Book Review: The Institute by Stephen King

Published in September 2019 by Hodder and Stoughton, Stephen King’s The Institute is a dramatic tale of good vs evil where the good guys don’t always win.

Stephen King needs no introduction. The famed, Maine born, author of a huge amount of novels, many of which have been converted into films. If you think of horror, you think of Stephen King. I personally am a huge fan. The Dark Tower series drew me in alongside classics like Carrie, IT, Pet Semetary, Insomnia, Misery, The Shining, The Stand. Well, the list goes on and on. So, when there is a new King book out, I make sure I eventually get to consume it.

The Institute Stephen King

The playground was surrounded by a chainlink fence at least ten feet high, and Luke saw cameras peering down at two of the corners…His first thought was that if there was ever a prison exercise yard for kids between the ages of six and sixteen, it would look exactly like this.

The girl – Iris  -saw them and waved, ‘Sha! Who you got here?’

‘This is Luke Ellis,’Kalisha said. ‘New this morning.’

The Institute is a book of three parts really and for large sections of it, the first two parts feel completely separate. The first part focuses on Tim Jamieson, a reluctant traveller heading to New York by plane. When someone desperate for a seat sees an offer of some cash waved if anyone will give up their seat, Tim takes the money and decides to make a road trip out of his journey towards New York. After all, he isn’t really in a rush to get anywhere. He heads off, gaining a lift towards Georgia. A change over soon sees him heading towards South Carolina with another kind hearted soul.

He hits a bit of a block, being stuck on a quiet road with no real lift opportunity so heads towards the nearest town, a little place called DuPray. DuPray is a bit of a forgotten backwater town. No chain stores nor globalisation has reached this far. Tim heads towards the town motel, which they thankfully do have, taking note of the small town and a poster advertising a job opportunity as a “Night Knocker”. A Night Knocker is essentially a person who walks the town at night, keeping an eye out for trouble, and alerting the police, if necessary.

The Institute Stephen King

Tim applies for the job, again showing his lack of interest in reaching his final destination. Sherriff Ashworth interviews him and we find out that Tim is an ex police officer. After an incident involving the shooting of a person with a replica firearm, Tim has left the force and headed North. It quickly appears he is a man trying to find himself, more than New York. He thinks he could stay a while in DuPray. Get a little job, hang out for a month or two, you know. Take some time. And he does, He settles in nicely. Gets along with the townsfolk, even nutty old homeless Annie, and the Sheriff and even foils a burglary while on Night Knocker duty. Something that sees him offered a job as an actual cop……….again.

And with that, it’s goodbye to Tim. For now, anyway. We head off to part two of the story. Set a few months before Tim had even heard of DuPray, we meet Luke Avery. A gifted young boy who lives in Broderick with his parents. By gifted, I do mean exceptional really. A genius. A whizz kid. You know, one of those with a Masters degree by the time they are 10. He has a good life. Decent parents, friends – nothing to cause too much drama. That all comes more from within where Tim also displays some minor telekinetic ability. A TK, as he will become know. And that is really the real thread of this story.

Luke is gifted in a way that makes him coveted by an organisation operating from The Institute. A hospital of sorts, where gifted children are taken from their families, framed for the murder of those family members and then disappeared. Within The Institute, the children are tested and provoked in an effort to boost their powers using trauma. Luke, and a collection of other children ranging in ages and abilities are treated like disposable assets. In a way, that is exactly what they are. They are tormented using therapies that include drowning, white noise and most other barbaric torture styles of old then, when they see “the dots” they are deemed ready and sent to another section of the facility known as Back Half.

The Institute Stephen King

In Back Half, they have an important task to complete. If completed, they get released. Apparently. Though the kids rightly believe their release is more spiritual than physical. Luke, being a minor TK is not seen as anything special. In a mix of much more powerful telepaths (TPs) and much more effective TKs, Luke is just another minor expected to die through testing but they have not considered his impressive intellectual strength. He has the power to galvanise the others, to outwit the doctors and possibly even escape.

An Institute that has relied on the submissive nature of the children it entraps may just have released an Alpha into their mix. An Alpha willing to rain down hell fire on those that torture him and his new friends. A battle is coming, One that even sees long forgotten policeman, Tim dragged into the fight. That is if Luke and his young friends can survive their torture long enough to enact their plans.

The Institute is a very enjoyable story. It has a nice science fiction, horror mix with the torture of children and the destruction of their souls particularly crushing to read of. There are times when the nature of The Institute reminds me of breakers within the Dark Tower series but only so much as to their mental capacity and how the breakers are treated. Really, it becomes a battle between good and evil though even the evil people do eventually explain a pretty good reason for needing powerful TK’s and TP’s. The issue is you can never side with them because of their methods.

All in all though, it is a very King book. It is enjoyable. Extremely well written – so much sop it is amazing how vivid the images of the locations and characters appear in your mind. The only doubt I have really is the length. It is an extremely long book at almost 500 pages (large paperback). Length, I don’t mind but I didn’t feel like the story was a 500 page story. Some sections felt really stretched out. Almost too much back story which is not something I say easily. I love back story. Here though, there were occasions where it felt like you were being told a story by your Grandfather and he had gone off on  tangent. You know, something really interesting but not really necessary for the main story they are telling you.

Still, having too much story is hardly disastrous so I can end with saying I thoroughly enjoyed The Institute and really enjoyed accompanying both Luke and Tim on their eventually combined journey. While occasionally over stuffed, there is no denying that the master of modern horror still has plenty of stories up is sleeve and this is another very good one.

Grab a copy on Amazon here. Find out more about Stephen King, here.

The Institute by Stephen King
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