restaurant is exciting and disgusting. And the ending…wow. Extremely controversial, the ending of the Dark Tower series will either ruin the entire thing for you or, if you’re like me, make you speechless for a good 20 minutes or so.
For me, the ending is a massive triumph and fits especially well with the lore that has been created throughout. It’s just a shame we had to wade through some sewage to get here.
Teenager Devin decides to take a summer job at Joyland, an amusement park, partly to take his mind off of his woeful love life. His time at Joyland will bring many new experiences for Devin – his first job, his first sexual experience…and naturally, his first haunting and murder-mystery. They grow up so fast, don’t they?
Joyland was the first Hard Case Crime novel of King’s that i had encountered and had an absolute blast with it. Though published and advertised as a pulpy crime story, the horror elements King is infamous for are absolutely still present.
Although Joyland is not the novel that is going to cement the author’s legacy, Joyland is a joy. It is a simple and fun thriller that doesn’t take itself too seriously and actually benefits from a lack of urgency. There are no worlds ending here (just a few lives).
For the most part, it is a tale of a boy moseying through his summer having normal teenage experiences. However, the murder-mystery plot gives Joyland (the novel and the funfair) a terrific atmosphere and the idea that the entire plot is occurring on hallowed ground. I recommend this one.
A sweet Saint Bernard is bitten by a rabid bat and changes from a gentle giant into a monstrous killer. A woman and child are locked in a broken-down car, baking in the heat. Their choices? Pray to be rescued and slowly die of thirst or try to rescue themselves and risk the attentions of the monster salivating outside.
I felt like this book was written just for me. I’m obsessed with dogs, horror and media taking place in one room. Then why was i so disappointed with Cujo? I’m not entirely sure but it may not be entirely my fault.
King has stated on more than one occasion that he has no memory of writing Cujo as he was in the midst of his battle with addiction and this somehow makes sense to me. Though it has all the ideas present to be a stone-cold classic,
Cujo feels rather aimless and anti-climactic. It probably sounds like i disliked this novel and it is absolutely not the case. It simply may be that my expectations were too high (which often happens when an author is referred to as the Master of Horror).
Something that does work well is the inner monologue of Cujo himself, beginning as a daft furry darling and slowly succumbing to his baser instincts. It’s awfully sad!
Taking shelter from inclement weather, Roland and his gunslingers settle in for the night. Roland uses this occasion to regale the group with another tale of his past – a quest to bring an elusive and murderous skin-man justice. During his exploits, Roland meets some interesting characters with bizarre stories of their own.
Released around 8 years after the finale of The Dark Tower, The Wind Through The Keyhole is set between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla. It’s an odd duck but a good one. Roland’s quest reveals a story within a story and is in the style of a more traditional fairytale (see also: The Eyes of the Dragon) than King’s usual fare.
The unusual structure of the novel makes the plot a little bit messy and unfocused but it doesn’t cause too much trouble and it is a delight to read another story in the Dark Tower universe that is great fun, unlike the previous 3 novels in the series.
This still doesn’t hit the heady highs of the first 4 novels but i didn’t expect it to. Considering this may have just been King messing around, it’s a good ‘un.
Bill Hodges is an overweight and suicidal retired police detective who is not suited to his new sedentary life. He receives a message from someone calling themselves “Mr Mercedes”, the perpetrator of an unsolved case and Hodges greatest failure.
Bill decides to use his retirement to right that which has been wronged, regardless of the mental and physical toll.
The first in the Bill Hodges trilogy is the best one by far. The villain, Brady Hartsfield (don’t worry, his identity is not a secret) is a twisted, disgusting creature with an admittedly pathetic backstory. Bill is a wonderful protagonist too.
A grumpy old goat, I guffawed at his stubborn yet loveable manner and cheered at his determination to save the innocent. Mr Mercedes also introduces us to autistic wunderkind Holly Gibney, a fascinating character ultimately left to struggle in the mire of the mediocre (the Bill Hodges sequels) and the obscene (The Outsider saga).
A cool crime caper.
Cycle of the Werewolf
“Terror began in January – by the light of the full moon… The first scream came from the snowbound railwayman who felt the werewolf’s fangs ripping at his throat.
The next month there was a scream of ecstatic agony from the woman attacked in her cozy bedroom. Now scenes of unbelievable horror unfold each time the full moon shines on the isolated Maine town of Tarker’s Mills.
No one knows who will be attacked next. But one thing is sure. When the full moon rises, a paralyzing fear sweeps through Tarker’s Mills. For snarls that sound like human words can be heard whining through the wind. And all around are the footprints of a monster whose hunger cannot be sated…”
I’m not sure why this was a stand-alone release – it should have been one of the stories in Skeleton Crew instead as they were released around the same time.
Not complaining much though — this was a great little novella. Some smart, snappy writing here and all killer, no filler.
King has dealt with vampires, ghosts, aliens and plenty other monsters so a werewolf story is a treat. Not much else to say. Good stuff!
A writer returns to his hometown to finish his new book in peace. However, a mysterious stranger named Kurt Barlow has moved into town and never seems to appear in the daylight.
‘Salem’s (short for ‘Jerusalem’) Lot was one of King’s earliest novels and it shows, for better and for worse. The book is languorously written, echoing the stalking menace of Barlow as he begins to corrupt the townspeople.
Though the novel is not a short one, it is probably too short for the amount of plot and to adequately flesh out all of the characters and the interesting lives only hinted at.
King has also written a few short stories which connect to ‘Salem’s Lot and, unfortunately, all of them are superior to the novel. This is still an enjoyable read though.
