First came the days of the plague. Then came the dreams.
Dark dreams that warned of the coming of the dark man. The apostate of death, his worn-down boot heels tramping the night roads. The warlord of the Charnel House and Prince of Evil.
His time is at hand. His empire grows in the west and the Apocalypse looms.
Okay, so it might have taken me three weeks, but I finished The Stand. I went into The Stand having no idea what it was about, other than the fact that it was somehow postapocalyptic. It’s been recommended to me for years by the same friend, and as I wanted to read more Stephen King (my only other experience of him being the first thee DARK TOWER books) I figured I should give it a go. Did I enjoy every single minute of what was surely an epic reading session? No. Did I find the ending somewhat anticlimactic? Sure. Was it awesome and totally worth the read? You bet.
This book was not what I was expecting. There was a Hell of a lot of “before” before you got to the “after”, if you know what I mean. The book begins with a car being driven into the front of a gas station by a sick man, next to whom sits his dead wife and child. Cheery, I know, but this is Stephen King and you are going to see a lot more dead bodies before the story is done. A lot more. Seriously, I don’t think I have “seen” as many dead bodies in my life as I did in my imagination reading this book, but I digress. The people in the car are infected with a strain of super flu, nicknamed Captain Trips, that quickly wipes out more than 90% of the American population and we go on from there. I say ‘quickly’; in book time it’s quick enough, but page wise this phase of the book kind of felt like forever. These pages are vital though, because it is here that you learn about the main characters.
These characters are pulled in opposite directions by crazy and realistic dreams, the good guys are drawn to Mother Abigail in Nebraska, and the bad guys to Randal Flagg in Las Vegas. You’ve got good guy Stu, almost rockstar Larry, accidentally pregnant Frannie, and my personal favourite, Nick Andros, the deaf mute. The good guys might have found their way together through their dreams of Mother Abigail, but it was Nick who really brought them together. Stuart Redman may be an all around amazing guy and arguably the hero of the story, but I see it more as Nick’s story, he’s the hero for me and I’m sorry it ended the way that it did, for him. There is also a whole host of amazing secondary and more minor character and these are just the good guys. You’ve also got your bad guys, among whom is the creepy baddest bad of them all, the Dark Man, Randal Flagg, who has some very strange ideas about his ruling the world.
The Stand is sort of a post apocalyptic come fantasy survival story, and the community that comes together around Mother Abigail is just like any other you see in TV shows like The Walking Dead and Falling Skies. The community and rebuilding sections of the book were some of my favourites, because after reading all of the horrible things that had happened in this world, it was reassuring to see a little compassion. It was also interesting to see the kinds of problems the characters came up against, like someone dying on the side of the road from an infection that would have been easily treated just a few weeks before. If I’m honest, I was expecting it to be more horrifying than it was; and while readers talk about one particular scene where Larry walks through a miles long darkened tunnel full of dead bodies, the most terrifying parts of the novel for me were undoubtedly Harold’s scenes. You just never knew what he was going to do, he could go either way, kill or be killed, and all the while he had that horrible sick grin on his face.
Long story short, if you’ll pardon the pun, The Stand is an awesome and epic read with a few twists that I never saw coming until the sentence before it actually happened. There is a cast of amazing characters to which I became rather attached throughout our journeys together across America, and there are also quite a few gruesome scenes that will make you wish you hadn’t just eaten your lunch. Well worth the read if you have a spare week.