Stephen King and underrated books don’t go together generally, do they? After all, he boasts one of the largest catalogs of successful books in recent decades, with books adapted into critically acclaimed movies and series. Certainly, King’s works can’t be considered underrated, can they? But in the shadows of his more famous works that have deservingly gotten more acclaim over the years are works that deserve more readership and recognition.
Best Underrated Stephen King Novels!
Through this article, we’re going to look at some of the best yet underrated works penned by King. All these works belong to different genres, from horror to political thriller to sci-fi, and bring some of King’s best yet relatively unknown works to the fore. Hopefully, by the end of the piece, you’ll have found some new King stories to explore for yourself.
A work of psychological horror, Cujo is the story of a friendly pet dog who gets bitten by a sick bat and everything that follows in its wake. As his friendly thoughts toward his family turn to dark ones, filled with hatred for everyone, Castle Rock and its residents will never be the same. While there’s a chance that you might be put off by the simple premise of this, the novel is anything but simple.
Winner of the British Fantasy Award, the book sees King at his best when it comes to building the characters and setting up the stakes. Therefore, it makes sense when the lives of all these characters come together because of a wonderful pet turned monstrous for no fault of his own. And it also makes sense when that chilling climax takes place, all because King takes his own sweet time in setting up all that in advance. For an old-school horror tale with tragic protagonists (or antagonists, depending on how you choose to see them), go with this one. You can get the book here! 📖
2. The Dead Zone
If you think King only writes pulp horror fiction, boy, are you going in for a shock with this one! A science fiction thriller that also dabbles in politics, philosophy, sci-fi, and more, this is a book that somewhat predicted (unintentionally, of course) the arrival of Donald Trump three decades in the past. Talk about writing a story of a protagonist who can see into the future only to predict it accurately yourself!
After years, John Smith recovered from a coma only to find out that the world as he knew it had entirely changed. Oh, and now he can know things about someone or something by virtue of proximity to it. So when he touches a politician and sees a world of doom as he rises to power, it’s for him to decide if he wants to kill and stop his tirade once and for all. Thrilling and perfectly plotted, this is a King book you must try out for yourself. You can get the book here! 📖
Quite reminiscent of Carrie, this book is fundamentally a story of a father and his daughter. What happens when a government agency’s secret tests on college students lead to them gaining mild powers? And what happens when those two students fall in love and have a child with strong pyrokinetic powers? This book is about what happens.
Emotionally charged and tersely plotted, the story shows the real ramifications of what having powers in modern society can lead to. Unlike how they’re shown in superhero movies, the novel holds no punches when it comes to describing covert government agencies or the lengths they can go to to protect their secrets and interests. This is a great book to start your King journey with just the right touch of horror with some classic sci-fi and thriller elements. You can get the book here! 📖
4. Gerald’s Game
A game between a wife and a husband in a holiday cabin by the lake. No one’s there except for the two of them. Except Jessie doesn’t want to play anymore. Insulted and enraged, she aims for the spot where it hurts and kicks him hard. Instead of hurting him, it kills him then and there. And now she’s alone with no one to hear her screams for help.
And as the situation moves forth, all she has are the voices in her head that gradually envelop her completely. A woman lies in bed, her hands handcuffed to the bed, with no means to escape. How does she escape? That forms one aspect of the book, the mystery part of it. The other part of the book is the psychological and physiological aspects. How does she get from this mess that her brain finds itself in, and how does she survive amidst all of this? Probably one of the most underrated books of all time by King; this undoubtedly warrants a read on your part. You can get the book here! 📖
5. Dolores Claiborne
Often considered the sister novel to our last entry, Gerald’s Game, this too is an exploration of the abuse of women by men. Written in a very unusual style, a significant deviation from King’s usual writing forays, Dolores Claiborne is an experiment, a masterful one at that. And that alone should be the reason for you to try this, but of course, there are many more reasons. For one, it’s simply Dolores telling her life story. Forget descriptions or other persons’ perspectives; this is all her.
