Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Review: The Talisman

The Talisman (kindle edition) is a cross-world fantasy by Stephen King and Peter Straub. Cross-world fantasies are a genre in which a protagonist discovers the ability to travel between alternate versions of the Earth, usually ones in which the alternate Earths have special attributes, such as a place where magic works.

What King and Straub brings to this genre is the use of a child as the protagonist. This does several things --- first, the child is unlikely to use the scientific method to tell the difference between the two worlds, and analyze things like magic. Secondly, we care a lot about a child's emotional reactions, especially to tropes such as the Big Bad Wolf.

Nevertheless, this approach hides a lot of weaknesses --- the worlds are simplistic in how they map between each other, and one never gets a sense as to what's at stake in the quest and why it is important to the other side. Some parts of the narrative also seems to drag, especially when Jack gets captured by an evangelical foster boy's home. The horror is evident (King and Straub succeed in making us realize that our world is much more horrifying without the help of magic than any fantasy world can be), but the fact that they used a child means that he can't take a very active role in getting himself out of many bad situations.

All in all, while the novel was not a complete waste of time, I find it difficult to bring myself to recommend it, or to even find interest in reading the sequel.
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