In this novel by Stephen King, King continues the story of the Shining (1977). It’s a sequel and follows the story of the young boy of the Shining, Daniel Torrance, often called Danny as a child, and Dan as an adult. He is the son of Jack Torrance: the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel who plans to murder his family which results in his own death. While his mother, Wendy, survives long enough to raise Dan for a few more years before she kills herself through smoking her body towards cancer. While the previous head-chef of the Overlook Hotel, Dick Hallorann, the one who met Dan and could see his ‘Shining’ ability and saves both Wendy and Dan from the Hotel, helps the young Dan to deal with his Shining ability, and how to take his nightmares and learn how to store them in his own head like a prison with a memory lock-box. This ability allows him to stop being tortured and almost killed by the demons of the hotel, such as the bathtub lady who even after the hotel is destroyed and they move hundreds of miles away, can still find and attack Dan as if she is real. This is how Doctor Sleep begins.
It then moves on to a couple having their first baby, called Abra. She shows odd Shining-like abilities like knowing how people died, reading people’s minds, knowing events are about to happen, and of course moving objects and playing instruments without touching them. Her parents are trying to deal with this and explain it to those who are close around them while she grows up. For example, they explain this odd behaviour to their family doctor, John Dalton.
Dan has grown up, his father and mother are dead and Dick is nowhere to be found or seen. Dan is now a mess of an adult. He drinks heavily in order to suppress his Shining ability which has grown strong enough to still torture him with dreams, and layers of dreams which makes his nightmares real. For example, the bathtub lady doesn’t simply try to strangle him and disappear, but she actually leaves physical evidence of her presence which even Wendy (his mother) could see when she doesn’t have any Shining ability. Because of this Dan doesn’t settle down, he moves around, gets into trouble and moves again. The only thing he really does is work in hospices and uses his Shining ability to help people near death to pass on in peace. He later does this in a small town and earns the nickname Doctor Sleep. He also enters an AA group and begins to get sober, and sort out his life.; With this sobriety, his problems related to the shining come back. He even comes into contact with the baby girl Abra through their shared Shining ability.
The other part of the story is following a group called The True Knot, a cult of many people all with Shining-like abilities. They hunt down people with a twinkle of Shining (which they call Steam) and feed off them or convert them into new members of the True Knot. Absorbing their victims allows them to regain their youth and abilities. The True Knot has been around for hundreds of years, and were a huge group of young people, but now the groups is small and old. They are struggling to find enough Steam, and because of this they are getting desperate. They travel around the states (USA) in big camper vans, kidnap children, torture them for Steam and then move on. The leader of the group, Rose the Hat (because she wears a tilted hat which mysteriously never falls although the angle defies the laws of Physics), while torturing a child (the Baseball kid), feels the presence of Abra, the young girl watching the torture through her shining ability and the shared ability between Rose and Abra. From this, Rose plans to find and absorbs Abra when she grows and matures enough to be worth the travel. It is around this time that Dan’s Imaginary friend Tony, is revealed to now be Abra’s imaginary friend, who finds her when she is in trouble with the shining.
Dan begins to wonder what happened to Dick Hallorann, and tries to find him. He searches the internet and find an obituary post. He has died while Dan was out still drinking himself to death and ruining his life. Dan was trying to get back into touch with his teacher Dick in order to help himself become the teacher of Abra (after they meet in person, when Abra asks to meet Tony the imaginary friend’s father: it is Dan she comes into contact with). Dan goes into the hospice to help another patient pass on, but as she is speaking she stops dead in her sentence and starts channelling Dick Hallorann. They speak about the True Knot cult and consider what needs to be done: Dan needs to make up for his past and protect Abra. Then Dick fades away again, and allows the woman to pass on.
