The kingdom of Delain is ruled by a mediocre king getting up there in years. He has two sons: Peter, who is virtuous and clever, and Thomas, who is lazy and resentful. Fortunately for the kingdom, Peter is the elder son and set to assume the throne. Unfortunately for everyone, the king’s chief advisor and court magician, a mysterious, hooded figure named Flagg, has other ideas. Through his machinations and misdeeds, Flagg manages to poison the king and place the blame squarely on Peter’s shoulders. With the rightful heir imprisoned, the easily manipulated Thomas takes over and begins doing Flagg’s bidding, sending the kingdom into a prolonged dark time. As Peter attempts to persevere in his cell and plan an impossible escape, his few remaining allies band together against the evil taking root in the kingdom.
The Eyes of the Dragon certainly has all the elements of a classic tale of fantasy adventure. Good, evil, honor, virtue, true love, and bravery all abound. King is nothing if not a good storyteller. And yet this is not King at his best. The Eyes of the Dragon feels out of place. Certainly it is a departure for King, genre-wise. The medieval setting means less of King’s colloquial English, and his few authorial asides ring awkwardly. At times King’s tone toward the reader turns parental, as though this is a book for children. It frequently reminded me of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, but with more muted humor.
The main drawback is the simplistic plotting. For all the classic elements and the wide variety of characters King puts into play, the actual story itself is remarkably simple. Once King sets up the mechanism of Peter’s escape attempt the reader is plunged into a never-ending wait for him to finally get around to it. At times it feels like King is just dragging things out to ramp up the tension unnecessarily. The climax and resolution are fairly tepid after all the build-up.
Though there is plenty here for a reader to enjoy, at least for a while, the genre constraints eventually get the better of King.