Fiction Reviews

Gwendy's Final Task

(2022) Stephen King & Richard Chizmar, Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99, hrdbk, 412pp, ISBN 978-1-399-70234-8


When Gwendy Peterson was 12 a stranger named Richard Farris gave her a mysterious box for safekeeping. It offered treats, vintage coins, but it was dangerous. Pushing any of its seven coloured buttons promised death and destruction… Years later, the button box re-entered Gwendy's life. A successful novelist and a rising politician, she was once more forced to deal with the box's temptations. However, with the passing of time, the box has grown ever stronger and there those who desire to possess it…

First, some technical details, some “specs” shall we say. Gwendy’s Final Task is written by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar, who wrote the first book in the series, Gwendy’s Button Box, while Chizmar authored the middle book – Gwendy’s Magic Feather, himself. The great cover illustration is by Ben Baldwin, and yes, it does Richard Farris, the passer of the button box on the cover, and, gulp, that really is the Dark Tower in the background, which is enough to get quite a few King fans salivating. There are also black and white illustrations scattered throughout the text by Keith Minnion. While the actual novel itself is 404 pages long, it is made up of 53 chapters and an epilogue. With any book King is involved in, it’s not a difficult read, as the reader is quickly pulled into the story, especially if they have read the previous two novels. And it’s not really 404 pages long either, as there are Minnion’s illustrations and blank pages between some of the chapters and the text is wrapped up in a sort of frame which gives the book title and the author’s names so each page is not a normal page length. All of that means that my reluctant reader demon which normally sits on my left shoulder and moans into my ear about the length of a book and how few chapters there are, didn’t even stir.

As for the plot, Gwendy Peterson is still a senator as she was in the previous book, but she is a lot older, and once again the custodian of the button box, which has the power to do tremendous good, or tremendous evil, and there are forces out there who want it to do the latter. This time in order to save the world and other worlds she has to blast into space as a celebrity guest and reach the MF-1 space station which gives the two authors the chance to build up the detail and the tension. Those unfamiliar with the series should start at book one and then read book two to arrive here, but for the uninitiated, the button box is a deceptively simple mahogany box with buttons to press, and levers to pull. Sometimes the box will give out chocolate treats, and in the first book, these treats help Gwendy to lose weight and also increase her intellect. However, the coloured buttons on the box correspond to a continent and if pressed could destroy that continent, while the black button, which a young Gwendy names the Cancer Button, could destroy the world.

Gwendy has been a reasonably responsible possessor of the box, not letting it possess her too much, but the mysterious Richard Farris is back in her life and so is the box. Farris isn’t looking his best, and dark forces are gathering and Gwendy is the only person he trusts to look after the box one more time, but Gwendy doesn’t want the box back, she doesn’t need another major secret in her life. She is trying to keep secret the fact that she is in early stages of Alzheimer’s, but she has to step up to the plate as the world and the box are linked and it is 2026 and the world is in a bad place. Apart from going into outer space, Gwendy has to visit two places familiar to King readers, namely Castle Rock, and Derry. King fans will also be chuffed to know that the space shuttle Gwendy takes is the “Eagle 19” funded by The Tet Corporation.

As you would expect, this is a well-written, seamless read (you can’t see the join between the chapters King wrote and Chizmar wrote), that racks up the tension and the dread, as well as the horror and the sense of wonder in this modern fairy story. The ending will bring a smile to the face, and possibly a tear to the eye. A fine end to the series and Gwendy’s journey. Recommended.

Ian Hunter


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