Gwendy's Magic Feather 

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3 stars
Gwendy's strange and stressful Christmas break

In Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar (reviews), a young girl is entrusted with a magical box that can change the whole world—and that also dispenses delicious chocolate treats. The short novella is an allegory about power that stands entirely on its own.

With King’s permission, Richard Chizmar wrote a sequel anyway. In Gwendy’s Magic Feather, it’s 1999, and our protagonist Gwendy Peterson is now an elected Congresswoman. In this alternative history, some guy named Hamlin is US President and is bringing the country to the brink of war with North Korea.

(Record scratch, freeze frame.) You probably wonder how Gwendy ended up in this situation. Chizmar briefly catches us up in paragraphs such as this one:

Inspired by the AIDS-related death of her best friend, Gwendy resigns from the ad agency and spends the next eight months writing a non-fiction memoir about Jonathon’s inspiring life as a young gay man and the tragic circumstances of his passing.

An Academy Award winning documentary follows (because of course), and a politicized Gwendy goes to Washington. But the real action in the book doesn’t take place in DC, but in Castle Rock, Maine, site of frequent calamitous and supernatural events in King’s universe.

Back home over the Christmas break, Gwendy is briefed on the investigation of a series of child abductions that are terrorizing the community. Meanwhile, the button box has made another appearance in her life.

It’s a short book (224 pages in paperback), yet there are more subplots: about Gwendy’s husband, who is a photojournalist on assignment in Timor; about an illness in her family; about the magic feather from the title. It all feels hurried and unfocused, and before you know it, some threads collapse, others remain unresolved, and the book is over.

It remains to be seen if Chizmar and King can offer some more payoff with the planned last book in the trilogy, Gwendy’s Final Task, which will again be a collaboration between the two storytellers. On its own, Gwendy’s Magic Feather will likely keep you turning pages, but may leave you feeling unsatisfied.