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17 Best Stephen King Books to Start With if You’re New to His Work

If you’re embarking on your first Stephen King book, it can be daunting to choose a starting point, considering he has over 60 novels and 200 short stories to his name. But fret not! In my opinion, here are 17 essential Stephen King books for newcomers.

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Top Stephen King Novels for New Readers: My Picks!

1. The Dead Zone

In Stephen King’s “The Dead Zone,” Johnny Smith awakens from a four-year coma with newfound psychic abilities. This allows him to glimpse into the past and future through physical touch. His life becomes a complex blend of personal struggles and moral dilemmas, particularly after foreseeing a disastrous future under politician Greg Stillson. Faced with the knowledge of potential calamity, Johnny grapples with the question of fate versus free will and whether he can or should act to change the future.

Why The Dead Zone is a good Stephen King book for beginners:

Stephen King’s “The Dead Zone” is an excellent introduction to his work, featuring a relatable protagonist with psychic abilities and a plot that masterfully blends supernatural elements with political and moral themes. The narrative is engaging and accessible, marked by King’s skillful character development and a thoughtful exploration of fate versus free will. Its moderate pace and blend of thriller and mystery elements make it a compelling yet manageable read for new King readers.

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The Dead Zone
7,464 Reviews
The Dead Zone
  • King, Stephen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 528 Pages - 04/12/2016 (Publication Date) - Scribner (Publisher)

2. Misery

“Misery” is a harrowing tale of obsession and survival. Famous novelist Paul Sheldon, best known for his “Misery” romance series, becomes the captive of deranged fan Annie Wilkes after a car crash. Held in her isolated house, Paul is forced to write a new “Misery” novel to Annie’s specifications. The novel delves into the dark, psychological torment Paul endures, juxtaposed with his desperate attempts to escape. King masterfully explores themes of captivity, the relationship between creator and fan, and the thin line between devotion and obsession.

Why Misery is a great entry point for Stephen King newcomers:

This novel is a standout choice for those new to Stephen King’s universe, as it is a tight narrative that, without fluff, dives into the terrifying realms of psychological suspense and realism. “Misery” demonstrates King’s prowess in creating a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere and complex characters, making it an engaging and accessible introduction to his storytelling style.

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Misery: A Novel
14,970 Reviews
Misery: A Novel
  • King, Stephen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 368 Pages - 01/05/2016 (Publication Date) - Scribner (Publisher)

If you like Stephen King, check out our list of great Dean Koontz books to start with!

3. ‘Salem’s Lot

In “‘Salem’s Lot,” Stephen King revisits the classic vampire tale in a modern setting. The story unfolds in the small, sleepy town of Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine, where writer Ben Mears returns to write a book about the town’s haunted house, the Marsten House. However, the town soon faces a terrifying reality as its residents begin to turn into vampires. Mears, alongside a group of locals, confronts the growing horror in an attempt to save their town. King masterfully blends traditional vampire lore with his unique brand of storytelling, creating a tense, atmospheric horror that steadily builds to a climactic confrontation.

Why ‘Salem’s Lot is an ideal starter book for new Stephen King readers:

‘Salem’s Lot serves as a perfect introduction to Stephen King’s work for newcomers. Above all, it encapsulates his ability to transform classic horror themes into a contemporary and deeply engrossing narrative. The novel’s mix of suspense, horror, and well-developed characters provides a comprehensive taste of King’s storytelling prowess, making it an accessible and captivating entry into his vast literary world.

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'Salem's Lot
21,143 Reviews
'Salem's Lot
  • King, Stephen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 672 Pages - 09/24/2013 (Publication Date) - Anchor (Publisher)

4. Pet Sematary

Best Stephen King Books for Beginners 1

“Pet Sematary,” one of Stephen King’s most unsettling tales, explores the depths of grief and the perils of disturbing the natural order. The story follows Dr. Louis Creed, who moves his family to a rural town in Maine, near a pet cemetery built on an ancient burial ground. When tragedy strikes, Creed discovers the cemetery’s eerie power to resurrect the dead. The revived beings, however, come back fundamentally changed, leading to a spiral of horror. King masterfully weaves a narrative that probes the themes of death, loss, and the harrowing consequences of defying mortality.

