It’s been nearly two months since I announced that I had started reading Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon, his first published attempt at fantasy writing and the place where he introduced a couple of key characters from his Dark Tower series. I don’t want you to think, however, that this is a poor reflection on the quality of this story. I usually have a bit of a literary hangover after finishing a novel; I get used to its characters and setting, usually quite enjoying them, so I tend to start slowly on the next novel as I get used to new characters and settings (unless it’s an absolute smash, such as any of the Harry Potter books).
To summarize, The Eyes of the Dragon focuses on the two sons of Roland, king of Delain, and Roland’s magician, Flagg, who has malevolent plans for Roland, his sons, and all of Delain. The Eyes of the Dragon doesn’t rank up there with the Potter series, but it’s quite good. Although I start slowly, I do think the beginning of this book drags a bit as it introduces the main players and sets the stage for the central thrust of the story, but once it gets going, it really takes off.
King, as usual, executes his plot with crisp, clean prose, including virtually no unnecessary detail, unlike many bestselling authors. I often find, even though I love this genre, that sword-and-sorcery writers are trying too hard, and in love with the wrong things, constantly hammering the reader with silly, distracting details—as though readers need to be continually reminded that the characters are wearing “leather half-boots” or “cloaks fastened with a brooch at the neck” and that the story takes place in a fictitious world (see: David Eddings and Christopher Paolini). Virtually everyone knows what the characters of this genre wear; they usually don’t need to be told once, and they certainly don’t need to be reminded every other chapter. King does a particularly good job of avoiding this trap.
King, however, goes even further than simply leaving out tedious, story-stopping details; he writes in such a way that even though you know you’re reading about a made-up fantasy world, the immediacy of the characters’ situations shines through and the reader knows that the types of scenarios portrayed are anything but fantasy—they are (cloaks and castles notwithstanding) the same kinds of moral dilemmas and real-life challenges we encounter. And as with those of us here in this world, the people of Delain often face a hard road to personal freedom.
All the story’s characters are fleshed out well, eliciting what I believe are the author’s desired responses: Flagg is easy to despise, Prince Peter is easy to root for, and Prince Thomas, much like his father, is easy to pity. I saw no plot holes, gaping or otherwise. I love the traditional fantasy setting—a castle and surrounding villages—and was especially fond of the scenes that took place in winter because they reminded me of all the good things about that season that I experienced during my time in Maine. I also appreciated that this book had no cussing, and though the story starts off feeling just a bit cartoonish, that wears off rather quickly in favor of gritty realism.
Overall, I give The Eyes of the Dragon four diamonds out of five, and a strong recommendation (particularly so for lovers of sword-and-sorcery fantasy).