There are no chapters, no other literary ploys to latch on to as a reader. Nothing. Just her. Suspected of killing her rich employer, she talks to the police about her life, her husband, who died three decades ago, and how it all finally led to where she is now. Tackling some dark and socially relevant issues, from alcoholism to violence and sexual abuse, the book leaves an indelible mark on you. You can get the book here! 📖
6. Duma Key
A work of psychological horror, Duma Key sees King shifting his playground to Florida and Minnesota for a change. Edgar Freemantle, a successful businessman, has his life turned down after a severe work accident. The long process of recovery that follows sees his marriage end and him getting separated from his two daughters. To recover, his psychologist advises him to try out a new life away from his present location.
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And so, he shifts to a house on Duma Key, where he begins drawing. But his talent seems to be bursting off from him, with the paintings revealing and affecting his life and the lives of those around him. With some complex and beautiful relationship dynamics, the book explores the power of memory and companionship. Easily one of King’s best works, Duma Key sees him doing what he does best: writing about the human psyche in all its forms. You can get the book here! 📖
7. Rose Madder
Greek mythology and King are pretty much unusual pairings, but not for this one. A horror fantasy novel, Rose Madder centers around Rosie Daniels, who runs away from her house after discovering her husband is going to kill her. As she starts her life in a completely new city, she comes across a painting in an old junk shop, the “Rose Madder”. Strangely, the painting seems to be drawn to her too, the same way she is to it.
But her husband is chasing her, and she can feel him getting closer day by day. One of the biggest strengths of this novel is how it roams in familiar territories when it comes to creating plot tensions. From a man abusing his wife to a woman who thinks the world of her husband, the book works because of its close inspiration from and inspection of reality. The book’s dramatic intensity is brilliant and will keep you hooked until the book’s last word. You can get the book here! 📖
8. Skeleton Crew
One of the only two short story collections in this list, Skeleton Crew, often get neglected by King’s more popular collections such as Night Shift and Different Seasons. Originally published as Night Moves, the book has a varied range of stories, some great while some, well, not so. Regardless, the book must be read if only just for The Mist and The Jaunt. There are some other brilliant stories hidden in this collection of twenty-two pieces.
The tales included in the book belong to different genres, ranging from sci-fi to mystery thrillers. With a combination of interesting premises and straight-up nightmares-inducing pieces, the book travels like a wave, with its crests and troughs. By the end, however, the crests far outweigh the troughs and provide a satisfactory reading experience. For a more comprehensive idea of how King wrote in his early days, this would be a good pick to go for! You can get the book here! 📖
9. Everything’s Eventual
The second collection in this list, Everything’s Eventual, collects 11 King’s short stories and 3 novellas. While dabbling in different genres, as usual, there’s a dark and unsettling undertone present throughout the book. A lot of the stories use classic horror tropes (for instance, 1408) and give them new layers and meanings, whereas a lot of them have characteristic elements of King’s works (such as L.T.’s Theory of Pets).
The sequence of the stories is haphazard, creating a mixed experience. In my opinion, there’s a good chance you’ll come out of the book confused, and it works perfectly for this compilation. After all, for a book that is so much about wrong turns and twists which make no sense, it’s only fitting that the overall sense and direction of the book are haphazard too. You can get the book here! 📖
10. The Long Walk
This one often gets neglected because of the name under which it was published first: Richard Bachman. A dark, dystopian tale that sees King pushing human limits and perseverance to the edge of insanity, The Long Walk is one of the must-reads by King. Why? Let’s see. Can you imagine a novel about teenage boys walking (yes, just that) throughout? Let’s rephrase that. Can you imagine a compelling and gruesome novel about teenage boys just walking?