Why Pet Sematary is a strong introduction for first-time Stephen King readers:

“Pet Sematary” is a compelling choice for those new to Stephen King’s novels. It offers a profound exploration of human emotions and the dark side of wish fulfillment. This book also highlights King’s ability to blend the supernatural with psychological horror, creating a deeply emotional and terrifying story. It’s a gripping read that provides a strong example of King’s narrative skills and thematic depth, ideal for readers ready to dive into the more intense aspects of his work.

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Pet Sematary
17,365 Reviews
Pet Sematary
  • King, Stephen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 416 Pages - 02/01/2002 (Publication Date) - Scribner (Publisher)

5. It

Stephen King’s “It” is a masterful blend of horror and coming-of-age storytelling. Set in the fictional town of Derry, Maine, the novel alternates between two timelines: the 1950s and the 1980s. It follows a group of children, self-named ‘The Losers Club,’ who confront an evil entity that preys on the town’s children every 27 years. This entity most frequently manifests as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. As adults, the group returns to Derry to fulfill a childhood oath to destroy the creature for good. King weaves a complex narrative exploring themes of friendship, trauma, and the enduring impact of childhood fears.

Why It is a prime choice for those new to Stephen King’s writing:

“It” is a solid choice for newcomers to King’s work. It epitomizes his skill in character development and his ability to interweave horror with human stories. The novel’s exploration of childhood fears and the transition into adulthood, coupled with its iconic antagonist, provides a comprehensive view of King’s narrative strengths. This makes “It” not just a journey into horror, but also a deep dive into the complexities of human emotions and relationships.

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It: A Novel
47,874 Reviews
It: A Novel
  • King, Stephen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 1184 Pages - 07/30/2019 (Publication Date) - Scribner (Publisher)

6. The Shining

“The Shining” is a quintessential Stephen King novel that melds psychological horror with the supernatural. The story centers around Jack Torrance, an aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic who becomes the winter caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel in Colorado. Along with his wife Wendy and son Danny, who possesses psychic abilities known as “the shining,” they face the hotel’s malevolent forces. The hotel’s sinister influence amplifies Jack’s inner demons, leading to a terrifying descent into madness. King expertly crafts a narrative filled with tension, terror, and a deep exploration of the human psyche.

Why The Shining is an excellent starter for Stephen King enthusiasts:

“The Shining” is a recommended starting point for those new to Stephen King’s writing, as it showcases his talent for creating a dense, atmospheric setting that is as much a character as the people within it. The novel’s combination of psychological depth, supernatural elements, and the gradual buildup of suspense makes it a compelling and accessible introduction to King’s style, offering a perfect balance between the real and the unreal.

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The Shining
44,187 Reviews
The Shining
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • King, Stephen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Here’s our list of the best HP Lovecraft books – an author who hugely inspired King!

7. 11.22.63

“11/22/63” marks a departure from Stephen King’s traditional horror genre, delving into historical fiction and time travel. The novel follows Jake Epping, a high school English teacher who discovers a time portal leading to 1958. Epping embarks on a mission to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, believing it will alter history for the better. As he integrates into the past, he encounters love, the complexities of history, and the moral dilemmas of changing the future. King masterfully blends historical detail with a captivating narrative, exploring the consequences of altering history and the intricate web of cause and effect.

Why 11/22/63 is a great first read for Stephen King beginners:

11/22/63 is a nice opener for those new to Stephen King. It presents a unique blend of historical fiction with a touch of supernatural elements. This novel showcases King’s versatility as a writer, providing a captivating story that is less about horror and more about the intricacies of time travel and the impact of history on individual lives. It’s an engaging and thought-provoking book, ideal for readers who may not be ready for King’s full-on horror but are interested in his storytelling prowess.

