Book: “The Eyes of the Dragon” by Stephen King
Publishing Info: Signet Books, February 1987
Where Did I Get This Book: An eBook from the library!
Book Description: Once upon a time, in the Kingdom of Delain, King Roland is murdered and his son and heir, Peter, is framed for the crime. Peter and his loyal friends must battle an evil wizard and Peter’s usurper brother, Thomas, for the throne. Imprisoned in a tower, Peter conceives an escape plan that will take him years to execute before taking on Flagg, the powerful sorcerer who has masterminded this coup.
Review: I’m sure that this has been brought up before, but one of my favorite literary characters of all time is Stephen King’s Randall Flagg, the villainous but charismatic demon from multiple works in the Stephen King Universe. It probably goes Gandalf, Anne Shirley, and then Flagg (and what a group that is!). But for loving Flagg so much, I hadn’t read many books that have his presence outside of “The Stand”. “The Dark Tower” series is an endeavor I plan to take on eventually, but given its vastness the commitment is terrifying. So after needing a SERIOUS palate cleanser post “Game of Thrones” and all the bad storytelling havoc it wrought, I wanted a fantasy novel to make me feel better. Even though fantasy isn’t really my cup of tea outside of a few exceptions, I felt that King could potentially give me the fantasy story I needed, so I picked up “The Eyes of the Dragon”. And who is the villain within the story? A magician named FLAGG!!!
I think I knew that he was in this book on some level, but in the moment it was a pleasant surprise. So I dove into the audiobook of “The Eyes of the Dragon”, and was not let down by King and his fantasy storytelling.
“The Eyes of the Dragon” is admittedly pretty basic fantasy with a clear hero, a clear villain, and a cut and dry conflict that has high, deadly stakes. It takes place in the kingdom of Delain, a medieval-esque world with kings, lords, and peasants. King Roland is a mediocre but passable ruler, and his court magician Flagg is biding his time and hoping to seize power so that he can cause chaos throughout the realm (as is his prerogative in most everything he does). He therein poisons the king and frames the oldest and more noble son, Peter, for his murder, so that he can put Thomas, the younger and more malleable son, in a puppet rule. Peter then has to prove his innocence and get his throne back. Very basic fantasy tropes that are now well worn, so much so that a lot of modern fantasy, I’d bet, would never dare do something so simplistic. But it’s the simplicity that I liked most while I was listening to “The Eyes of the Dragon” (more on that format choice in a bit). I can’t tell you if it was because I was gun shy after being so let down by “Game of Thrones”, or the fact that the fantasy stories I have enjoyed most in the past have been pretty cut and dry. Whatever it was, having a clear hero and a clear villain, especially a villain that I already love, was a literary comfort. The strength of this story really does come from its characters, which should be no surprise given that King is the one who created them. While none of them are particularly complex, they were still characters that I could easily root for, and against, and in some cases feel a deep, deep pity for. And while a lot of the fantasy themes and elements are things we’ve seen before (including a serious lack of female characters outside of the badass Naomi and her dog Friskie), I still feel like King implemented them in effective ways, from creating creative poisons, unique lore, and a kingdom whose culture, economy, and power structure felt well developed and fleshed out. This version of Flagg is also interesting in that he’s still malevolent, but he is lacking the charm that he oozed in “The Stand”. But that, too, still works because in “The Stand” his main goal is to recruit a number of modern day, Earthly psychopaths and degenerates, whereas in Delain he is the foreboding and all knowing court magician who has the ear of kings. It shows the chameleon-like personality shifts that he has throughout the various King works he appears in, and I REALLY liked that.
I also really want to focus on the narrator of the audiobook, who is none other than Bronson “Balki” Pinchot. While most of us probably think of Pinchot as a flamboyant character actor who plays over the top comedic characters (more often than not with odd European accents), he is phenomenal as our book narrator. He has differing voices for all of the characters, he isn’t afraid to emote in the ways that the characters are emoting, even if that means he’s legitimately screaming at the top of his lungs, and he provides the proper pacing and beats for every moment. I knew that he had dramatic acting chops from a few things I’d seen him in, but goddamn he knocks this story out of the park on every level.
Overall, “The Eyes of the Dragon” was a comfort read of a fantasy novel that I needed in that moment. While I’m still a bit intimidated to take on “The Dark Tower”, it gives me an idea of how King approaches his fantasy stories. And I am always happy to see my man Flagg show up, no matter in what form it may be.
Rating 8: A satisfying and fun dive into fantasy, “The Eyes of the Dragon” is a different work from Stephen King, but one that I enjoyed quite a bit.
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