Read More: Essential Vampire Books
Septuagenarian Ralph Roberts can’t get enough sleep. It’s commonly said that older people need less sleep but for Ralph, every night sees him wake that little bit earlier than the night before.
Ralph also sees things – auras of colour and people who can’t possibly be real – can they? Unbeknownst to Ralph, he has been conscripted into a war he barely comprehends: a fight for the fate of a tall, Dark Tower…
Ok so let’s get it out of the way: Insomnia is bonkers. There are psychic powers aplenty, suggesting a campy, silly and fun story yet the majority of the plot is grounded, concerning abortion rights and the (apparently endless) battle between the pro-choice and the misguided, right-wing lunatics.
The leader of said villains is a fascinating one, capable of intense violence and sneering cruelty while retaining a sly, tactician nature.
Unfortunately, he is barely used outside of the first 100 pages and the denouement. The rest of the antagonism comes from an underling named “Bald Doctor #3”.
These “Bald Doctors” are characters inspired by Greek myth that feel bizarre and out-of-place but thankfully, the entire novel is a contradictory one. Many things that shouldn’t work, do.
There are issues, however. Insomnia feels very haphazard, injecting odd ideas and story beats amongst the good ones. It relies on a great deal of intangible elements such as the colourful auras surrounding all of the characters and it doesn’t feel completely necessary.
It is also far too long and padded. I’d say a whopping 200-300 pages could have been cut from this one. Very enjoyable reading but it grates eventually.
The Little Sisters of Eluria — Roland, The Gunslinger himself, is injured by mutants. He is raised back to health by The Little Sisters – nurses who seem benevolent but may actually be malevolent.
The Road Virus Heads North — A man notices that the painting in his office seems to be moving when he looks away. The grinning figure in the portrait appears to be travelling closer to his location with every glance.
I have changed my mind about this collection over the years. This was my first foray into King (along with Carrie), something i picked up on a whim at Gatwick airport en route to a family holiday. At the time, i was entranced. Story after story blew me away.
Since then, I’ve read around 50 of King’s published works and many of them are better. The Little Sisters of Eluria is majestic, though. I had no idea what The Dark Tower was at the time but this story made me salivate at the thought of a full series of similar escapades.
The Road Virus Heads North is shorter but almost as good, scaring the bejesus out of me (even though the concept isn’t particularly original). The rest of the stories are good, if unremarkable, making this one of the weaker collections overall but still an interesting and often thought-provoking book.
Set only a few hours from where The Gunslinger ended, Roland is severely injured by a new threat. His path to the Dark Tower will require him to open 3 doors which lead to 3 very important people for his journey. He heads toward the tower, slowly succumbing to his infected wounds…
The second Dark Tower novel is a difficult one to describe. The first half is wonderful. We see Roland at his weakest and have a brilliant, action-heavy sequence with his newest pal, Eddie Dean.
We also meet another new character, Odetta — a Black amputee in a wheelchair who is strongly invested in the civil rights movements of the 1960’s (DT has time jumps, don’t worry too much).
However, Odetta also has dissociative personality disorder and often becomes Detta – an aggressive mirror image of Odetta. I’ve heard multiple opinions on Detta as a character but many people agree that she is a pretty offensive racial stereotype in her actions and speech.
And this isn’t good enough, not even for the late 80s when it was released and definitely brings the tone and quality of the novel down.
Contains 4 novellas:
1922 — A farmer and his son are mistreated by a tyrannical matriarch and decide to kill her, an event that has unforeseen and long-lasting consequences for them both
Big Driver — A mystery writer is assaulted and left for dead by a trucker. She lives through the event and vows revenge
Fair Extension — A creepy stranger offers a dying man a way to live an extra 15 years. But it comes with an ethical dilemma.
A Good Marriage — A woman realises her boring but loving husband may not be the man she thought he was.
The 4 stories here are all very enjoyable, 1922 in particular being an excellent horror story.
Both 1922 and Fair Extension are morality tales but seem to give conflicting messages on how morality works – one saying that our deeds come back to haunt us and the other saying that sometimes, evil wins. I suppose this reflects just how complex morality can be.
Big Driver deals with rape culture and the idea that sometimes there are more consequences for the victim than the perpetrator. A Good Marriage is unremarkable but satisfying. A great bunch of stories.
Teenager Jamie has the ability to see and speak to the dead, an enviable or unenviable skill depending on your point of view. When his mother’s partner, a corrupt cop finds out, it sets off a chain of events culminating with a meeting with the dangerous terrorist nicknamed Thumper, who refuses to let his own death get in his way.
The most recent in King’s Hard Case Crime series, Later is the best of the bunch. The previous two books were more crime novels than horror but Later straddles the two genres.
Though this book is not a game-changer by any means, it’s sharp and creepy and thoroughly enjoyable. This works well as a shorter novel but i would be very interested to read a longer novel with a similar plot.
One of the events in Later involves Jamie having a discussion with a recently deceased author and passing that information on to his mother for her profit from his ideas. I was riveted by this idea. Another concept is something i won’t spoil but Later is full of exciting ideas that keep it from being just another notch in King’s repertoire.
12 year-old genius Luke is kidnapped from his bed. His parents are murdered in their sleep. He is transported to The Institute, a concentration camp for children with “talents”. The children are tortured until their latent telekinetic or telepathic abilities are released.
They are then moved to the other side of The Institute – where they are never heard from again. Luke is determined to escape, save his friends and bring justice to those who have caused so much pain. But why are the children being kidnapped in the first place? What are their abilities being used for? And what fate awaits them?
