I finished Doctor Sleep by Stephen King last night. As I’ve said before, I am a huge Stephen King fan. Doctor Sleep is a sequel to The Shining. It’s a sequel that was about three decades overdue, but whatever. I’ve read The Shining more than once, and always loved it, and I’ve seen both movies, the version with Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance and the made-for-TV miniseries that came out in the ’90s. I loved the book, but I preferred the ’90s miniseries over the Nicholson movie – Jack Nicholson was great, but I didn’t like the way Wendy Torrance was portrayed. I thought the miniseries portrayed her more the way she was in the book, and because it was longer, did a better job of matching up to the book.
Because I loved The Shining so much, I was thrilled when I first heard about Doctor Sleep. I immediately put it on my to-read list, at the very top, in bold and highlighted in bright colors. I received it as a gift at Christmas, but as badly as I wanted to read it, it took me until now to get around to reading it.
It was so worth the wait. (Warning: Spoilers of The Shining may be below. If you haven’t read it yet, read this review at your own risk.)
Doctor Sleep is the story of young Danny from The Shining. Danny and his mother Wendy survived the explosion of the Overlook Hotel, and did the best they could to move on with their lives. Now Danny is all grown up and goes by Dan. He struggles with demons just like his father did, and most of them are the same demons.
He gets his life together, and joins AA, gets a job and ends up being known as Doctor Sleep because of his ability to help those that are dying pass over more comfortably – an ability that he has because of the shining. But for as good as his life seems to be right now, it’s not going to remain that way.
There’s a little girl, Abra, who begins contacting Dan. She, too, seems to have the shining, and she’s found something terrifying, though she doesn’t exactly know it yet. She’s discovered the True Knot, a group of old people traveling the country who aren’t exactly what they seem. And they’ve decided they want Abra.
In some cases, sequels written 20+ years after the first book end up being a real letdown. They don’t compare to the first book, often because the author seems to have lost the passion they had when they wrote the first book. This is not the case with Doctor Sleep.
Doctor Sleep is just as good as The Shining. King does a great job of blending in enough reminders of what happened in The Shining so that we can recall what happened before, with a smooth transition into the present. There’s a brief look at Danny’s childhood after the Overlook, which helps create that smooth transition, and also gives us a good set up for what’s ahead.
He also writes Dan as an amazingly believeable character. We see his good and his bad, and King doesn’t write him as this man who’s been redeemed by joining AA, or agreeing to help people die more easily, or anything else good he does in the book. King makes sure we see that he’s just like any other human: he can do good things, and bad things, and the doing of bad doesn’t make him in need of redemption. He’s a flawed human, and that’s all. I love that.
We see more than one character from The Shining return in Doctor Sleep. We see Dan and his mother, and we also see Dick Hallorann again. This was a really nice bit for me, and I was glad to know what had happened to these characters. But I also liked the new characters introduced in this book, and felt they all added something to the story.
The True Knot as the villains were very intriguing to me. It’s never really explained exactly what they are, or how the “steam” they take works or how it helps them, yet it is clear that they are evil and terrifying.
The connections between the True Knot and Dan’s past become clear after a while, and make a terrifying kind of sense. The question soon becomes: Can Dan beat the True Knot and his past? I won’t answer that question and spoil the book, but I will say this: I was kept guessing right up until the end.
If you enjoyed The Shining, you’ll definitely want to pick up Doctor Sleep. It’s a sequel that matches up well with the book that came before it, and it’s another piece of evidence that the king of horror is still King.
You can read Doctor Sleep as a stand alone, as the references to the events of the first book are generally written in such a way that even if you didn’t read The Shining, you would be able to figure out what they refer to anyway. But I would still recommend you read The Shining first, and then Doctor Sleep.
I’d also recommend that you turn on all the lights before you go to sleep. Just in case.
You can get Doctor Sleep here: