10 Best Stephen King Books | The ReviewGeek Recommends

Rabid dogs. Demonic clowns. Obsessive fans. Blood-soaked prom queens. What do all of these have in common? Stephen King, of course. The famed horror writer’s first novel, Carrie, was published in 1974, and since then, he has written more than 60 books, many of which have been adapted into TV shows or movies.

If you’re a Stephen King fan, you will likely have your own picks for a “best of” list like this one. We have listed 10 of our favourites but if you want to give a shout-out to another of King’s novels (or short stories), please leave us a comment below.

In no particular order, here is our list of the 10 best Stephen King Books.


IT

IT stands as one of King’s largest novels – the book has a whopping 1,138 pages – which is why the movie adaptation had to be split into two parts. It is set in the fictional town of Derry, Maine, and focuses on a group of children who encounter the presence of something evil lurking in the darkest recesses of their town. Initially, this malevolent being takes on the form of a clown but it later becomes the symbol of their worst fears before shapeshifting into its true form – an ancient eldrich entity that (perhaps disappointingly) has the appearance of a giant spider.

The book tells a traditional good versus evil story, with one-half of the novel devoted to the junior members of The Losers Club and the second half devoted to their adult selves when they reunite to take on the monster that has returned to Derry. King’s novel is suitably violent and scary but beyond the horrors that leap from the page, this is also an engaging and relatable coming-of-age story that touches upon the traumas of growing up and the power of friendship.

IT is a modern-day horror classic and definitely one of the best books the author has ever written. It’s epic in length but never a chore to sit through as this is a page-turner that you won’t want to put down.


Pet Sematary

Sometimes dead is better! These are the words that Pet Sematary’s main protagonist, Louis Creed, should have heeded before he buried the body of his dead son in the Native American burial ground located not far from his home.

After the family cat rises from the grave in a sinister form after being buried in the cemetery, Creed decides to bury his child there when the boy is struck and killed by a truck on the nearby road. The boy also comes back from the dead but just like the newly-resurrected cat, something evil has possessed him. This is something Louis should have expected after a hostile encounter he has with kitty but due to his overwhelming grief, he decided that ‘dead was not better’ in the case of his son. Bad mistake!

Pet Sematary is one of King’s darkest novels and it’s definitely his most disturbing. It even frightened the author himself who was horrified at the distressing nature of what he had written. Those who have read the book will share his feelings as it contains scenes that are very upsetting, including those near the end of the novel when Louis has to overcome and kill his son.

The 2019 movie adaptation messed around with King’s story and turned Creed’s oldest daughter into the murderous antagonist. This diluted the power of the novel which was particularly unsettling because an infant boy and not an older child was responsible for some very bloody murders.


Misery

Many of King’s novels feature a writer as a protagonist, including Misery which is one of his most famous. The book, which tells the story of a fictional author named Paul Sheldon and his run-in with an obsessive fan, was later adapted into a terrific movie starring James Caan and Kathy Bates.

For once, the movie adaptation stuck quite closely to the source material although the infamous ankle-hobbling scene that you will remember from the movie isn’t actually a part of the book. In the novel, the deranged Annie Wilkes chops off the imprisoned author’s foot with an axe rather than beating it out of shape with a sledgehammer, although it is still just as horrifying.

Thankfully, Stephen King has never been held captive by a crazed fan although his novel was still based on his personal experiences. In interviews, he has spoken about his past battles with drug addiction and how Annie Wilkes symbolized the cocaine that kept him prisoner for a number of years. Regardless of this inspiration for his novel, the book is also a chilling reminder of fan obsession that may be relatable (but hopefully not too relatable) to anybody who has ever stalked their favourite celebs on social media.


The Shining

“We all go a little mad sometimes.”

So said Norman Bates in the Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho but the words could have been spoken by Jack Torrance, the main protagonist of this chilling work of fiction that was later turned into a movie (that King hated) by Stanley Kubrick.

The Shining was King’s third published novel and is widely considered to be one of his best. It’s not his scariest work of fiction but in its telling of a man who is taken over by his personal demons (and perhaps demons of another kind), it still provides a few haunting moments that linger long in the memory.

In the movie, Jack Torrance is rather hostile from the very beginning so we never really warm to him. In the book, Jack is seen as a good husband and father, which is why his descent into madness (and murderous pursuit of his family) is so alarming. That’s not the only difference between the two. The movie’s most memorable scene, in which Jack wields an axe and shouts “Here’s Johnny” while smashing through a bathroom door, is played out with a croquet mallet in the novel. The scene in the book is actually more disturbing as Jack strikes his wife  with the mallet instead of waving it around menacingly.

The movie is different in lots of other ways too, which you will have noticed if you have read King’s novel. They are both brilliant in their own ways but the book is far more involving due to King’s expert writing which gives us time to warm to the loving and good-natured Torrance before he loses the plot completely.


Salem’s Lot

King’s second novel remains one of his best and is a must-read for any fan of vampire fiction. The main protagonist this time around is writer Ben Mears, who returns to his hometown of Jerusalem’s Lot to write a novel based on his childhood experiences. Unfortunately, some new folk have moved into town since his time away, one of whom is a vampire that gradually turns the local citizens into bloodsuckers.

Eventually, Mears teams up with the surviving members of the town to eliminate the vampire menace that has taken up residence. But the power of King’s writing doesn’t come from the horrific sequences that he conjures up during the movie’s story. Rather, it’s his ability to draw us into the town and the lives of the characters who face up to this evil as they are all very relatable and not too dissimilar from people that we might know.

