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on 18 May 2000
Robert W. Chambers' "The King in Yellow" is a book within a book. Or, more properly, it's a collection of macabre short stories with a common theme; a fictional two-act play that brings decadence, hallucinations, and madness to any reader. The stories within this collection, published in 1895, are set in a fictional militaristic 1920s in both the USA and Europe. The tales stand free of each other, and are told from a number of different perspectives, by socialites, soldiers, and artists. Each tells how the lives of the narrator and colleagues have been affected by reading "The King in Yellow", a controversial play that has been denounced by the church and suppressed by governments. After coming into contact with it, their lives are tragically affected. Some find themselves hounded by shadowy agents, while others become confused and delusional. Others are driven to act out the play's sad and decadent events, while some simply go insane.
The substance of the play itself is only alluded to, or hinted at in brief extracts. It is clearly a tragedy, but the motivations and actions of its central characters, including the mysterious King in Yellow himself, are not clear. Like many authors of macabre tales, Chambers was content for our imaginations to do the work, and this book is more powerful for it.
(And by the way, if the central theme of a forbidden book that induces insanity is familiar to you, you've probably read some of the Mythos tales of H.P.Lovecraft. In fact, I doubt that too many people come to read "The King in Yellow" by any other route; Chambers' book is clearly stated as a strong influence on Lovecraft's work.)
To be honest, I was shocked to find myself reading a book that was over a HUNDRED years old, an activity I had assumed was reserved for crusty academics and lovers of classical literature. But, more pointedly, I was surprised to find that "The King in Yellow" is a highly readable volume, full of entertaining, colourful and disturbing tales with a very modern feel to them.
The only downside I found was that the final few stories lose the central theme. I found myself wondering if these thinner, romantic tales, were more representative of Chambers' other work, and were, in effect, "fillers". But perhaps I missed the point? It is only this that stops me from awarding five stars to this impressive book.
Overall, if you've had a bellyful of today's crop of relentless gore and explicit sexuality, take a literary Alka Seltzer by checking out the "King in Yellow".
It's a classic, and I'm not talking Jane Austen.
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on 10 June 2010
The Repairer of Reputations- an essential masterpiece, one that must be read by anyone who loves the weird, horror and the bizarre. A work of imagination, unlike any other. Buy the book for this five star story alone. This tale has enough ideas for a whole novel.
The next three stories- The Mask, The Court of the Dragon and The Yellow Sign- all worth the effort, all feature in some way The King in Yellow. (Four stars)
Demoielle D'Ys- a unoriginal but not unpleasant little ghost story (Three stars)
The Prophets Paradise- meaningless rubbish or work of genius? I go for the former (One star)
Street of the Four Winds- a sinister tale about a cat (Three stars).
Street of the First Shell- kind of sums up the collection- passages of fine writing mixed with tedium (more of the latter). Three stars.
Street of Our Lady of the Fields and Rue Barrie- unreadable sentimental tosh. One star each (And I'm being generous).
This book is definitely worth buying, particularly at this price, but don't feel you have to read all the stories, especially the last two.
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on 14 May 2014
This book came to my attention because of the references to the Yellow King and Carcosa in HBO's True Detective. Firstly, for fans of that show, they are purely references. There is no other explicit link between the two works. That said, I am very glad my attention was drawn to this book regardless. I particularly enjoyed Chambers' opening four stories related to the King in Yellow, and the intrigue and horror around it, but the rest of the stories were also thoroughly enjoyable.
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on 16 June 2006
After hearing so much about this book, I finally tracked down a copy. Sadly, it is not what I expected. Out of ten stories, only five have links to 'The King In Yellow' and only one story is, I think, essential reading. Some of it is almost unreadable. Shall I break it down?

1. 'The Repairer of Reputations' - My rating (5/5) - The book starts off fantastically strong with this story, which mixes horror, madness, intrigue and sci-fi. Chambers sets his story 25 years in the future (for him, 1920). He gives a fascinating quick history of world events, of the appearance and suppression of the horrifying book known as 'The King In Yellow' and the story then begins on the day that the first Government Lethal Chamber is being unveiled in New York (Suicide has just been declared legal). Society is rather more utopian, world conflicts have been resolved and it is against this backdrop that we start to see the creeping evil that the book can bring. This is an amazing story, and everyone who's a Lovecraft, or horror fan, should check it out. It's also snappily written, and full of quirky detail.

2. 'The Mask' - My rating (4/5) - An interesting story which, again, involves the book, and also a strange scientific discovery.

3. 'The Court Of The Dragon' (3/5) - This story of a man stalked by a mysterious figure is good, but not as innovative as the first two tales.

4. 'The Yellow Sign' (3/5) - One of the most famous stories in the book. 'The King In Yellow' features prominently here. This is a good story, and my rating is more about personal taste - I like Lovecraft for his science-based horror, and dislike Poe for his more traditional graveyard-Gothic style. This is more Poe than Lovecraft.

