2023 Reading Challenge

2023 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 5 books toward her goal of 265 books.

Series Review: Gwendy’s Button Box, Gwendy’s Magic Feather, and Gwendy’s Final Task by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

I’m going to review the three books in the series individually – including the reviews I appended after re-reading each of the first two books as the subsequent one(s) were released. The series is incredible and the depth and breadth of the story across all three books was magnificent, particularly given that the books are not that long. If you are a long-time King/Chizmar fan or new to either of their works, definitely give this series a go. It’s magic of the first order, full of all the creepy-crawlies you’d expect from either but with a novel series of twists that really resonated with me.

Gwendy’s Button Box

Stephen King, you brilliant devil, you’ve done it again… How on earth do you repeatedly manage to create magic that is horrifying and uplifting all at the same time? This is a delicious novella, full of all the slithery double-edged surprises expected from classic King because, new release or not, make no mistake, this is vintage work set in the original King universe of the 1970s/forward.

There are familiar characters and settings, and that eerie, creepy-crawly, tiny-hairs-rising-on-your-arms feeling that his earliest stories so perfectly embodied, even when they weren’t trying to. It’s county fair horror, all sticky-sweet like the last bites of rotten taffy apples, a be-careful-what-you-wish-for tummy ache after peeling the last cotton candy off of a soggy paper tube…

Gwendy is a delightful protagonist, a genuinely decent person with the devilish and hot-tempered impulses that plague all of us from time to time. Her quest as caretaker of the box is thoroughly enjoyable to read and sends the reader on a fascinating “what if?” mind-bend, thinking about the horrors of the world and what might *really* have caused them – at least in reality ala King…

Update: just read this again in preparation for the release of Gwendy’s Magic Feather and loved it every bit as much as the first time!! This is such a deceptively simple but incredibly complex tale – I can’t wait to see where the next in the trilogy will go!!

Update again: just reread for the third time as I prepare to finish the third and final installment, which I received via ARC and can honestly say every single time I read this I enjoy it more and am more impressed with its deceptive simplicity that hides a depth of meaning that I find fascinating. I am so ready to see how it all ties together!

Gwendy’s Magic Feather

The first time I read this one I gave it 4 stars, largely because I thought it didn’t have as much “magic” as the first book. The second time around, reading to refresh myself before the third and final book, I found it marvelous and full of magic, just a different kind. This is such a psychologically complex but deceptively straightforward series, and this second book captures that dichotomy perfectly. I love Gwendy and all the nods to Stephen King’s brilliant imagination and works, as well as to Chizmar’s own. Now I’m ready for book 3 and cannot WAIT to see where it all goes next!

Gwendy’s Final Task

What a magnificent and surprising way to wrap this up! I must confess, when the book started I was a little skeptical… I’ve never been a fan of space stories, and when I saw that the story was rapidly unfolding as primarily taking place on a rocket ship headed to a space station, I was a little nervous.

I shouldn’t have been. King and Chizmar are brilliant storytellers both separate and together, and their ability to tell a compelling tale no matter the setting should not be doubted.  Unlike some other reviewers, I’ve enjoyed the nodding references to many of their previous works throughout this Trilogy, and did so again here.

I must admit that I have never read The Dark Tower series, which I did find a little challenging in this one as there are a number of central plot points that link directly back to those books. I had to keep going back to Google to catch references, but the information was easily found online and now it has spurred my interest such that I’ve already put myself on the waitlist for The Gunslinger (DT being a series I’ve always avoided because the only subject matter I’ve generally found less compelling than space was westerns, but in the hands of King I suspect anything would work at this point).

I think the way they wove the pandemic into the story, as a plot point tied to the button box as well as a background fact of life in 2026 was masterfully done. It is in fact the first time I’ve seen an author work COVID into a story without being overly flippant or overly dire about it, and I applaud them both for the way they handled it.

Both men are magnificent at creating characters that leap off the page, and both the returning cast and new characters reinforced that observation this time around again. Nobody writes evil like Stephen King, and his Winston was truly reprehensible and totally believable in the best possible way. There was never any doubt in my mind that Gwendy would prevail, yet in a King novel you never truly know if the evil will come out ahead – even in its loss, by costing more than it should or than the hero can bear to pay… But his uppance did come and it came in a delightfully King way that made me cheer even as I cringed!

This has been such a fabulous ride. I love Gwendy and her indomitable spirit and I thoroughly enjoyed each of the books in this series! Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my obligation-free review copy of the first and third books.

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