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11/22/63: A Novel
5,286 Reviews
11/22/63: A Novel
  • Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Best Mystery/Thriller
  • King, Stephen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

8. The Stand

“The Stand” is one of Stephen King’s most epic and ambitious novels, set in a post-apocalyptic world decimated by a superflu known as ‘Captain Trips.’ The story unfolds across America, following a vast array of characters as they struggle to survive and rebuild society. The survivors find themselves drawn into a fundamental battle between good and evil, epitomized by the benevolent Mother Abagail and the malevolent Randall Flagg. King masterfully weaves individual stories into a tapestry that explores themes of morality, survival, and the human condition, resulting in a gripping and thought-provoking narrative.

Why The Stand is a nice introduction for Stephen King newcomers:

The Stand is an outstanding pick for newcomers to Stephen King’s work. It demonstrates his ability to craft a complex, character-driven narrative on a grand scale. This novel is more than a post-apocalyptic tale; it’s a deep dive into human nature, morality, and the resilience of society. Its blend of realistic characters, philosophical depth, and a captivating storyline provides a comprehensive example of King’s narrative abilities. This is a perfect choice for first-time readers looking to experience the full breadth of his storytelling.

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The Stand
50,147 Reviews
The Stand
  • King, Stephen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 1472 Pages - 06/28/2011 (Publication Date) - Anchor (Publisher)

9. Carrie

Carrie is among the best Stephen King books to start with.

“Carrie” is Stephen King’s debut novel, a chilling tale of horror and revenge. The story revolves around Carrie White, a shy and awkward high school girl from a small town, who suffers extreme bullying from her peers and psychological abuse from her religious fanatic mother. Unknown to others, Carrie possesses telekinetic powers, which become increasingly powerful and uncontrollable as she faces more humiliation. The novel reaches a horrifying climax at the senior prom, where Carrie unleashes her powers in a devastating act of vengeance. King masterfully portrays themes of isolation, cruelty, and the catastrophic effects of bullying.

Why Carrie is a superb starting point for Stephen King aficionados:

Carrie is a wonderful entry point for those new to Stephen King’s work. As his first published novel, it introduces readers to King’s style of blending human emotions with supernatural elements. The story is concise, focused, and packs a significant emotional punch, making it accessible to beginners. It’s a powerful exploration of the horrors that can stem from societal rejection and personal trauma, serving as a prime example of King’s ability to create deeply compelling and empathetic characters in extraordinary circumstances.

Carrie
14,446 Reviews
Carrie
  • King, Stephen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages - 08/30/2011 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

10. The Dark Tower series

The Dark Tower series, a magnum opus of Stephen King, is a remarkable blend of fantasy, horror, science fiction, and Western genres. Spanning eight books, the series follows Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger, on his quest to reach the Dark Tower, a mythical structure that is the nexus of all universes. The journey takes Roland across a desolate world filled with danger, magic, and a cast of characters both friend and foe. As he travels, his quest becomes intertwined with the fates of others, including Jake Chambers, Eddie Dean, and Susannah Dean. King weaves a complex narrative that explores themes of destiny, sacrifice, and the eternal struggle between good and evil, culminating in a quest that is as much about the journey as the destination.

Why The Dark Tower series is a splendid introduction to Stephen King’s universe:

The Dark Tower series is a sprawling introduction to Stephen King’s universe for new readers keen to just dive right in. This series encapsulates King’s narrative scope and creativity, offering a rich, expansive world that combines elements from many of his other works. It’s a testament to his storytelling versatility, providing a unique experience that goes beyond traditional horror. The series is ideal for readers who appreciate intricate world-building and character development, and it offers a deeper insight into King’s literary universe, making it a compelling starting point for exploring his other works.

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The Dark Tower 8-Book Boxed Set
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The Dark Tower 8-Book Boxed Set
  • King, Stephen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 4720 Pages - 12/06/2016 (Publication Date) - Scribner (Publisher)

11. Needful Things

“Needful Things” is a suspenseful and darkly satirical novel by Stephen King. Set in the small town of Castle Rock, Maine, the story unfolds with the opening of a new shop named ‘Needful Things,’ owned by the enigmatic Leland Gaunt. The store seems to have the perfect item for each resident, but these objects come at a sinister price – not monetary, but in the form of pranks and deeds that slowly escalate into violence and chaos throughout the town. King masterfully portrays how greed, desire, and manipulation can lead to devastating consequences, weaving a tale that exposes the dark underbelly of a seemingly peaceful community.