The Institute is an enjoyable story, reminding me of a twisted version of X-Men, but like some of the other stories on this list, has very little actual impact on King’s legacy. But that’s ok! Not every book has to be important or insightful. It’s ok to just be a fun read.
Something positive about this novel is just how evil the antagonists are. I felt physical hatred for Mrs. Sigsby and her underlings and this pure vitriol fuelled me to finish the story as soon as possible. That makes it sound like i needed something to keep me going which is not the case at all.
This is a delightful novel. It just didn’t make me feel anything other than enjoyment.
A small town is suddenly cut off from the rest of the world when an energy field encircles it. Nobody can escape and no aid can be given to the town.
Nothing physical can cross the barrier. The ensuing power vacuum results in a dangerous conflict between the righteous and the self-righteous, vying for control of a town slowly running out of food, water and oxygen.
Another of King’s novels that could break a toe if you dropped it, Under the Dome may sound like an extended version of the plot of The Simpsons Movie but this is a far darker tale.
Murder, sexual abuse and some questionable treatment of corpses are on display here as the man in power vows to do whatever it takes to stay there.
As per many of King’s novels, the ending may not appease everyone but this tale of a small conservative society collapsing on itself is a fascinating mirror image of the United States (and any other country run by power-crazed madmen). An unexpected gem.
A gang of young misfits are terrorised by Pennywise – a demonic clown that feeds on fear after hibernating every 27 years. We also simultaneously experience the “Loser’s Club” as adults, forced to return to the town (and the creature) they mysteriously forgot. The Loser’s Club must battle with not just the clown, but their own fears.
One of King’s novels that works as well as a horror story as it does a doorstop.
Hitting well over the 1000 page mark, It is many things — a wonderful and emotional story, a creepy, coming of age saga, but also a flabby and unfocused mess at times. Pennywise has nevertheless haunted many of us for decades, especially those of us who are coulrophobic.
Alas, like many King novels, the denouement and ending are…difficult. The revelations about how to beat Pennywise are vague and unsatisfying, but the ending itself? Incredibly controversial in content. I’m not sure what possessed King to put “that” bit in the book but it was entirely superfluous.
The ending of the movies were changed for a good reason. This is still a great horror novel, albeit one that could use some trigger warnings (and a more forceful editor).
A collection of short stories that, unlike King’s usual style, all relate in terms of plot and characters, rather than just themes.
Low Men in Yellow Coats — A young boy befriends an old man who is hunted for his special abilities.
Hearts In Atlantis — a university student discusses his addiction to a card game and his experience with anti-Vietnam sentiment
Blind Willie — A blind Vietnam veteran begs for change on the street. But his blindess comes with caveats
Why We’re in Vietnam — A war veteran discusses his experiences in Vietnam
Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling — Childhood sweethearts meet up as adults and find the world a different place than it used to be
Hearts in Atlantis is a superb collection of stories that (as you probably noticed) mostly deal with the Vietnam war.
I didn’t even notice that it wasn’t a novel until i started reading. I had recently seen and enjoyed the movie with Anthony Hopkins (which in reality only represents the first story in the book, making the title of the movie make zero sense) and read this on a whim.
The book is a far deeper experience, creating a conflicted view of one of the greatest US failures such as the obscene violence inflicted on the Vietnamese but also the lies, guilt and threats that the powerful and immoral used to convince the young and optimistic to travel across the world to die.
These stories are varied and mostly excellent, though the book does lose lustre the further it goes. A great book still.
A Death — In the Old West, a man is arrested for a murder he swears he did not commit. The Sheriff becomes determined to save the man from the gallows and find the killer.
Morality — A couple struggling financially are given the opportunity to earn a hefty prize. But to earn the money, they will have to commit a truly immoral act.
Afterlife — A dead man meets a bureaucrat in Purgatory where he is given a difficult choice – to stay dead or to live again…but with caveats.
The three stories mentioned here are wonderful fables, each creating a moral or philosophical quandry. Are people inherently good or evil? Should we risk offering help if it negatively affects us? Is morality important enough to rule our lives?
Fascinating dilemmas are on display here but the stories would be excellent on face value alone. As usual, we do have some clunkers also. Under the Weather is a story so clichéd that it boggles the mind that King thought it was acceptable.
There is also some poetry which contributes nothing towards the book and is best disregarded. This collection isn’t perfect but still has a knockout punch (or three).
The Dark Half
Author Thad Beaumont has just buried a man. That man is George Stark – his own pseudonym.
Described as being “not a very nice man”, George has been a source of conflict for Thad by making more money than Thad’s own books and also having a darker, more sinister personality.
The problem is that Stark doesn’t want to die. He wants the life he feels that Thad owes him and will commit untold horrors to get what he wants. But for Thad, how do you stop a man who isn’t real?
This is one of the King novels that I was most excited to read, mainly because I knew absolutely nothing about it other than the title. Most people know It, Carrie, and The Shining but even I, an addict of the author’s work, knew barely anything regarding it.
Apparently they even made a movie but nobody I asked had heard of that either. This turned out to be a good thing as I thoroughly enjoyed this one.
The supernatural is kept to a minimum (but not gone entirely) and the novel is more like a crime thriller than King’s usual output, and features rather heavy gore at times (something I confess I enjoy greatly).
One could say it matches the work of George Stark to a degree. The plot is engaging but is thankfully not as long as some of King’s “doorstop” novels. It lasts as long as it should.
I would have liked some more plotting regarding Stark’s existence (especially since a 2021 horror film did this explanation a little better – no spoilers here though) but otherwise, this is a terrific addition to the King library.