Rose, the leader of the True Knot, tries to find Abra by invading her dreams, but little does she know that on Dan’s advice she has set a trap: not only does Rose fail to find her, but she is actually physically harmed during the experience. Abra also manages to find out things about the True Knot by invading Rose’s head, completely flipping the plan on its head. While this happens Dan finds the buried remains of one of the True Knot’s child victims: he wants to find his baseball glove because him and Abra believe that by coming into contact with it they can find out more about those who killed him and all who came into contact with the glove: the murderers, the True Knot. So Rose is hunting for Abra’s location and identity, while Abra and Dan are hunting for a reversal of that plan by flipping it on its head in order to preemptively strike.
Dan does manage to find the glove, and also finds out that Barry of the True Knot was the one who touched it and is the Knot’s location man: he is the one who finds children with ‘Steam’. Barry is the one tracking down Abra, but cannot concentrate on locating Abra because he is currently sick, he has caught a measles like disease from the baseball boy they consumed over two years ago, and the Knot is being killed off by this child’s disease. From using the glove and finding out who Barry is and that he is the locator, Abra and Dan come up with a trap. Abra is going to stay within Dan’s mind so that the True Knot mistake him for Abra mentally. while Dan pretends to be Abra, Abra is at home being watched over by Dan’s trusted friend Billy Freeman, while Abra’s dad David Stone and his family doctor John Dalton are armed to take on the Knot. They succeed in fooling them and kill several members of the cult, but little do they know that Rose’s second in command, the Crow, was informed by Barry that Abra was in two locations, and because of this the Crow has sneaked his way all the way to Abra’s house where the second location was, knocked her and her bodyguard Billy out and kidnapped them. The Crow is now attempting to return Abra and the old Billy bodyguard to Rose, while Dan struggles to get into contact with Abra because she has been drugged by the Crow and can’t concentrate or contact anyone using her Shining.
Dan is able to swap himself internally with Abra, he manages to force the Crow to kill himself with a gun. Then he drives Abra (her body at least) and the old Billy bodyguard to safety. They book themselves into a motel to rest, having been drugged has ruined them and they need to recuperate. Dan then leaves Abra’s body, and returns to his own. Dan, Abra’s dad and family doctor John all travel to meet Abra’s mom to tell her what has happened. She (Lucy: the mother) is away from home because her grandmother is in hospital and dying after taking a fall and being at an old age. Dan meets the dying grandmother who is currently in a coma and helps her to move into death with his Doctor Sleep Shining ability. But, before she leaves life she confides in Dan and explains something to him. When Dan meets Abra’s mom, Lucy, he explains to her that are in fact half-siblings through Jack Torrance, and that Abra is his niece, and he is Abra’s uncle.
It is explained that when Jack Torrance was an English Literature teacher he was a wild drunk and had a fling with a student, that student was Abra’s grandmother, Lucy’s mom, and thus Dan and Lucy are related, and so are Abra and Dan.
Under Dan’s supervision Abra contacts Rose, the True Knot leader, and goads her. Provoking her, and demands that her and Abra meet alone to finish this fight, Rose agrees. Rose’s current location is a campsite built where the Overlook Hotel used to be before it was burned to the ground by Jack Torrance’s failure to keep the boiler under control. Abra agrees to meet Rose there so long as Rose is alone. Abra angers Rose by provoking her in order to make her angry and egotistical enough to actually turn up alone instead of setting up a trap or sending the whole of the True Knot cult to outnumber and swarm her. After this Dan washes his face and catches his reflection in the mirror: his face is covered in flies. When Dan sees flies all over someone’s face, that is the Shining telling him that they will die soon. When he sees a few flies it means they can be saved, so the fact that Dan’s faced is utterly covered in flies suggests he certainly will die soon.
I won’t ruin the conclusion of the story, but it is revelatory. It ties the knot (pun intended) and ends the story nicely, bringing all Shining and Doctor Sleep strings together to weave a fascinating two-book story. King’s writing is complex yet readable. Readable yet packed full of detail. This book is easy to read and I found myself reading 20-80 pages a day while not spending that much time actually reading. I blasted through it because it was so accessible and enjoyable to read. As always, King’s writing is supreme, and with Doctor Sleep I do believe that he has written a sequel which actually succeeds in besting the original. King remains the King of Horror.