Gwendy’s Final Task
By Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
Hodder and Stoughton, US
ISBN: 978-1399702348
412pp.

Stephen King is the undisputed king — no pun intended — of the horror and supernatural fiction genres and needs no introduction. Richard Chizmar is a bestselling author as well as founder-publisher and editor of Cemetery Dance magazine. Together, they are co-authors of the adventure novel Gwendy’s Final Task.

In 2017, King and Chizmar collaborated on the novella Gwendy’s Button Box. This was followed by Gwendy’s Magic Feather in 2019. Gwendy’s Final Task is the recently published, wrap-up instalment of the series.

Split into 53 chapters, the storyline of Gwendy’s Final Task follows a mostly non-linear pattern. The focus shifts back and forth between various events in the main character’s life and the present-day narrative. Near the middle of the book, past events finally catch up to the present day to take readers towards a surprising conclusion.

The story opens in the year 2026, with a group of men and women preparing to embark the Eagle-19 Heavy rocket to journey to the Many Flags-I Space Station. United States senator Gwendy Peterson is one of the crew, which also includes scientists, researchers and shady billionaire Gareth Winston.

The final instalment of a collaborative novel trilogy by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar is an exhilarating ride that will appeal to readers of all ages

True to King’s trademark, the novel’s terrestrial setting is the American state of Maine and its fictional town of Castle Rock. Gwendy, who hails from Castle Rock, is the first senator to travel to outer space. She is assigned the duties of monitoring the climate but, unbeknownst to the others, she also has a secret task that is kept tightly under wraps from the book’s characters as well as its readers.

At the centre of the plot is the “button box”, which was introduced in the trilogy’s first instalment. This extraordinary object has magical powers and each of its six differently coloured buttons represent the Earth’s continents, with the exception of Antarctica. The box also has two levers; one dispenses miniature animal figures made of chocolate, the other gives out Morgan silver dollar coins.

Pressing any button on the box results in whatever outcome the “caretaker” of the box desires. Previous caretakers had caused catastrophic world events, including the arrival and spread of the coronavirus in 2019. With time, the box has grown more powerful and evil and caretakers find it increasingly difficult to resist pressing its buttons.

Once she’s up there (where the air’s not just rare, but nonexistent), they can’t just send her home if they discover what’s wrong with her, can they? But they could screw up her mission if they found out. — Excerpt from the book

The first two books of the trilogy are built around Gwendy’s earlier adventures with the button box, first when she was 12 years old, and then when she was aged 37. In this novel, Gwendy is 64 years old and the current and final caretaker of the box, which has been entrusted to her for the third time by the mysterious Richard Farris. It is also revealed that Gwendy’s husband was brutally murdered under peculiar circumstances some years before the events of Gwendy’s Final Task, speculations being that the button box was responsible.

Gwendy needs to get rid of the button box once and for all to prevent it from wreaking further havoc on Earth. The only way to do that is to dump it in the vast depths of outer space, thus ensuring the safety of Earth and its inhabitants. Complicating matters, though, is the fact that Gwendy is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, so must race against time before she forgets her all-important mission.

As the story progresses, Gwendy becomes good friends with the rest of Eagle-19 Heavy’s crew, but remains wary of billionaire Gareth Winston. She suspects him to be after the button box and is proved correct when Winston breaks into her cabin in search of it.

It turns out Winston has been recruited by a mysterious group that wields a very different sort of power, and whose intentions towards Earth are not at all favourable. A thrilling showdown ensues and readers will be on tenterhooks to find out if Gareth Winston will decamp with the box, or if Gwendy will be able to accomplish her final task.

Seasoned authors King and Chizmar spin a gripping story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. It incorporates elements of the supernatural, horror, suspense and crime — which is to be expected of the duo — but what readers might not anticipate is the unexpected, sombre ending.

Gwendy’s mission to get rid of the button box goes mostly as planned. She executes the procedure competently and, in trying to save billions of lives, she accepts the necessity of eliminating a few here and there. But there is one particular life about which she must make a crucial decision. This person is literally everything to Gwendy and their fate depends on whether she bases her decision on reason, emotion or belief in a greater power.

The choice Gwendy makes is definitely debatable, but one thing is certain: her journey is nothing short of epic. King and Chizmar perfectly amalgamate fiction with non-fiction to create an exhilarating ride that will appeal to readers of all ages.

The reviewer studies at the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, February 5th, 2023

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