Why Needful Things Is a great gateway to Stephen King:

Needful Things is a strong pick for newcomers. This novel highlights King’s skill in creating a detailed and believable small-town setting, filled with well-developed characters whose lives intertwine in complex ways. It offers a blend of psychological horror and suspense with a keen observation of human nature. The story is engaging and accessible, making it a great choice for those looking to explore King’s ability to turn the ordinary into something terrifyingly extraordinary.

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Needful Things: A Novel
7,954 Reviews
Needful Things: A Novel
  • King, Stephen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 816 Pages - 03/20/2018 (Publication Date) - Scribner (Publisher)

12. The Running Man

“The Running Man,” written by Stephen King under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, is a gripping dystopian novel. Set in a bleak future America where the economy has collapsed and the gap between the rich and poor is extreme, the story centers on Ben Richards, a desperate man trying to earn money for his sick daughter’s medication. He participates in a deadly game show called “The Running Man,” where contestants are hunted by professional killers for sport and entertainment. The novel is a relentless, fast-paced thriller that critiques media influence, societal desensitization to violence, and the exploitation of the underprivileged.

Why The Running Man is a suitable starting point for Stephen King enthusiasts:

The Running Man is a strong starting point for Stephen King newbies keen on dystopian narratives and fast-paced action. Unlike many of King’s other works that delve into supernatural horror, this novel focuses on societal horrors, making it a distinctive and thought-provoking entry into his bibliography. Its straightforward, action-packed plot, and the direct writing style under the Bachman pseudonym, provide an accessible and engaging introduction to King’s thematic concerns and narrative style.

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The Running Man
4,371 Reviews
The Running Man
  • King, Stephen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 416 Pages - 12/27/2022 (Publication Date) - Pocket Books (Publisher)

13. The Long Walk

“The Long Walk,” another novel by Stephen King written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, is yet another dystopian tale. In a totalitarian version of America, the story follows a brutal annual competition known as The Long Walk. One hundred teenage boys participate in this government-sponsored event, where the rules are simple yet ruthless: maintain a speed above four miles per hour, and if you slow down, you receive a warning, three warnings and you’re shot dead. The walk continues until only one boy is left standing. The novel is an intense psychological exploration of endurance, friendship, and the human spirit under extreme duress.

Why The Long Walk is a fitting introduction to Stephen King:

The Long Walk is a welcoming invite into Stephen King’s world, especially for those who appreciate stories that delve into the psychological aspects of human nature under pressure. This book, while lacking supernatural elements, showcases King’s talent for creating tension and developing complex characters. The simple yet profound plot presents a direct and compelling narrative, making it an accessible read for newcomers. It’s a stark and powerful examination of survival and morality, providing a clear window into King’s ability to explore dark themes with depth and empathy.

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The Long Walk
11,153 Reviews
The Long Walk
  • King, Stephen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages - 02/16/2016 (Publication Date) - Scribner (Publisher)

14. Firestarter

Firestarter is a great start for first-time readers of Stephen King

“Firestarter” by Stephen King is a thrilling blend of science fiction and horror. The story revolves around a young girl named Charlie and her father, Andy, who are on the run from a secret government agency known as The Shop. Both possess extraordinary psychic abilities; Andy can “push” people to do his will, and Charlie has the power of pyrokinesis, the ability to start fires with her mind. Their abilities are the result of a government experiment gone awry. The novel is a tense and gripping tale of pursuit and survival, exploring themes of power, corruption, and the bond between father and daughter in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Why Firestarter is a great entry point for exploring Stephen King’s work:

Firestarter is a great entry point for exploring Stephen King’s work, particularly for readers who are intrigued by the blend of supernatural elements with action-packed storytelling. The novel showcases King’s ability to create compelling, multi-dimensional characters and a fast-paced narrative. It’s a more straightforward thriller compared to his more complex horror novels, making it a more accessible choice for those new to King’s style. Additionally, the central theme of a child with extraordinary powers is a recurring motif in King’s work, offering a taste of his larger literary themes.

