Review: Stephen King – Joyland

Written by: Sion Smith

I quite often wonder exactly where Stephen King fits into the jigsaw these days. Twenty years ago, we were all reading King and being satellites around the ‘end’ of the first stage of his career.

The glory days of Carrie, Salem’s Lot et al had come to an end. So, as far as I was concerned his last great book had been The Talisman in conjunction with Peter Straub (and if you’re reading this and have never read Straub – shame should rain down on your mortal soul).

Joyland - Stephen King

I didn’t get on with the mid-period King either.

Adored Salem’s Lot, hated Dark Tower. Raved forever and a day about Christine and Pet Cemetery – not so much over Needful Things or Gerald’s Game. IT was a great ride aside from the spider ending. By the time we had gotten to Bag of Bones, Dreamcatcher and Buick 8, I was long gone – and so were many of my fellow readers.

Horror had run its course in the world as well. King was flailing (that’s not to say there wasn’t an an unholy mass of people who would disagree with me – but I think they were reading out of habit), James Herbert (rest his soul) was repeatedly handing in the same book, Ramsey Campbell had gone underground, Dean Koontz had turned into a novel factory second only to James Patterson and Clive Barker… well, we’re all still sitting here waiting for those other instalments he promised us seemingly decades ago. (Dude – seriously, we’re on our knees here begging like dogs).

Horror – as a genre – was pretty snoozy. Take a look in any bookstore (if you can find one) at the horror section. It will be very small – with tiny flecks of light. If you need some pointers, you could certainly do worse than to check in on the likes of Christopher Ransom, Joe Hill and Adam Nevill – but the fact remains. Horror ain’t what it used to be.

And neither is Stephen King.

Look closer however and you’ll see this is a good thing. While those mid-period books never set my world on fire, his later work – Under The Dome (which is shaping up to be a high quality TV drama), Duma Key and Cell all delivered something a little different. Something worth talking about again.

The fact is, a lot of my friends that I grew up on King with, have stopped reading altogether – which is a real shame because if they had stuck around they’d find that Joyland is just about the best thing King has written since 1979.

Oh yeah – you read that right.

While King may have had more than a fair share of bullets aimed in his general direction recently, he’s dodged them all with this baby. What you have here is King writing under the radar. There appears to be no pressure to deliver a horror blockbuster – or indeed a blockbuster of any description. Much like Blockade Billy, this is King writing because he loves writing and is damn good at it. This is King with the saddle off, barebacking it over the hills with the sun on his back and his hair blowing in the wind.

I won’t waste your time or mine giving you a 300 word explanation of what the book is about – go and find it for yourself at Amazon or something. What I will tell you is that Joyland is a one-sitting read. It’s probably not what you expect – (and if you’re into this sort of thing, the audiobook is excellently read) – but it is more than worth your time and attention.

Coming in from the relatively new publisher Hard Case Crime (who have a serious amount of great books on the shelf right now), is this what it took to bring King back to doing what he does best? Telling stories that we want to be involved in?

I hope it’s not the last walk he’s going to take down this road. I don’t much care who publishes it, I would simply be really appreciative of Stephen King having a good time with a pen. Hell, it’s Stephen King – he could bang stuff out all by himself if he was so inclined.

Go investigate. Joyland is a real thrill and an absolute treat to romp through.

I would say Stephen King was back with a bang and then some – but his next book is called Doctor Sleep and is a sequel to The Shining. I don’t need a sequel to The Shining and Doctor Sleep is an awful title for a book. It sound like Koontz should have written it not the King.

Never mind. Joyland. Go read it.

Author: Sion Smith

My name is Sion Smith. I write about rock music, books and pop-culture – kind of like a rock n roll Nick Hornby or maybe Hank Moody with hair. Sion is pronounced as in Sean Connery/Shawn Michaels – take your pick. If you’re interested, it’s Welsh. I'm also the editor of Skin Deep, the biggest selling tattoo magazine in the UK and harbour designs on writing for Doctor Who – these two things are not related. Aside from that, I’m currently working on a TV screenplay called Fox On The Run and also contribute articles to The Void - which you know already because you're here. You can jump on the feed of my own blog at

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Responses to Review: Stephen King – Joyland

  1. Michael SauersNo Gravatar

    I’m going to be a bit picky here but I’m going to disagree with you on several of your side points made in this review.

    1. Hard Case Crime has been publishing since 2004. A bit short of ten years is “relatively new”?

    2. Dean’s been putting out 1-2 books a year for a while now. Patterson averages a half-dozen or so, mostly with “co-authors.” How does that put them in the same league.

    3. Even more so, Clive put out a novella from a small press earlier this year and his next-previous novel was in 2011. Hardly Patterson-esque.

  2. Sion SmithNo Gravatar

    Hi Michael.

    You can disagree if you wish! However:

    1. Relatively new. Yeah – they are in the broad scheme of things when compared to the big houses that have been looking after our reading needs for er… however long it is. Decades most of them!

    2. Artistic license 🙂 Koontz is now a factory. What happened to the man with the vision who created Lightning, Twilight Eyes… he’s in a zone and trapped as far as I can see. Agree that the reference is perhaps a little extreme but the reader was “supposed to get the drift of the meaning”. I have let the world down…

    3. I didn’t say Barker was Patterson-esque at all. Quite the opposite in fact. I can see how you might think that’s what I meant but read to the end of the paragraph and you’ll see how it was supposed to read. I am saying that Clive is the complete opposite. What that sentence needs is a question mark after the word ‘Barker’… (granted)

    Comments always welcome… I love all these guys at their best – love books all over in fact, but I’m not going to give kudos to somebody because they did something great 25 years ago. Those days are long freaking gone. We all made sure of that when we switched on the internet.

    Anyway, is that seriously a Darth Vader tie you are wearing in your biog pic over at your site?

  3. Michael SauersNo Gravatar

    1. Well I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. Considering many of the “big” publishers have been around over 100 years, I guess less than 10 would be considered “new”.

    2. I’ll agree that Dean has evolved over the years and books like Odd Thomas are not the same as the classics. But then again 77 Shadow Street I think was as good as some of the classics. Ultimately, I’m a bit biased. (See

    3. Ok, I guess i miss read that. Though we’ve still be waiting for the last Christopher Snow book from Dean for just about as long now so Clive’s not the only author leaving us hanging.

    4. Yep, that’s a Darth Vader tie. 😉

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