But yes, The Long Walk achieves that, and masterfully so. The rules are simple. A group of boys selected across America (set in the future) are to walk till only one of them remains. Anyone who stops after three warnings is shot on the spot. As the need for survival triumphs over all other urges and thoughts, the protagonists’ psyche begins to slip into a darker and more primitive zone. Will they conquer the circumstances, or will the circumstances conquer them? Only one way to find out! You can get the book here! 📖
11. Danse Macabre
Yes, I even added a non-fiction title to the list. Hear me out first, okay? King is known for his works of fiction, these imaginative and bewitching stories that keep you turning page after page. But all that comes from a mind that knows the tricks and ploys of his game, and you must read him talk about his craft as well. Now, his “On Writing” gets much popularity, and deservingly so. But for his more passionate fans or fans of horror in general, this book is pretty much unmissable.
King analyses horror and supernatural writing in different forms of media and how it has been done over the years. He looks at the classic works of horror, such as Dracula, and then takes a look at his works over the years. Through it all, he gives his views on how the horror genre works in general and how he incorporates it all in his works. An insider’s look into the works of the master storyteller, this book is a must-read for all his fans and future horror writers out there. You can get the book here! 📖
12. End of Watch
The finale of the Bill Hodges Trilogy, “End of Watch” can do with some more popularity. The entire trilogy is some of King’s finest work, but this final installment raises the bar to a whole new level. All the famous characters from the previous two books return, including Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, Jerome Robinson, and even Brady Hartsfield of the Mercedes Massacre fame. When Bill gets a phone call about a series of killings that might have to do with Brady, they’re set on a trail.
Brady is back in action, and the lives of everyone in town are in danger. Filled with mystery, suspense, and the characteristic supernatural undercurrents often found in King’s books, “End of Watch” brings the arching story to a satisfying conclusion. The characters’ minds are stretched to their limits, and in the process, he explores the human condition in intricate detail as he does so often and expertly. You can get the book here! 📖
13. The Drawing of the Three
The second piece of the Dark Tower series, The Drawing of the Three, is what begins to flesh out the series so perfectly to allow it to go in the directions it eventually travels. Roland of Gilead and his quest to the Dark Tower continues as he stumbles upon three bizarre doorways on the beach. Each of those doorways opens to the lives of different people living in modern New York.
And so, he finds partners in Eddie and Odetta in his conquest against the forces of the dark from the underworld and the worlds beyond. You also see a lot of King’s personal struggles making their way into the book, like his addiction to drugs and alcohol. With some captivating characterization and a proficient intermingling of fantasy and reality, he sets up the next parts of the series on a high note with this one. You can get the book here! 📖
There are already two collections, one non-fiction title; why not a novella too? Set in his iconic town of Castle Rock, it’s a story of finding common ground amidst divisions. Why can’t we, for once, all get along irrespective of our opinions and beliefs? This is the underlying message behind the book as a town is forced to come together for an odd mystery that’s afflicting one of them.
The book sees a lot of King’s political beliefs and motivations inspiring the book, as he’s often done in the past. Contemporary American politics makes its way through the characters and serves to further root the story to current reality. A mystery thriller where a man named Scott Carey is losing weight day by day and seems to spread his condition to things he touches, the book has a lot of heart. If you’re looking for a feel-good story that also keeps you on your toes, this is a great book to go for! You can get the book here! 📖
And for the last entry, we again go back to the King from the last century. Written in 1994, the novel is set in one of King’s popular locations: Derry, Maine (remember “It”?). Naturally, the place itself becomes a character in the story, with sinister energies playing in the backdrop. The book revolves around Ralph Roberts, a man who’s sleeping lesser and lesser day by day. And it would not be too bad if this was the only problem in his life.
He begins to observe things around himself that are hard to dismiss as hallucinations, and his insomnia only seems to get worse with each day. What happens when he stops sleeping entirely? With tons of references from other King’s works and a delightful balance of creepy and heartwarming scenes, the book is one of his best works. A lot of the Constant Readers tend to avoid or skip it because of its size and relative anonymity among readers, but it needs to be read by every King and horror fan out there. You can get the book here! 📖
These are the best-underrated books of Stephen King; you can add them to your readlist and start reading soon! You can also let us know your suggestions in the comments below.
Part-time freelance writer, full-time chemistry graduate student, Amritesh loves everything books. Gift him a book if you chance upon him, and he’ll love you forever.