Bag of Bones
“When Mike Noonan’s wife dies unexpectedly, the bestselling author suffers from writer’s block. Until he is drawn to their summer home, the beautiful lakeside retreat called Sara Laughs.
Here, Mike finds the once familiar town in the tyrannical grip of millionaire Max Devore. Devore is hellbent on getting custody of his deceased son’s daughter and is twisting the fabric of the community to this purpose.
Three-year-old Kyra and her young mother turn to Mike for help. And Mike finds them increasingly irresistible. But there are other more sinister forces at Sara Laughs. Kyra can feel them too…”
I feel very disappointed by this book. Don’t get the wrong idea – it’s a great book overall. But for the first 300-400 pages, I was sure Bag of Bones was going to be one of the absolute best things Stephen King had ever written.
The characters were wonderful (Mattie Devore is one of King’s greatest creations and I love her) and the mystery is slowly fed in a way that had me hooked. The problem is that the book fudges the landing a bit.
A huge twisty plot eventually peters out. One of the main villains (sort of) is feared by the townsfolk. Even though her actions are incredibly tame when compared to the death and destruction caused by plenty of other King baddies.
Bag of Bones is a ghost story that has weak ghosts who do very little until the denouement and by then i was wondering what took so long.
Some will also baulk at the age difference in a particular relationship, even though the relationship itself is emotive and the heart of the novel.
Bag of Bones is mentally to Stephen King what The Dark Half is physically – an entertaining, imperfect thesis on the idea of creation and the darkness that comes with it.
The Dead Zone
Johnny Smith has the girl of his dreams, as well as a strange gift: the power of foresight. His path in life is suddenly shattered by a near-fatal car accident.
His body and mind are significantly damaged, resulting in a five-year coma. Johnny awakens to find his sweetheart a married mother and his psychic skills evolved.
He is torn between striving for the peaceful life he deserves after such trauma and using his powers to save lives and make the world a better place.
The Dead Zone was a thoroughly pleasant surprise. There is zero horror here. There isn’t really a main antagonist until the final third (excluding some brief teases).
This is a book about fate, about trauma and about loss. Johnny’s story makes for gripping reading as we experience his physical and mental upheaval, as well as the fact that there is little to help us figure out the possible trajectory of the plot.
Some would say that the plot is sparse or that it meanders. I don’t disagree with this idea but I would say that the unusual plotting works for the most part.
The only real downside here is that the finale feels incredibly rushed and therefore not as satisfying as it could have been.
King is an author infamous for padding his books too much but ironically, The Dead Zone could have used another 150 pages to cement Johnny’s determination to do his duty.
A police department regale the story of the old muscle car they protect. But the Buick is not a Buick. It’s not even a car. It’s the physical manifestation of a portal that that leads to another world — a very dangerous one. Things keep coming through the portal. Wrong things.
The police department have vowed to watch over the Buick to ensure no harm is caused by it. But the new recruit is a curious one.
I heard bad things about this one. I was told that it is mostly set in one building and very little happens. These things are both true. However, From A Buick 8 is a wolf in sheep’s clothing — a fascinating story about the unknown, youth versus experience and how sometimes doing nothing is doing something.
The plot is revealed at a snail’s pace, drip-feeding us information about a mystery that seems to have no concrete answers. This may be too slow of a pace for some but it was exactly what the plot demanded and i was thrilled from beginning to end. An excellent surprise.
Four novellas, each one with a seasonal theme:
Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption — A man is falsely imprisoned (or is he?) but always appears to keep his positive attitude
Apt Pupil — A Nazi-in-hiding is discovered by a teenage sociopath. They decide to use each other to their advantage.
The Body — A group of teenage friends hear that a dead body has been found in the wilderness and the boys decide to make the journey to see it
The Breathing Method — A gentleman’s club, fond of telling bizarre stories, hear the most bizarre story of all.
Different Seasons is superb. The first three stories are lovely and disturbing in turns, dealing with friendship, courage, and the intricacies of the human spirit. But the last story… now that’s a whopper.
The Breathing Method is a work of genius, mainly due to how it surprises the reader. The horror isn’t created by the titular story told in the gentleman’s club but something else entirely – something older and more chthonic. A chunky and excellent book (with at least 2 excellent film adaptations).
The four novellas of Four Past Midnight are:
The Langoliers — A group of people fall asleep on a crowded aeroplane and wake up to a deserted one. The world they wake up in is not their own.
Secret Window, Secret Garden — A man appears at an author’s door, saying the author plagiarised one of his stories. He is given 3 days to prove otherwise. Or else.
The Library Policeman — A man named Sam borrows some books from his local library. The suspicious librarian tells him that he should bring them back on time or “the Library Policeman will get you”. What Sam doesn’t realise is the fact that the Library Policeman is his past and his future.
The Sun Dog — A teenage boy receives a camera as a gift but every photograph taken shows the same subject: a black dog. And in each photo, the dog has become angrier and moved closer.
All stories in Four Past Midnight are terrific to a degree. The first two stories delight and disappoint (but thankfully, not equally) and the Sun Dog suffers King Syndrome (i.e. a bad ending).
But The Library Policeman is a corker. A wildly creepy story (but also has one of my favourite and funniest lines ever written in fiction), the antagonist here really frightened me. In part, i think this is due to their similarity to another King terroriser (both characters are likely the same species).
This is a chunky book and is absolutely worth your time, even if the quality isn’t completely consistent. When it’s good, it’s excellent. And it usually is.
The Green Mile
In 1932, Paul Edgecombe was the lead guard on The Green Mile: the name given to the death row at Cold Mountain Correctional Facility.
