The Eyes of the Dragon isn’t your usual Stephen King novel. For one thing, it’s squarely in the young adult genre (aside from an early reference to “The King’s Iron,” a.k.a. the royal penis). The book is also relatively short, clocking in at a modest (for King) 384 pages.
Both traits impressed me; changing your writing style is no easy thing. But King does so deftly, using short, punchy chapters and lean vocabulary to relate his fantasy of a kingdom thrown into turmoil by a devious magician who frames the crown prince for the king’s murder. Throughout, King’s narrator frequently slips into first person, often to speak directly to the reader. (One such digression is an apology for having to report that the old king, when left alone, liked to pick his nose and eat the results.) The overall effect is that of a bedtime story—which isn’t surprising once you learn that The Eyes of the Dragon originally grew out of a tale King used to tell his children.
Elements of the horror King is best known for still filter in: the old king dies rather horribly, and the magician eventually morphs into a bloodthirsty demon. The pacing is familiar too, with a plot that zigs and zags like a series of switchbacks up a mountainside. And fans of King’s other works will recognize a more direct link: Randall Flagg, the magician, is a recurring character in King’s literary universe. (Flagg first appeared in The Stand, and features heavily in The Dark Tower series.) I’m not sure I really need multiple iterations of the consistently heinous Flagg, but it’s an interesting way of connecting otherwise disparate books and keeping the reader’s mind on your whole catalog.
Judged on its own merits, however, The Eyes of the Dragon is a perfectly good story—and about the only one of King’s I’ll let my daughter read until she’s (quite a bit) older.