Review: Joyland by Stephen King

Book cover of Joyland by Stephen King

I think the entire world must know how much I adored Stephen King’s 11.22.63  – I raved about that book for weeks, and still will if people give me half a chance. It’s hardly surprising then, that I jumped at the chance to read Joyland when Titan Books offered me a copy to review. It’s released on June 7th over here in the UK, so pick up a copy if you’re looking for a great crime novel with a creepy twist.

Plot summary: College student Devin Jones took the summer job at Joyland hoping to forget the girl who broke his heart. But he wound up facing something far more terrible: the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and dark truths about life – and what comes after – that would change his life forever.

A riveting story about love and loss, about growing up and growing old – and about those who don’t get to do either because death comes for them before their time – JOYLAND is Stephen King at the peak of his storytelling powers.

While I’ve only read two of Stephen King’s books previously (I’m not sure if this makes me more qualified to review this one, or less), I’m obviously aware of his reputation for horror and general creepiness. 11.22.63 certainly fits within this description, amazing though it was. Joyland, however, is definitely more of a crime book, although perhaps I should have gathered that earlier from the silhouette of a gun on the spine and the word ‘CRIME’ in big letters. Hey ho.

This isn’t a criticism; far from it. I like a good crime story as much as the next person. I’m just stating that I have almost no idea if this is new territory for Stephen King or not. There are occasional references to ghosts and psychic powers, but these are secondary to the basic whodunnit.

The tone and style are just as perfect as 11.22.63. It has an almost semi-formal style – not chatty or colloquial, and yet wonderfully accessible. I was completely engrossed in the prose, despite not really finding the plot anything special. The author has a gift for atmosphere and description, possibly something to do with the sheer amount of detail. He’s clearly gone out of his way to research the carnival world, as evidenced by the casual semi-bibliography at the back. I could easily imagine myself to physically be at Joyland with Devin and Erin.

Speaking of Devin… Stephen King’s characters always seem so real somehow. Perhaps it’s because this is written in the first person, but Devin Jones may as well have been a living, breathing person to me. I could have done without his recent heartbreak woes (several times I contemplated sliding Joyland to one side and picking up a book on sparkly unicorns instead), but that’s more due my own recent self-pitying episodes than a fault in the actual writing. *mopes*

The ending itself wasn’t all that great. Due to the general crime theme, I was expecting some shock revelation… and didn’t really get one. It was more of an “Oh.” moment than an “OH!” one. There was a huge build-up and there was clearly an attempt at a climax, but it fell a little flat for me. I wasn’t bothered about who the murderer was really, and when we found out it seemed fairly mundane.

Joyland is worth reading just for the atmosphere and the setting. Stephen King is a supremely talented author (although that’s not news to any of us) and his prose is genuinely amazing. However, this does seem to be a little flat – possibly due to the less-than-impressive ending. Do buy this and devour it like I did though, as that’s just a minor flaw in a very entertaining (if not particularly surprising) crime novel.

Read my reviews of 11.22.63 or The Gunslinger!


  1. Hannah says:

    I have another confession for you after Shopaholic: I have never read a Stephen King novel. I've had Misery and Dreamcatcher for YEARS gathering dust, and I have most of the Gunslinger series (just missing book 5 and the newer one), and I've come close to giving the latter series a go if I wasn't so put off by the slow build in book 1 and the Western theme.. but I use the library now and I've never borrowed The Stand or On Writing or 11.22.63? Tut, Hannah. Tut.

    1. admin says:

      I only read my first one last year! And I've never even HEARD of Misery or Dreamcatcher. Just not that interested in his horror stuff, I guess.

      Didn't like the Gunslinger books, but I really did LOVE 11.22.63. Some of his books I have zero interest in though.

  2. I haven't read any Stephen King crime novels, but I'm definitely not well versed enough to know definitively if this is his first shot at the genre – it'd be one of very few though I'd imagine.

    Endings seem to be a bit of an issue for King, I've read more than a few books that just end terribly, either really abruptly or drag too long or don't live up to the rest of the book. But the rest of the story and the characters are usually so great that a slight drop in quality isn't too big an issue.

    1. Oh, and also, I love that cover. So pulpy and fantastic!

    2. Laura says:

      As far as I know he's only written one other specifically crime-y book, The Colorado Kid, and I *think* it's in the same series as this because the cover is way similar.

      And Hanna, UGH yes his characters are SO good and also yeah, description- he can do it! Also the occasional references to supernaturaly things are pretty par for the course for King- I can only think of a few stories where they aren't present AT LEAST in a mentiony way, so it's nice to know he doesn't deviate from that even when he's writing a whole other genre!

      Obvs I'll have to wait forever to read this, but I WILL READ IT. Y'know, eventually.

  3. fredamans says:

    Being a huge fan I'll definitely check this one out. Great review!

  4. How am I supposed to write a review now?! You wrote pretty much everything I was going to say, just better than I would actually manage to say it! :-p Curse you! Except not really…

    I felt exactly the same way about the ending. Not the very end bit, because I really loved that, but the tying up of the mystery bit. I didn't exactly see it coming but I just kind of read it and thought "fair enough" and moved on. It almost wasn't the bit of the story that I was the most bothered about? It felt like a sub-plot to me almost.

    I love the style of Kings non-horror-y books too – I can see why he's such a big deal just because he writes characters so well. Never thought I'd be a Stephen King fan but there you go!

  5. Cleo Rogers says:

    Best Stephen King in recent years. A newer style. As a babyboomer, I enjoyed the flashback to the 1970s. Book is funny, a mystery, interesting characters, and great descriptive details. Happy to read a different kind of King genre.
    Enjoy the read!
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