He is a kind man in an unkind place but his newest prisoner will change his career and his life. The nearly-7feet tall John Coffey has been accused of unfathomable crimes but all is not what it seems.
Let’s get this out of the way: no, this book is not as good as the movie. The Green Mile is the single greatest movie created from a King property.
It is a film with heart and soul that most books I have read have not been able to emulate (and having star performances by Michael Clarke Duncan and Tom Hanks help too).
The book is still a superb one though.
The plot itself is heart-wrenching, dealing with the men on both sides of the law – the criminals who have committed awful acts but are penitent (most of them, anyway) as well as the guards who are charged with their safety and comfort, as well as their executions.
The conflict between these opposing sides creates a great deal of mixed feelings in us as readers (as well as the characters themselves).
I did struggle with one thing initially. The protagonist is not quite as benevolent in the novel as he is in the movie and is rather judgemental as the story begins.
I imagine that many would say that this creates more depth of character but for me, I confess it created some slight resentment.
Long-story short: the film created a bias in me. This is still a fantastic novel that has some cruel and heavily emotional gut-punches.
A scientific trial is offering $200 for the simple task of testing a new drug. Andy McGee could really use that $200. He jumps at the chance but will live to regret it.
The drug gives Andy a mild ability to “push” people – to convince them to do things against their will. Andy’s daughter Charlie inherits gifts from her parents — including pyrokinesis, allowing her to summon fire at will.
Her father’s useful skill has become a dangerous one. Andy and Charlie are on the run from a shady government agency called The Shop that wants to study and weaponise them, especially Charlie, and take ownership of a power that is beyond her control.
Wow. What a book!
Considering that this was another of King’s lesser-known works, Firestarter should no longer be ignored. This is an absolute delight.
Father and daughter are both wonderful and conflicted characters that elicited a great deal of concern from me. I agree with the idea that you don’t have to like a protagonist to enjoy a book…but it definitely helps.
One of the highlights of the story for me was a villain named Rainbird: a 7 foot tall Terminator of a man with a despicable, devious mind to match, his scheming elevating the plot and the ensuing betrayals to greater heights.
My other favourite part is the action scenes. When Charlie is given free reign to unleash her power, the ensuing chaos is wonderful to behold.
Firestarter is like if King decided to write an X-men novel — full of mutations and violence and prejudice. This is one of his best, for sure.
Six-year-old Jamie meets a young, charismatic preacher and their destinies become entwined. The preacher brings joy to the small community until a personal catastrophe changes him irrevocably.
He and Jamie cross paths for the next 50 years as they experience the connection and battle between science and faith.
I’ve tried to be vague about this one. Revival is another unexpected gem, one that has basically no concrete horror (until the ending, anyway). It would more accurately be called a drama/thriller with a scientific/spiritual leaning.
However, that last 50 to 100 pages made me recoil with disgust (and pleasure), chilling me to the bone.
But rather than going for the usual spookiness we find in his novels, here King elects to channel Lovecraft, crafting a cosmic slow-burn that has some pretty grim body horror thrown in for good measure.
The encounters between Jamie and “The Rev” are fascinating too. There are only a handful of in-depth conversations but due to the time jumps in the plot, each one is very different and shows just how much our main characters have evolved (or devolved) over the decades.
There isn’t a great deal here to actually dislike. The plot slightly lacks focus and the actual plot revelations come a little later into the book than I would have liked…but these criticisms are rather picky on my part.
At a relatively sprightly 400 pages, Revival is a little belter that doesn’t wear out its welcome. Also, if you think you’ve worked out the ending? You probably haven’t. I thought I had (and I DID get some plot points correct) but things definitely aren’t what they seem.
A disabled criminal and George, his partner-in-crime, decide to pull off their most important heist – to kidnap a millionaire’s baby for ransom money. The problem is that George has been dead for quite some time and the police are tightening the net.
Blaze is an unusual entry in King’s repertoire for a few reasons. Though King has written on different genres, crime is not his usual oeuvre. There are still horror elements here but the mix creates one of King’s smallest novels in terms of scope yet one of the best in quality.
Clayton “Blaze” Blaisdell is a sympathetic character who is doomed to his fate, whether he deserves it or not. Blaze, a modern homage to Of Mice and Men, is almost as good as King gets.
In a dystopian future, poverty is the norm except for the select few. Reality shows with financial prizes are a way to escape the slums…but come with grave danger. To save his family, Ben Richards is about to enter the most dangerous game of all: The Running Man.
It says a lot about this novel that it was considered hard-hitting and prescient when it was released in 1982 and absolutely echoes our society today, almost 40 years later. The poor get poorer and the rich get richer. Business tycoons dont pay taxes.
Healthcare creates bankruptcy. These are things we are all aware of, can’t fix and seem unlikely to change. I won’t spoil anything but in The Running Man, we experience the lies and lack of empathy that the ruling class are known for.
But Ben Richards, an everyman, takes power into his own hands and metes out the justice that is deserved — the justice we wish we could create. Short but very, very sweet.
The Gingerbread Girl — A runner is kidnapped by a dangerous man and will have to use her brain and her incredible cardio to save herself.
Rest Stop — A timid writer hears an altercation between a man and woman in an abusive relationship. He creates a persona who will take charge and do something to fix it.
N — Multiple characters reveal their experiences with a site of immense and unnatural power – a circle of ritual stones that drive the observer to suicide.
A Very Tight Place — A man is locked in a portaloo by his neighbour on an abandoned building site and left to die. Escaping will not be hygienic.
Just After Sunset is another of King’s books that i didn’t realise was a short story collection until i read it. And what a collection it is! The Gingerbread Girl is a delight that could have been clichéd but uses its story/trope in an original way.
