Title: Black House
Author: Stephen King and Peter Straub
Page Count/Review Word Count: 822
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I’ve not been looking forward to writing this review, especially because of the bizarre rules I set for myself where each review has to have a word count that matches the page count of the book. At 822 pages, this one’s a bit of a chunker, and in fact it took me two weeks to read the damn thing because I was on holiday in Spain and mostly getting drunk and packing rubble into construction sacks as opposed to reading. It was too hot.
Still, I made a decent dent on the plane there and back and so I did at least mostly read the book in chunks. The problem was that I didn’t particularly love The Talisman, and this book was basically that but watered down. It had potential to begin with, especially because of the Albert Fish style serial killer aspect to it, but what might have been okay as a 400 page novel just felt long and drawn out.
As if that wasn’t enough, I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters, either. Even Jack Sawyer, old Travellin‘ Jack himself, was far more boring as an adult than he was as a child. The most interesting thing about him was his job, but seeing as I was expecting more fantasy than police procedural, I found even that difficult to get excited about.
Another problem was that the authors kept on breaking the fourth wall and directly addressing the reader with lengthy entries along the lines of, “Let’s leave Jack where he is and go over here to see this guy instead.” It felt gimmicky and pulled me out of the story every time that it happened, and it happened a lot. There was no need to write it that way, either. They could have just continued to write in third person and it would have worked perfectly.
There were some redeeming factors, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t have given it a rating as high as a 3/5. We have some great characterisation and some pretty interesting scenes when Sawyer and his merry band of bikers start to approach the Black House and things start to go a bit pear-shaped. I also thought that the ending was pretty good, which is almost unusual for a Stephen King book, but I would have liked to have seen more time spent in the Territories with the established characters and world-building from the first book.
And I think that’s where the problem lies with this one. After all of the hard work that King and Straub put in the first time round, instead of building on it they pretty much just started out from scratch, to the point at which this might as well have been written as a standalone instead of as a sequel. It’s the closest thing to a damp squib that I’ve read of King’s, and I’m about 80% of the way through his back catalogue. After some of the other awesome books that I’ve read of his, I can’t help but feel as though he shouldn’t have been wasting his time on this one.
It’s still worth reading if you’re a completionist though, and I will admit that the last couple of hundred pages got a little bit better. I’m just not sure whether it’s worth reading 622 pages of substandard work just for 200 more pages that are just okay. I’m kind of surprised that their editor didn’t have a word with the authors to tell them that big swathes of it needed to be cut out or entirely rewritten, not because there was anything technically wrong with them but because they were dull to read and not really necessary.
But perhaps I’m just grumpy because Black House put me into something of a reading slump. I’ve never really understood what people meant when they talked about reading slumps, but it took me two weeks to finish this one and it’s had a knock on effect on the next books that I read. It’s not that I’m not reading, it’s just that I’m not as excited about books as I usually am, and I think it’s because Black House broke my reading streak and messed with my mojo.
All in all then, this definitely isn’t worth going out of your way to read, but for Stephen King and Peter Straub fans then it’s a book that you’ll inevitably get to. Don’t read this without reading The Talisman first though, because The Talisman is both a better book and the perfect introduction to what’s actually going on in King and Straub’s fictitious universe. Try to save it until you’re running out of books by either of the two authors and definitely don’t read this as an introduction to King. It feels like a waste of time.