If you enjoyed the excellent TV miniseries which was directed by Tobe Hooper, you should definitely delve into King’s novel if you haven’t already done so. Another adaptation of the novel is currently in the works and is set for release later in the year. Here’s hoping it’s as fang-tastic as the source material!


The Stand

As King’s apocalyptic novel is set in a post-pandemic wasteland, this is now frighteningly relatable. Admittedly, the virus that threatened our lives wasn’t the result of a biological weapon (as it is in the novel) but it was still a chilling reminder that fiction can spill over into our realities.

The Stand was King’s attempt to write a novel as epic as JRR Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings but instead of setting his story in a fantasy world, he transposed it into our world instead. It focuses on two factions of survivors that are destined to clash with one another because one group is governed by the personification of good (Mother Abigail) and the other is controlled by a personification of evil.

This ‘evil’ is Randall Flagg, who is responsible for wreaking havoc on the world after the virus kills most of the population. Flagg later popped up in other King works, including The Eyes Of The Dragon and The Dark Tower series of novels, and this shared universe is why The Stand has grown in popularity since the time of its initial release.


The Talisman

Co-written with fellow horror novelist Peter Straub, The Talisman is another epic that chronicles the battle between good and evil. It tells the story of a 12-year-old boy named Jack Sawyer who is instructed to find a crystal called the “Talisman” in order to save his mother who is dying from cancer. Jack’s journey to find this crystal takes him from our world into an alternate reality known as The Territories, where all manner of horrifying experiences awaits him, as well as a werewolf who becomes his unlikely companion.

This is one of King’s most compelling works of fiction so it’s good news that an adaptation of the novel has finally been given the green light. The Duffer Brothers, who are perhaps most famous for Stranger Things, will be adapting The Talisman for Netflix, along with Steven Spielberg who bought the screen rights to the book over 30 years ago. There is no news of a release date yet, but we do know the book will be turned into a TV series, which is the most logical choice considering the epic scale of King and Straub’s novel.

The book really is a brilliant read, especially for fans of fantasy fiction. A sequel, Black House, was released several years later, again co-written by King and Staub. It wasn’t a bad book by any means but it was nowhere near as good as The Talisman, which is one of the best horror-fantasy novels ever written.


The Dead Zone

What would you do if you knew a future world leader would trigger Armageddon? This is the dilemma faced by Johnny Smith in King’s novel. After waking from a coma, he discovers he has the power to see people’s pasts and futures when he touches them. When he gets a glimpse of the end of the world when shaking hands with a rising politician, he decides to kill him before the inevitable happens.

The Dead Zone was a massive hit for Stephen King, perhaps because it plays into the fears we all have about the people who govern our countries. It was turned into a very successful film in 1983 by David Cronenberg, which starred Christopher Walken as Smith and Martin Sheen as Greg Stillson, the future President of the United States and the harbinger of Earth’s destruction. These characters also featured in the long-running TV series but while that was a compelling watch, it wasn’t quite as chilling as King’s novel which (scarily) is still very relatable to our world today.


Carrie

Carrie was King’s first novel and it was the one that put the acclaimed author on the map. He actually binned the manuscript for this novel shortly after writing it but thankfully, his wife Tabitha rescued it from the trashcan and encouraged him to get it published. It’s a good thing that she did as without her intervention, we might never have had any of the amazing books that are featured on this list.

The book, as you probably know already if you have seen the 1976 adaptation, centres on bullied high schooler Carrie White, who discovers she has telekinetic powers. After her classmates pull a cruel (and bloody) prank on her at the school prom, she gets her revenge and inflicts horrific and gory pain on the people who made her life a misery during her time at school.

Interestingly, the book was banned in several high schools at the time of its release due to its violent nature. It can be assumed local school boards were worried about its effects on impressionable minds. They should have been more concerned about helping teens like Carrie who were mercilessly bullied. Regardless, the book is one of the most impressive debuts from any horror author and will be especially loved by those who wished they could have turned the tables on the people who made their lives a misery at high school.


The Dark Tower series

For the uninitiated, The Dark Tower series of novels incorporate elements of horror, fantasy, science fiction, and western themes throughout its 8 novel run. The books revolve around Roland Deschain, the last living member of a knightly order known as the Gunslingers, and his quest to find and protect the Dark Tower, which is said to be the nexus of all universes. On his journey to the tower, he meets a great number of people, some of whom turn out to be friends and others who are enemies. One such enemy is the Man in Black, aka Randall Flagg who wants to use the tower’s power to turn himself into a god.

Many people (including the author himself) consider The Dark Tower series of novels to be King’s magnum opus. We have included them all here instead of picking one out to mention as they all work together to create one brilliant, fantastical story. Each book builds on the other to expand the universe around which these novels are based, with story points that incorporate themes related to the nature of evil, the importance of love, and the power of redemption.

A movie adaptation was released in 2017 that tried to turn the entire book series into a coherent story. It failed, of course, as a 90-minute movie can’t possibly do justice to the scale of King’s works. Thankfully, Mike Flanagan, the creator of Midnight Mass, has partnered with Amazon Studios to create a TV adaptation that will be spread across 5 seasons and two movies. Here’s hoping he can do justice to the fantastical world that King created.


Do you agree with our picks? Should we have included another Stephen King book in this list? Let us know in the comments below. 

2 thoughts on “10 Best Stephen King Books | The ReviewGeek Recommends”

  1. Thanks Bruce – sorry for the slip-up – I appreciate your feedback. I have no idea why I used DePalma’s name – consider it a brief moment of insanity 🙂

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