Jack Sawyer is a twelve-year-old on a mission. To save his dying mother he needs to travel on his own across the country, back to his native California, to retrieve a mysterious item called the Talisman. Lucky for him, Jack has inherited a gift from his father, the ability to travel into a different world, called the Territories. The Territories are strange, to say the least. Technologically they seem to be about in the Middle Ages, with a few differences like talking werewolves. Jack has to flip back and forth between our world and theirs to keep out of the clutches of his father’s former business partner, Morgan Sloat, a high-powered Hollywood agent who learned the secret of the Territories from Jack’s father and now wants to take over with our world’s superior technology and weaponry.
Along the way Jack must rely on the kindness of strangers, with mixed results. In our world, he hitch-hikes from town to town and tries to make a few bucks doing odd jobs, which leads him into dangerous situations. He’s only twelve, remember. Jack has companions on his travels, including one of those aforementioned werewolves, helpfully named Wolf. There’s also his best friend Richard Sloat, Morgan’s egg-headed son.
Unfortunately, though Jack’s quest seems like the perfect set-up for an adventure novel, the book drags on and interminably. King and Straub take to heart the idea that it’s the journey, not the destination, but they load the plot past the breaking point. The Talisman itself is little more than a nebulous Macguffin while the reader wades through interminable set pieces at seedy dive bars, corrupt youth homes, and Richard’s fancy-pants private school. Wolf and Richard are irritating companions as well, distracting way more than they add to the story.
At nearly 800 pages, The Talisman was a chore to finish, and by the time Jack had his climactic confrontation with Morgan in order to claim the magic token and its powers, I couldn’t have cared less.