The Penobscot Times

Bangor native Owen King’s new book is a maximalist fantasy

I read Bangor native Owen King’s first book, “We’re All In This Together,” not too long after it was published in 2006. It was a solid collection of short stories anchored by the title novella, which was set in Maine in the wake of the 2000 election and presaged the current socio-political divide in the United States by years.

In hindsight, that book should have prepared me for “The Curator,” King’s third work solely under his name. He co-wrote one in 2017 titled “Sleeping Beauties” with his father, fellow Bangorian and world famous author Stephen King.

But where King’s previous two books were set squarely in a richly described real world, “The Curator” sweeps us away to a unique fantasy world.

The plot revolves around Dora, known as D, who lives in a city called The Fairest, an alternate universe version of late 19th century London or New York. The government has collapsed, and in the chaos, D attempts to figure out the mysteries behind an occult research hub where her late brother worked. A revolution brews as she unravels several conspiracies, one after another.

The Fairest is a wondrous place, at once dark and beautiful, where cats are worshiped as gods, magical criminals roam the streets and a ship filled with the souls of those wrongfully killed plies the city’s waterways.

It’s the kind of place where you always need to be watching your back — even while you’re distracted by the incredible things happening in front of you.

“The Curator” occupies a fantasy novel space akin to writers like Philip Pullman, Terry Pratchett and Susanne Clarke. It shares a great deal of creative kinship with Clarke’s 2004 novel “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell,” which also exists in a similar sort of fantastic Victorian world full of danger and intrigue — a little steampunk here, a little magic there.

This is a maximalist story, overstuffed with images like a curio cabinet packed with strange wonders. But the attention to detail that can be such a strength in “The Curator” can also be a weakness.

The meticulous descriptions of so many elements of life in The Fairest leaves the plot and character development in the book in second place. The sheer volume of detail King includes over the course of the book’s 463 pages may fascinate some and overwhelm others.

“The Curator” is not so much a page-turner as it is a leisurely paced ride through the back alleys and canals of King’s fertile, creative mind. If you’re the kind of person who visualizes the settings of books as you read, you’re in for a treat.

I wonder what is in the family’s genetic code that gives Owen King, his father Stephen, his mother Tabitha and his brother, Joe Hill, their seemingly limitless powers of imagination.

Wherever it comes from, it has powered the tens of thousands of pages the entire family has created over the years, offering up heroes, villains, monsters and modern myths so memorable they are permanently seared into our consciousness.

“The Curator” fits right into the family legacy of creating terrible, beautiful worlds into which we’re lucky to escape.

“The Curator,” published by Scribner, became available on March 7 wherever books are sold.

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