This was a book club pick and many of my Facebook friends were shocked that I had never read it before. A huge group of friends love this book and many have it in their Favorite Books of All Time lists. I expected that my like-minded reader friends would of course be on board, but I found that friends that I wouldn’t have guessed like this genre loved it as well. Clearly this is a book that spans readerships and ages. Several friends read it and loved it as teenagers and then picked it up again as adults and were thrilled that it held up and they still loved it. All of these FB responses made me wonder why this book was never on my radar. I’m really glad my book group picked it.
The challenge for me was figuring out how to describe the authors’ writing. Was it King’s part? Straub’s? King-Straub? Straub-King? There were definitely parts that were 100% King, but I’ve never read anything by Straub so couldn’t know what he created. For the purpose of this review I’ll stay with the book’s order and the author is now King-Straub.
Our protagonist is Jack Sawyer. It’s 1981 and he’s on the cusp of turning 13. His father is dead, his mother is dying and she has scooped him up and fled to New Hampshire, and he doesn’t know why. She won’t admit she’s dying, or even that she’s sick, and Jack is angry and scared at everything she’s keeping from him.
His father’s business partner is relentlessly pursuing them both and this ads to Jack’s confusion. Uncle Morgan (not really his uncle) has been bullying his mother about something. It has to do with Jack’s father and it is clear that his mother wants nothing to do with Morgan’s plans. The more she resists, the angrier Morgan gets and Jack begins to wonder exactly what his father’s business was.
He also begins to remember when he was a little boy and would Daydream. His mother was quick to tell him to forget them, although lately he’s begun to see things he knows aren’t real. Humans don’t have eyes that turn to yellow and hands that turn to claws. Seagulls don’t rip oysters apart while staring at you, making it clear that they’d rather the oyster was your heart. The sand beneath your feet doesn’t spin and speak to you about your beloved and trusted Uncle Tommy’s sudden death. Tommy, the only person would could have protected your mother from Morgan.
The Talisman follows traditional folklore motifs which almost always makes me happy. Sometimes an author uses this structure and fails and it’s horrible, but in the gifted hands of King-Straub, it’s amazing. Jack follows the Hero’s Journey, finding a guide and friends to lead him on his path. Morgan and other enemies are constantly at his back, and Jack knows little about what his quest even is. He knows he needs to save his mother and now he knows there is another world.
Turns out his Daydreams were real. His elder guide is Speedy Parker who seems to know things that Jack has always suspected. He expects greatness from Jack, who is frustrated and confused and scared that he’s supposed to know who he is and what he can do.
The Territories are waiting for him.
He needs to save both worlds.
He doesn’t understand any of it.
With Speedy’s help he slips back and forth between the two places, feeling helpless and young. He still doesn’t understand who he is, only that there is a Queen in the Territories who is and is not his mother and must also be saved. She is dying and Morgan is waiting to take the Kingdom from her. Only it’s not Morgan. At least not the Morgan in Jack’s world. Not Jack’s world… Jack’s other world. The one with his mother and not the Queen.
Jack must travel between the two worlds from New Hampshire to California to find the Talisman and save his mother.
In the Territories he must avoid Morgan’s Twinner and the Twinners that serve Morgan in both worlds. It now makes sense that humans do have eyes that turn to yellow and hands that turn to claws. Jack has no Twinner. The Queen’s son died, but Jack lived.
Jack’s story continues along the folklore motif and he must overcome challenges in order to get to the prize.
If the book follows the folklore rules, he will win, but how? And what if he doesn’t? Even knowing these rules, how will an almost thirteen year old boy with so little knowledge defeat a man who has wanted him dead since he was a baby? A man with so much power that he’s is already taking the Territories over while the Queen sleeps? A man with a son in this world who is Jack’s best friend and must learn who his father is.
I loved this book. The characters are amazing. From pure evil to pure innocent and everything in between, King-Straub have created a the kind of cast that you want to be real. You want to be friends with Wolf. You are comforted that Speedy is out there keeping an eye on things. You’re willing to let Richard slip away from you in order to stay sane.
I understand why so many of my friends love this book and consider it an all time favorite. When an author follows the folklore rules and creates something new and exciting, it’s incredibly satisfying. As readers we know what will happen (or should happen) but not how the authors will get us there. There is a fear that the hero will fail and we agree with him when he’s ready to give up. It’s easier to lose, no matter how important the prize at the end will be. It is exhausting to watch him struggle and lose his way, especially knowing how much balances on his decisions. If he fails in one world, he will lose everything in the other.
And I was lucky to get to go with him.