Rest Stop is an interesting narrative musing on whether it is better to always be ourselves or to sometimes change who we are. I usually don’t enjoy survival stories (see: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon) but A Very Tight Place is hilarious and disgusting, keeping me riveted.
The pinnacle here is N which is best left vague for plot reasons. It is one of the longer stories and concerns multiple characters, having a domino effect on them. We experience each character move between emotions of disbelief, fear, obsession and reverence towards something they can’t possibly comprehend.
It’s creepy and unsettling but also rather vague which maintains an air of mystery throughout. There are a few duds here such as a story about an evil cat and one about how a man’s nightmare comes true (creating eye-rolls at just how unoriginal it is) but these are balanced by the quality elsewhere.
One story about how death comes for everyone and is sometimes for the better even made me emotional. This is a terrific collection.
Jessie and Gerald are on a kinky weekend getaway. Gerald decides to play rough – too rough – and has a heart attack. Unfortunately, this all takes place after Jessie has been handcuffed to the bed. Food, water and phones are all out of reach.
And to make things worse, the house is not secure, the doors are unlocked and she is miles away from civilisation. Or is she?
As i have said in other parts of this article, setting a novel (or film or whatever) in mostly one room is exactly how you get my attention. By not focusing on set-dressing and the endless descriptions of different types of flowers (for example: one of my pet hates), creators are able to put absolutely everything into plot and characterisation.
Gerald’s Game is a terrific thriller, turning simple mechanics (drinking water from a glass etc) into puzzles and life-or-death situations. Jessie’s descent into the furthest reaches of her memory and psyche bring conflicting personalities, arguing about how to survive.
The horror elements are chilling too – Is Jessie seeing people in the dark room with her or is she losing her marbles? It’s really a fascinating horror story. The film adaption starring Carla Gugino is excellent too!
For 15 years, housewife Rosie has been abused by her tyrannical husband. She is meek and damaged. But one day she runs. With no planning or forethought, Rosie becomes a fugitive from her traumatic marriage.
Her husband, a vindictive detective, vows to hunt her down and make her suffer. During Rosie’s escape, she discovers a disturbing painting that she feels inexplicably drawn to. It has no title or mention of a creator. There are only two words written on the back: “Rose Madder”.
Rose Madder, like most of King’s work, concerns the human condition, namely domestic violence in this case but as the novel goes on, it becomes something else too — it becomes a Stephen King novel.
Elements are introduced which only boost the stakes and mystery we have seen so far, walking the line between reality and fantasy.
This is not an easy read. The abuse inflicted on Rosie is grotesque. I have an extremely strong stomach but some of the situations presented (or even just alluded to) here are vile.
I have to commend King for creating Norman Daniels. He may be the most hideous villain King has ever created. Pennywise is a terrifying clown-spider-thing (sort of) with a far higher kill-count, but Pennywise is a monster. A fantasy.
Norman Daniels is a man — not an alien or a demon. He is flesh and blood like Rosie is. Like we are.
This is why he is so terrifying: he is familiar. All over the world, every single day people (usually women) are treated like Norman treats Rosie. It could happen to any of us. A fictional clown could never be scarier than that.
Rose Madder is excellent and I’m annoyed it has avoided me all these years. I would give it a big ol’ trigger warning for sexual violence though for anyone who needs it.
The Ka-Tet (meaning “a group bound by destiny”) continue towards the Dark Tower. Roland begins to lose his sanity over the loss of Jake Chambers in The Gunslinger. But Jake is alive and safe…but may not stay that way without help.
Roland and his friends must save the boy – the only one who can save Roland himself. They must also duel the insane A.I. train system, Blaine the Mono. Blaine challenges them to a game of riddles, culminating at the final destination.
I imagine you are likely one of the people to read the above and say “did i just read that the gunslinger has a riddle competition…with a train?!”. Yes, not only is that correct but it’s one of the best things to happen in the entire Dark Tower series.
Other plot points are almost as baffling, such as the appearance of a cyborg bear and a sexual encounter with an incubus (which is more important than the plot here would have you believe).
The Waste Lands is one of the better novels in the series, featuring a strong mix of action, plot and character development, though what comes next is even better.
In 1978, 17 year old Arnie Cunningham is a spotty, bullied nerd. That is about to change. He discovers an old 1958 Plymouth Fury in bad condition and immediately falls in love, buying the car from an untrustworthy old creep.
Arnie’s best friend Dennis immediately dislikes the car — a “she” rather than “it” named Christine that smells of rot and decay.
As Arnie pours his time and money into fixing Christine, his personality begins to change, and not for the better.
Dennis is determined to find the cause behind the trouble when Arnie’s enemies are murdered. Why does Arnie have an alibi for every death? Surely the car couldn’t be involved. Right?
On paper, the idea behind Christine sounds a bit silly. Your villain for the novel is an evil car? Well, yes and no.
I won’t say more than that but Christine is not a silly novel in the slightest. It’s pure King. Death and monsters and fear. And the writing for most of the book is sensational. King is hit and miss with his writing but here, it is excellent. The characters are strange and likeable and irritating (like in reality).
This isn’t a top ten King but it’s really close!
There isn’t a lot of criticism I can give here as most of my negatives are just me being picky. I would have liked a bit more of a deep dive into a particular character named Le Bay for a start as his arc is really interesting, especially when Christine herself is concerned.
Some things are better left to the imagination but I can never help wanting more explanation. A Me issue rather than a Christine issue, of course. This is wonderful!
