Riding With The King: The Institute

Last year I decided that, even though I don’t mind buying books second hand, I’d like to get Stephen King’s latest as they come out. As it happened, he released not one, but two books in 2018, the incredibly creepy The Outsider and the fairy tale-esque Elevation. This year, The Institute came out and I was so excited to dive in, though it took me a while to get through it (what else is new?).

In this one, we follow two main characters to kick things off. You’ve got former cop Tim deciding to hitchhike his way from Florida to the town of DuPray in South Carolina where he becomes a kind of nighttime security guard for the sleepy burg. Then, the proceedings shift to a kid named Luke who’s off-the-charts smart, but also minor telekinetic abilities. He’s looking at a future where he’ll be attending two colleges at 12 or 13 until a wetworks team breaks into his house, murders his parents and brings him to a mysterious facility.

I don’t want to get too spoilery on this one, but essentially Luke and other kids have been kidnapped and put in this highly secretive institute exploring and enhancing the telekinetic and telepathic abilities for children to do something that all the adults running this place seem to think is very important. Thanks to heavy doses of complacency and Luke’s astonishing intelligence, the institute may have just met its match.

I had a great experience reading this novel, though I will admit that one of the reasons I slowed down is because I’ve gotten pretty sensitive to kids-in-dire-straights material, especially from King who’s not afraid to pull any punches in that arena. Bad things certainly do happen to children in the pages of The Institute, but it didn’t feel like King was being mean about it (even if the characters weren’t being particularly nice).

Fairly early on in the book, after Luke got to the institute, I had an interesting idea: this is King’s response to everyone saying how Stranger Things has the vibe of some of his books. I could see him going, “You want a Kingian kids-with-powers-in-peril adventure? Sit back, watch the master!” And you know what? I’m down for all that, even if some of his kid-based references seem drastically off. At the end of the day, The Institute gave me exactly what I wanted: a well-crafted adventure story filled with characters I felt a great affection for who succeed and fail based on their specific skill sets.

I gotta say, looking back at the past decade of King books, he has been absolutely killing it. You’ve got Under The Dome (which I loved), 11/22/63 (haven’t read yet), the end of the Dark Tower series (which I also haven’t read), Joyland (an excellent listen), Doctor Sleep (reading now), the entire Bill Hodges trilogy (loved, loved, loved), Revival (destroyed me), The Oustider (incredibly creepy), Elevation (a nice little tale) and The Institute. That’s a damn fine track record if you ask me.

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