Words by Giuliana Cincotta
“Hey, an idea, what happened to the kid from The Shining?” asks Stephen King in the author’s notes to Doctor Sleep, the brave and highly anticipated sequel to the 1977 bestseller.
Kicking off where Danny Torrance – who now opts for the more mature ‘Dan’ – left off: bemused by the horrors of the Overlook Hotel and the evils that lurked within. Fast-forwarding through the protagonist’s childhood to a predictably troubling adult life, Dan, now plagued by inherit alcoholism (thanks Jack!), faces a struggle between sanity and succumbing to the terrors of a burdening childhood nightmare.
King changes the pace by alternating between perspectives, introducing new faces that become increasingly important as the story progresses. Through this, we are introduced to one significant new player, Abra Stone, a bright twelve-year-old girl and incredibly powerful shiner. As she comes in contact with Dan through their mutual bond, the novel parallels its predecessor: Abra comes to bear prominence as the new Danny Torrance, and Dan now fills the position of Abra’s shining coach, or the new Dick Hallorann.
With this, as with all good King novels, evil always lurks beyond the surface, this time taking form in the ‘True Knot’, a child-killing vampire cult who travel across America in their façade as harmless Winnebago folk, hunting for steam. Much like your typical vampire, steam is like blood to the Knot but with one exception: it must come from those with the shining. Feeding off the screams and drinking the pain of their victims, these empty devils are kept satisfied, thriving for as long as their waning supply endures.
If you can get past the Knot’s comical and sometimes cringe-worthy names – see Barry the Chink, Crow Daddy and Rose the Hat (who coincidentally wears a hat!) – you’ll find a brooding pack of addicts that are far more meticulous than your average rogue group of killers. Despite this, King still delivers his usual dose of blood-curdling similes and gruesome descriptions to keep you reading until you dream of red.
Though there are moments of banality, and the final confrontation beckons a sense of predictability, the novel is ultimately concerned with the more malignant and familiar horror of, not demons and beasts, but addiction. As the Knots viciously scavenge to get their fix, and Dan comes to face regrettable situations of his drunken past, King delves into the harsh reality of abuse and excess.
If you’re expecting The Shining Part II, give Doctor Sleep a miss. But be aware that beyond the over-hype surrounding this sequel lies a story screaming to be read.
Find out more about Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep here.