Third time’s the charm, it seems, at least as far as Stephen King is concerned. The first book of his I read was The Talisman, back in college. It didn’t really do it for me and I mainly finished it because, as previously mentioned, I’m a bit obsessive-compulsive when it gets to books. Earlier this year I read Firestarter. It was okay, but way too easy to put down. I was ready to give up on Mr King, when I came across the brand new reprint of his 1988 (when I was in the first grade) novel, The Eyes of the Dragon.
The Eyes of the Dragon is a fantasy set in the Kingdom of Delain. When old King Roland dies under mysterious circumstances his son, Prince Peter is found guilty of regicide and imprisoned at the top of the Needle for the rest of his life. His brother, Prince Thomas, becomes the new ruler of Delain, assisted by his father’s old chief advisor, the magician, Flagg. Only Peter knows that Flagg is really the one who killed his father and only he can save the kingdom from the evil magician’s plans. To do that he has to escape the Needle, which has never been done before…
You’d be forgiven for thinking this sounds like a children’s tale. Actually, it can go through as one, if you also consider the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales and JM Barrie’s Peter Pan suitable reading for children. (Yeah, I know both of them are classified as children’s literature, but have you ever read them? If either of them came out today they’d be banned from primary school libraries.) There is, for example, some very kinky bedroom dialogue on page 5 that could lead to potentially very awkward conversations interrupting your bedtime story, were you to read this to your kids.
The plot is fairly standard. Evil wizard kills king and frames rightful heir so his easily manipulated brother can take the throne instead. Evil wizard systematically starts destroying the kingdom while imprisoned prince plots escape to save his kingdom. King does not deviate much from the standard formula and in fact gives just about the entire plot away in the first few chapters, keeping only Peter’s escape plan secret (though we figure that out pretty quickly as well once Peter is imprisoned).
The characters are exceedingly flat. Prince Peter is the perfect hero, noble, fearless, just, compassionate, athletic, a good fighter and incredibly intelligent. Prince Thomas is the typical jealous sibling, blaming his brother that their father loves him more. King Roland is a fat king who likes hunting and let his advisors run the kingdom for the most part. Flagg is the evil wizard, motivated by nothing more than an intrinsic desire to spread chaos and misery wherever he goes.
The only character who are not completely one-dimensional are two of the supporting characters: Dennis, the King’s butler, and Anders Peyna, the Judge-General, and even these two character are just the tiniest bit too noble to be real human beings.
The portrayal of Peter, Dennis and Ben, Peter’s best friend, was also a bit strange. When the story commences, Peter and Ben are in their late teens and Dennis in his early twenties. In a typical medieval society boys their age would already have been considered men, long since having learned a trade, possibly married and bloodied in battle. Yet all three still live with their parents (though in Peter’s case we can overlook that) and think and act more like boys of ten than full-grown men. This strange inconsistency was jarring to say the least.
In spite of all this I loved this book and couldn’t put it down. Mainly, I think, because of the way that King tells the story.
King turns the narrator himself into a character as well, just like Jude Law Lemony Snicket, Daniel Handler’s narrator for A Series of Unfortunate Events or S. Morgenstern who narrates William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, though this narrator never identifies himself by name.
The narrator was highly enjoyable. He would regularly get ahead of himself and reveal large chunks of the story before going back to fill in the details. He would explain things in the medieval-type setting of the story using decidedly modern metaphors and would regularly break the fourth wall (can we use that term in written fiction?) and address the reader directly. The narrator speaks like an adult trying to tell a children’s story but not really knowing how that goes.
Within this narration all the other elements of the story fall into place, making it a very fun read that’s not close to what people normally think of if they mention Stephen King.
I can recommend this book for any lover of fantasy. It’s an adventure filled with betrayal, intrigue, magic and secret passages. And yes, there is a dragon. It probably won’t be what you’re expecting, but that’s just part of the fun.