Tonight or Else is a fantasy story with an unusual ending. It’s exactly the kind of story I expect from King, mythical with a lot of exaggerated details and a compelling narrator. I like how King’s stories are always different with a darker tone than most in this genre and although there is rarely a happy ending, the characters emerge strong and vibrant at the end.
The story starts with Jamie as the sole narrator in old Cornwall. The setting is some indeterminate time in the past but filled with fantasy of myths and legends. Jamie states that everyone has always believed in the supernatural beings, that the legends are as much as part of the history and community as people are. Jamie goes onto explain that he had a lover once, Will, and how Will used him and broke his heart yet Jamie still pines for Will. On that particular night, Jamie thinks Will may have come back for him at last.
The setting is dark, filled with small places and an eerie tone. Jamie moves about among the mostly nameless, faceless people but there is a sense of warmth and community within the Inn that is vastly contrasted by the fog and chill outside. This lends to the contrasting feeling Jamie is often experiencing. He’s drawn to Will and indeed in love with him but unhappy about how Will treated him and torn whether he should want the man back or not. Jamie’s internal struggle is shown through the descriptions of the weather and setting in addition to his narration.
The writing is good with a lot of detail, in fact sometimes too much. The prose tends to be slightly full and laden with adjectives. Sometimes this can depict the setting very well and other times this makes the narrative wordy and slightly clunky. It doesn’t necessarily flow easily with such overflowing descriptions. I wish the story had scaled back just a bit considering there was already so much inherent atmosphere with the setting, the legends, the fantasy elements, and Jamie’s decisions.
Overall this is a good quick story filled with mystery and a slight twist at the end. The twist is telegraphed very early on so most readers will pick up on it but Jamie ends the story stronger and more determined than ever, if not exactly happy. If you’re a fan of the author, this is very much in line with previous works and also gives newcomers a good example of the writing and quality of King’s books. I’d recommend this for readers who want something slightly dark and different.