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Firestarter
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Firestarter
  • King, Stephen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 576 Pages - 05/03/2016 (Publication Date) - Pocket Books (Publisher)

15. The Green Mile

“The Green Mile” is one of Stephen King’s most profound and moving works. Set in the 1930s, the novel is narrated by Paul Edgecombe, a death-row prison officer at Cold Mountain Penitentiary. The story unfolds with the arrival of John Coffey, a gentle giant convicted of a heinous crime. Coffey possesses a mysterious, miraculous gift, which leads to extraordinary events on the block named “The Green Mile,” a reference to the green linoleum floor. This tale weaves themes of justice, redemption, and the supernatural, exploring the human condition within the confines of a prison setting.

Why The Green Mile is an ideal introduction to Stephen King:

The Green Mile is a solid introduction to Stephen King for its unique blend of human drama and supernatural elements. This novel stands out in King’s oeuvre for its deep emotional resonance and exploration of complex moral issues. It’s less focused on horror and more on character development and storytelling, making it a compelling read for those who may not typically gravitate towards cut-and-dry horror genres. The narrative’s exploration of compassion and humanity amidst a grim setting showcases King’s versatility as a writer and provides a comprehensive glimpse into his narrative capabilities.

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The Green Mile: The Complete Serial Novel
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The Green Mile: The Complete Serial Novel
  • King, Stephen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 432 Pages - 04/17/2018 (Publication Date) - Scribner (Publisher)

16. Different Seasons

“Different Seasons,” a collection by Stephen King, is unique as it steps away from his usual long-form horror genre, offering four novellas, each distinct in theme and tone. “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” is a tale of hope and resilience inside a prison. “Apt Pupil” delves into the dark bond between a boy and a Nazi war criminal. “The Body,” a story of childhood and the loss of innocence, follows four boys on a quest to find a dead body. Lastly, “The Breathing Method” is a chilling narrative set in a mysterious club with a story of a bizarre childbirth. This collection showcases King’s versatility in storytelling, each story resonating with human emotions and experiences.

Why Different Seasons is a compelling starting point for Stephen King’s work:

Different Seasons is a highly accessible Stephen King work because it demonstrates his ability to craft profound narratives beyond the realm of horror. This collection is perfect for beginners as it provides a range of storytelling styles and themes, from the deeply emotional to the subtly unsettling. It’s a testament to King’s skill in character development and his exploration of complex human conditions, making it a great introduction for those looking for a taste of the multifaceted depth of his writing.

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Different Seasons: Four Novellas
6,909 Reviews
Different Seasons: Four Novellas
  • King, Stephen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 608 Pages - 03/29/2016 (Publication Date) - Scribner (Publisher)

17. Under the Dome

“Under the Dome” is a riveting science fiction and horror novel by Stephen King, set in the small town of Chester’s Mill, Maine, which is abruptly and inexplicably sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible, impenetrable dome. The story follows the residents as they deal with the immediate aftermath of the dome’s appearance, grappling with the loss of communication and resources from the outside world. It explores the social, political, and environmental implications of such isolation. As resources dwindle and panic sets in, a struggle for power ensues, led by a corrupt politician. The novel delves deep into the human psyche, examining how people react under extreme circumstances, and highlights themes of survival, tyranny, and the intrinsic good and evil within humanity.

Why Under the Dome is an engaging entry point for new Stephen King readers:

“Under the Dome” is a intriguing choice for new Stephen King readers due to its creative blend of sci-fi elements with human drama. The novel offers an insightful exploration of societal dynamics in a crisis, showcasing King’s knack for creating vivid, multi-dimensional characters and placing them in extraordinary situations. It’s ideal for beginners who enjoy detailed world-building and intense, character-driven plots. The story is both thought-provoking and entertaining, providing a unique take on the concept of isolation and community dynamics.

Under the Dome: A Novel
13,986 Reviews
Under the Dome: A Novel
  • King, Stephen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 1200 Pages - 12/30/2045 (Publication Date) - Pocket Books (Publisher)

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