By: Steven King
Narrator: Grover Gardner
First come the days of the virus. Then come the dreams.
Dark dreams that warn of the coming of the dark man. The apostate of death, his worn-down boot heels tramping the night roads. The warlord of the charnel house and Prince of Evil.
His time is at hand. His empire grows in the west and the Apocalypse looms.
When a man crashes his car into a petrol station, he brings with him the foul corpses of his wife and daughter. He dies and it doesn’t take long for the virus which killed him to spread across America and the world.
When you are starting reviews during a pandemic you have plenty of options, from George R Stewarts 1949 classic ‘Earth Abides’, ‘The Andromeda Strain’ by Michael Crichton from 1969, Devin C Fords early 2000’s ‘After It Happened’, right up to more recent offerings like Peng Shepards ‘The Book Of M: A Novel.
But I’m a sucker for punishment and decided to review a marathon of a book, because when I think of a pandemic book there is one that always springs to mind. Steven Kings long…..long, long…..long ass pandemic fantasy epic (its a smidge under 48 hours so its an epic in my book) The Stand. Also I like to make my credit last as long as possible( M.O.O.N that spells tight ass), this has backfired in the past (*cough Cycle of Arawn) but in this case I got a winner.
Ok, full disclosure I’m a Steven King fan and this ticks lots of Steven King boxes. Lots of characters, dark story, a gifted simpleton, a strong character with a disability, a psychopath or two. Some possibly religious good and evil types. All the tropes you associate with King are in there, and I love that there is a Dark Tower connection, this being in a world that could be right next door to ours and my favourite ka tet pays a brief visit.
Set in the 80s it chronicles an outbreak of a man made virus accidently released from a military base that spreads through America and then globally killing something like 99.9% of the human race. The first part of the book is pretty dark as it describes the spread, the way the government tries to at first cover it up before eventually trying to tackle it in ever more brutal ways, and the inevitable failure when everything just falling apart. You’ll meet all the main characters as you experience each of their stories as the world slowly at first and then scarily quickly dies all around them.
Soon the survivors begin to have dreams, dreams of the same people and places. For some its an old black lady on the porch of a cottage in a wheat field, for others a dark mysterious stranger. Two rival communities gather around the two figures and you follow both as the group dynamics evolve in each community and they are set on a collision course. There a likeable characters aplenty in this story (Nick and Larry are my personal faves) and as always King is excellent at writing absolute pricks with almost no redeeming qualities and the stand is no exception. Actually no, there are human sides to some of the villains in this story, more so than other king novels ….but still, some real pricks you’ll love to hate!
There are strong themes of religion, the supernatural and the struggle of good and evil running through this book, I’m not really a religious person and the message can feel a little preachy but its not pushed so hard you’ll be put off if you are a non believer. The stand can feel slow at times, especially after the pace things happen in the beginning of the book, but it never drags too much and you feel you know every character very well as you spend good amounts of time with everyone, getting to know all their qualities and flaws by the time you reach the later parts of the book. There are shocks and twists I didn’t expect on my first read/listen through (yeah I’ve done this to myself more than once) and its an engaging listen on a repeat hearing. The narration by Grover Gardener is pretty good, he’s not my favourite narrator, he’s a bit dry for me, but after the first few hours you will be used to his voice and he does a decent job. To his credit he read the book for 2 whole actual days, not counting retakes he must’ve had to do, and he is consistent throughout so kudos to him. He’s just not my cup of tea.
I’d recommend The Stand, it’s dark and depressing at times but finishes with an uplifting positive note. There are lots of characters to get to know and the story is engaging and apt for our current times! If you want something to really get your teeth into and keep you going for a good while you can do much worse than The Stand.
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