An unemployed, recovering alcoholic finds employment as a caretaker at the remote and imposing Overlook Hotel over the deserted winter period. Jack Torrance drags his wife and son along for company but they aren’t the only guests of note — guests who don’t want the family to ever leave.
An iconic story of isolation and psychosis, The Shining perfectly balances the creeping dread via an upsetting combination of psychology and pure, supernatural terror.
I never thought that topiary animals could scare me but boy, i was wrong. This scene was left out of the film (probably due to budgetary reasons and the change of ending). Though fun fact: King hated the movie.
He thought the movie took away the emotional depth that made Jack a character deserving empathy, rather than the terrifying being he became in the movie.
This novel does not quite hit the lofty heights that most people believe but it’s still an excellent addition to King’s dungeon of work. One of the best but not The Best.
An author of romance novels is driven off the road by a snowstorm, breaking his legs. By coincidence, he is rescued by a nurse who can help him recover. She also happens to be his biggest fan…until she reads the 1st draft of his new book. Then her real personality appears…
Misery is one of the lucky King novels that is as superb as the film adaption (Kathy Bates winning an Oscar for her role as the psychotic Annie Wilkes).
Taking place mostly in one building, the story is claustrophobic and tense. A horror both psychological and gruesome in turn, Misery features one of King’s very best villains.
No demons here. No vampires or ghosts. Just a deranged woman with an obsession who goes to extreme methods to fuel her addiction. An excellent book but an even better baddie.
“A new shop named “Needful Things” opens in the town of Castle Rock, Maine, sparking the curiosity of its citizens. The proprietor, Leland Gaunt, is a charming elderly gentleman who always seems to have an item in stock that is perfectly suited to any customer who comes through his door.
The prices are surprisingly low, considering the wondrous merchandise, but he expects each customer also to play a little prank on someone else in town.
Gaunt knows about the grudges, arguments and feuds between the various townspeople, and the pranks are his means of forcing them to escalate until the whole town is eventually caught up in madness and violence”
Yes. Superb stories like this are why I am such a Stephen King fan.
Leland Gaunt is a sly, horrible villain who schemes his way into the heart of a small American town. His methods are vindictive but he radiates charisma and charm.
His opposition, Sheriff Alan Pangborn, is the type of policeman you want to believe in — moral and caring and incorruptible.
The games that are used to sow discord in the town and create spiderwebs of hate between the inhabitants is a delight. This is a long book though so be prepared to put the effort in to see the ending.
A family move to a remote town with a terrible secret. The woods behind their new home has a burial ground which can bring the dead back to life…but not the same. Changed, somehow…
Yes, that spelling is intentional. The most famous line of this novel sticks with those who have read it: “sometimes dead is better”. It sums up the novel very well, in fact. This is, without a doubt, one of King’s scariest novels. Even as a horror fan, it’s rare that I am scared by something. Pet Sematary scared me.
But it also made me cry at one hideous and emotional moment. The idea that we can raise our loved ones when they die is something many people wish for but this book shows why that sometimes…dead IS better. A fantastic novel and the ultimate homage to The Monkey’s Paw.
Dolores is a crotchety old woman who has just been arrested for murder. She professes her innocence in this case…but also confesses to a different murder entirely. Through flashbacks we see what drove Dolores from a subserviant housewife to a vengeful goddess.
This is one of the few King novels i didn’t actively expect to enjoy. The synopsis i read sounded a bit too normal for a Stephen King book. A drama set on a small island with virtually no horror? The idea would have normally interested me if i wasn’t blinded by the fact that this was a King novel.
It turns out i didn’t need the horror because what i got instead was a masterpiece. Unlike everything (that i can recall) that King has ever written, Dolores Claiborne is written in a first-person conversational and colloquial style due to the plot being explained by Dolores as she is being interrogated by the police.
She’s abrasive and irritating and opinionated and just wonderful, laying her entire truth out for everyone to see. Her suffering has made her the way she is but she also has a cheerful edge, as though she has fought her demons and won. This novel is an absolute delight and one i could read again and again.
An English teacher is shown a wormhole that leads to the late 1950s. A friend convinces him to use his time in the past to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Jake finds that the past may be changed for the better but the future may not react so positively.
Another of King’s novels that could be described as a modern masterpiece, 11/22/63 is one his rare creations with no tangible horror to speak of.
There is threat and suspense, naturally, but this novel flits more between time travel sci-fi and a period drama/thriller.
A massive boon the book is the relationship between Jake and his love interest, Sadie. Both bring incredible warmth to a novel which rather than just being a tense thriller, becomes a romantic sensation too.
The last few pages made me weep. And for a horror author to do that to me? No mean feat. A marvellous book.
After narrowly escaping death once again, Roland relates a story of his past to his Ka-Tet. They are regaled by the story of how Roland became the grizzled sentinel he is.
The story concerns a teenage Roland as a newly-minted Gunslinger, and his exploits in the land of Mejis. Roland falls in love with Susan, the town beauty, though she is already promised to the most powerful man in the barony – a man who may be aligned with Roland’s true enemy.
If The Gunslinger isn’t the best of the Dark Tower novels, it’s this one, though they are very different beasts. While the first book was a lonely, introspective trudge through the desert, Wizard and Glass is a blockbuster of action, romance and betrayal.
There are battles and ritual sacrifice and arguments, all giving us not only superb entertainment but some fascinating background on why Roland is such a bastard (though a well-meaning one).
It may be that you won’t love Wizard and Glass as much as i did, and it’s also possible that my glasses are rose-tinted by the disappointment that came afterwards, but i absolutely adored Wizard and Glass.
The highlights of Skeleton Crew:
The Jaunt — A new method of space travel is invented with just one rule. And of course, that one rule is flouted.
