GWENDY’S FINAL TASK by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

GWENDY’S FINAL TASK

Stephen King (stephenking.com)

Richard Chizmar (richardchizmar.com)

Hodder & Stoughton (hodder.co.uk)

Cemetery Dance (cemeterydance.com)

£16.99 / $28.00

Buy a copy:

UK hardcover

Cemetery Dance Trade Edition

When she was twelve years old, Gwendy Peterson met a stranger named Richard Farris in her home town of Castle Rock, Maine. Farris entrusted Gwendy with a mysterious box with levers that provided gifts – coins and out-of-this-world chocolate animals – and coloured buttons that promised death and destruction around the world. Throughout her life Gwendy has taken possession of the box on several occasions. Now in her twilight years, Gwendy is a successful novelist and the junior senator for the state of Maine. Recovering from the death of her beloved husband, and battling the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s, she has once again come into possession of the box. This time, Farris tells her, she must put it somewhere out of reach of humanity in order to save her world and all worlds. So, before she forgets who she is, and what she must do, Gwendy Peterson is going to space.

Constant Readers first met Gwendy Peterson in 2017 as Stephen King and Richard Chizmar took us back to the Castle Rock of King’s early novels in Gwendy’s Button Box. Gwendy’s Magic Feather followed, with Chizmar on solo writing duties. Now the gang is back together to bring us the closing volume of this wonderful trilogy, as Gwendy is tasked with hiding the box somewhere that no-one will find it. Gwendy’s Final Task takes our heroine (and the reader) to MF-1, an orbital space station owned by none other than the Tet Corporation, in the company of assorted astronauts and scientists, and one billionaire who has more than a passing interest in the secure case that Gwendy is carrying.

Gwendy’s Final Task is a reasonably short novel by King standards, though it’s the longest of the trilogy. Despite its length (or lack thereof), it still manages to pack a lot in between the gorgeous covers, both in terms of the central plot and connections to the wider King universe. The story alternates between Gwendy’s trip into space and a series of flashbacks designed to fill the reader in on how we’ve reached this point. As ever, character is key, and in Gwendy we find an older woman who is beginning to feel her age. She has had great success as a novelist, and as a politician, much of it thanks to the mysterious box that comes and goes from her life. That life, now, is dominated by the illness that is constantly hanging over her; much of what she does is driven by the looming threat of forgetting who she is. King and Chizmar take a sensitive look at Alzheimer’s, focussing on its dehumanising impact, and using it as the driving force behind the story.

Gareth Winston is a billionaire who has bought his way onto the flight. We recognise him immediately as a villain – an entitled, obnoxious bully who would fit in well with the likes of Big Jim Rennie or Norman Daniels. Winston has an ulterior motive and, as we progress through the story, it becomes clear that he knows what Gwendy is carrying, and is determined to get his grubby mitts on it. How he knows is something we learn as we go along, while it doesn’t take too much imagination to guess what his intentions are.

In a series of flashbacks, we discover how Gwendy has ended up on a spaceship, but also discover the circumstances behind her husband’s death. A trip to King’s other famous fictional town – Derry, Maine – sees Gwendy’s husband, Ryan, encounter some men who look like animals wearing badly-made human masks and long yellow dusters, and driving cars that are almost, but not quite, right. The inclusion of Farris in this story is no coincidence and we discover that the box – the fabled button box that is once again in Gwendy’s possession – could destroy more than just this world, thus tying one more novel into the overarching Dark Tower mythos and allowing one more author – this time Richard Chizmar, who takes to the playground with childlike abandon – into that fabled universe.

Gwendy’s Final Task is a worthy conclusion to this excellent trilogy, and it’s good to see King back in the driving seat. Don’t get me wrong, Chizmar is an author at the top of his game (if you haven’t read last year’s Chasing The Boogeyman, you’re missing out on one of the best novels of the year, in any genre), but there is something symbolic about King being involved in closing out this trilogy, and introducing the Dark Tower elements that go some way towards explaining the box’s origins. This is King, after almost fifty years writing and publishing books, showing us that he still has what it takes, while bringing new talent along for the ride. These two are a match made in heaven and it feels like both have learned from the other, creating a minor masterpiece that is at least as good as King’s earlier collaborations with Peter Straub – The Talisman and Black House.

Exciting and touching, this brings to a close the story of a character whom we have watched grow from a 12-year-old girl into a 64-year-old woman over the course of three excellent books. It’s a wonderful addition to the King canon, while also introducing the excellent Richard Chizmar to a well-deserved much wider audience. A beautiful story to tide us over until Fairy Tale arrives later this year, it will leave Constant Readers everywhere satisfied. This CR, at least, hopes that there is more to come from this duo, but will equally be eagerly awaiting whatever solo works are coming down the line. It will come as no surprise to regular visitors that I recommend this – and the whole Gwendy trilogy – wholeheartedly and unreservedly.

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