The Raft — Four friends are marooned on a raft, too far away from dry land. Something stirs in the water.
Beachworld — Astronauts crash onto an uncharted planet where the endless sand dunes are hypnotic (and not from beauty).
Survivor Type — A man is shipwrecked, alone and lost. He realises that his survival requires a terrifying diet.
Uncle Otto’s Truck — A murderer’s guilt manifests as a vehicle that he thinks wants to kill him. Only he can see it inching closer to him.
Skeleton Crew is an absolute belter of a collection. Some of the stories herein are devastating in terms of horror but also have great variety.
The pinnacle in this collection is undoubtedly The Jaunt, one of King’s rare steps into sci-fi, a story of unthinkable psychological torment for a man and his family that chilled me to my core.
There are a few duds here involving a teenage sniper and a mafia wedding (and one particularly bad pair of stories called The Milkman 1 and 2) but for the most part, Skeleton Crew is a huge triumph.
A virus is accidentally unleashed, killing 99% of the population of the United States. As for the rest of the world, who knows?
Those who survive are thrust into a war between the holy Mother Abigail and the tyrannical Randall Flagg. Armies will grow and battles will commence, the winner gaining dominion over the scorched Earth that remains.
Opinions vary but it is commonly accepted that if King has a Magnum Opus, it is either the 4500 page Dark Tower series (though it varies in quality as I’ve discussed) or the 1000+ pages of The Stand. A grand thesis on morality, survival and the violence that comes with it.
The influence of The Stand can be seen in many media sources such as The Walking Dead and 28 Days Later, most of them never coming close to the same level of mastery (except maybe Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us series on Playstation).
Like much of King’s work, The Stand gives us an incredible Rogue’s Gallery – some of the best and most varied villains in literature. From the psychic lunacy of Flagg, the wild and erratic (and wonderfully named) Garbage Can Man, to the seething, entitled petulance of some of our betrayers (who i won’t name for spoiler reasons).
The Stand is King’s masterwork. And even though there are a couple of books i like better, one one is probably superior in quality.
A lone knight has dedicated himself to capturing the sorcerer who brought destruction to his family. His long journey begins here, in the desert. But where will it end?
Another of King’s novels with some infamous quotes sprinkled throughout, The Gunslinger is the first in what is considered to be his magnum opus (maybe) — The Dark Tower.
A sprawling fantasy epic featuring a wild west setting, parallel worlds, mutants, a talking train and a cameo by the author himself, The Dark Tower novels are sometimes staggering but sometimes a bit messy too.
Slow and purposeful, The Gunslinger is one of the two Dark Tower novels to be considered to be a masterpiece. A mature story that pulls no punches when it comes to plot and characters. The first one is still the best one (again — maybe).
A business owner experiences a devastating workplace accident, resulting in a brain injury and the loss of his arm. Edgar retires to a remote beachside hut to recuperate and takes up painting and creates masterpieces.
He soon realises that the work he is creating is not just ethereal and haunting, but also seems to be painted by an arm he no longer has attached to his body. His work becomes more and more disturbing, eventually unleashing a force that could destroy everything he loves.
Duma Key is the best Stephen King novel. Numero uno. The big kahuna. This was a gigantic surprise for me for multiple reasons. One is that Duma Key was released in 2008.
King is considered by many to be an author whose glory days are far behind him. A lot of King’s recent work varies between decent to bad (as you can see from above). Another reason is that Duma Key is one of his lesser-known works, rather than a household name like The Shining.
But none of that matters. Duma Key is a masterpiece of horror, of drama, and sometimes of comedy. It is emotional and mature, fully deserving of its place at the top of the heap. But King’s best novel is not his best work. Nope. That honour belongs to the single greatest collection of short stories (of any genre) that i have ever read.
Here it is. The single best thing Stephen King has ever created. If you don’t read this book and love it, King probably isn’t for you (and that’s fine!).
Night Shift is a staggering work of genius, featuring some of the most incredible short stories i have ever experienced. I’ll mention some stand-outs but these stories are so wonderful that i don’t want to risk spoilers so these will be a little bit vague:
The Ledge — A cuckold forces his wife’s lover at gunpoint to circumnavigate the penthouse of a skyscraper via the 5 inch outside ledge. A wager is struck. If he survives, he gets to stay with the woman he loves forever. If he refuses or he fails…
Graveyard Shift — Colleagues at a factory decide to take the midnight overtime shift – the cleaning of the abandoned basement, now home to rats…and other things.
The Lawnmower Man — A gardener is employed by a client to mow his lawn…but he has a few unusual rules.
Quitters, Inc — A company advertises a way of beating any addiction and boasts a 98% success rate. But their methods of curing the addiction may not be ethical.
Short story collections tend to be erratic in quality, as is their nature. Not every idea hits the mark, especially when you’re talking about collections of twenty stories or more.
But Night Shift has only one dud (called I Know What You Need).
Naturally, some of the stories are better than others but this is the most consistent collection i have ever encountered. Some of these stories are flat-out masterpieces. There’s a story about sentient trucks murdering people and even with a barmy plot like that, it still manages to be terrifying and incredible.
I cannot put into words just how strongly an impression this collection had on me. It inspired me to write my own stories, and conversely, want to give up on ever creating anything this impressive. I genuinely don’t expect to read any short story collection for the rest of my life.
Thank you for reading this article. Whether you read the ones that interest you or the whole thing, i appreciate it. Stephen King has influenced me more than any other author in history, and if anything i have written here gives you the impetus to give him a go, I’ll have succeeded. I want to share the horror and joy that i have experienced.