5. 'The Demoiselle D'Ys' (1/5) - Sadly, this is the last story in the book with any reference to 'The King in Yellow' and the reference here is very tenuous. Also, this story starts to bring in Chambers' very sappy, over-the-top romantic style. It's also full of archaic French falconcry terms(?), and has a very standard ending. I found myself quite sickened by it.

6. 'The Prophets' Paradise' (3/5) - Very strange. This short piece is closer to poetry than prose. It's a series of linked scenes that are weird, atmospheric and very visual. I have no idea what it's about, but it's strangely intriguing.

(The next four stories are all set in Paris, are all about art students and there is no further mention of 'The King In Yellow.')

7. 'The Street Of The Four Winds' (3/5) - A short tale about a scrawny cat and a lonely artist. This is a good story that is notable for its excellent, affectionate descriptions of the cat's behaviour. Also, while it's not really horror, the ending is strangely creepy. I'm sure Lovecraft enjoyed this one.

8. 'The Street Of The First Shell' (4/5) - This is actually a really good story that gives a great feeling of living in a city which is under siege, and where shells whistle overhead constantly. Chambers gives us atmosphere, action and shows that he is capable of excellent writing. At the same time, there are some annoying lulls into inconsequential 'comedy' and there are some astoundingly clumsy paragraphs mixed in with the good stuff.

9 & 10 - 'The Street of Our Lady Of The Fields' & 'Rue Barree' (both 1/5) - The book ends with two incredibly tedious, annoying 'romantic' stories that I had to force myself to wade through. Page after page is filled with vomit-inducing dialogue and endless descriptions of chirping sparrows. I'm guessing this is indicative of a lot of Chambers' other output. Believe me when I say, it's very hard to read.

Summary: I'm confused as to how this was a best-seller for so many years, as it is such a mixed bag, swinging from atmospheric horror to the sappiest of romance fiction. It's hard to imagine that any reader would have enjoyed everything in this book. Also, after such a strong opening, where Chambers goes to the trouble of extrapolating a near-future setting and giving a history of 'The King In Yellow,' I do not understand why he so quickly gave up on the idea, and filled this volume out with a miscellaneous bunch of tales that had nothing to do with the reviled tome. Chambers is a mystery. Regardless, if you're a horror fan, seek out 'The Repairer Of Reputations,' maybe some of the other stories, if you feel like it. Leave the romance fiction well alone.
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on 13 June 2014
Don't expect a thriller, or a set of detective stories. Although the King in Yellow doesn't run right through, it does have a strange influence, the whole book evokes a sort of faerie feel, not in the Talkies sense or Grimm Brothers but with that sort of dangerous and unhappy edge, where disaster lurks.
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on 30 July 2014
The 1st four stories in this collection are brilliant, they build a world convincigly and resonate with the late victorian style of eldritch magic and horror. The concept of 'the king in yellow' and how it runs through these stories is exciting and you can see how it is ranked alongside Lovecraft and even built into the Cthulu Mythology. However i found that the stories after this tailed of dramatically, becoming more like a random collection of works without one thread to tie them together. They are written well enough but can become wordy and too sentimental for my taste.
I would recommend this for the first 4 stories alone, however be aware that the beginning is the best bit.
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on 6 November 2016
I'd heard this influenced the first series of True Detective. That's why I bought the book. If you're doing the same, swerve it.

Fans of H P Lovecraft will find something to love but general or literary readers will likely be disappointed. My initial excitement faded and I got bored. Most of the stories have an unconvincing 'whiplash' ending and the overarching theme is weak. It doesn't develop the mystery of The King in Yellow: the fictional book at the seat of the collection. It just repeats the book's side effects on the stories' protagonists. I found this trying.

Chambers is skilled at showing his characters' declining mental states, and he can paint a vivid scene, but he's not great on plot or pace. I wanted to fall in love with this book. I didn't. Maybe you will. It's all a matter of taste.
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on 17 August 2011
One hopes that you will be buying this little collection of stories so that you can take a snifter and get a taste of Robert W Chambers work, as in its own right its not especially a very good collection of work. From here though, you can see what kind of work Lovecraft built upon and improved immensely. The stories are pretty poor stuff on their own and not exactly that weird. But for the price this is a good insight into a foundation if not the building.
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on 14 January 2017
I agree with other reviewers that the stories get weaker as you go through the book, bit the first one, The King in Yellow, is dynamite! So the book is worth it for that if nothing else. And to be fair the subsequent two stories are also good.
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on 13 April 2015
I am still thinking about this one...

Like most people, I read this off the back of 'True Detective' and the book is as suited to McConaughey's character. I wonder if this book inspired 'House of leaves' as I was left in a very similar state of mind when I finished it.

I'd recommend it for you to read and the revisit True Detective, to see if you can make out more of the characters in both the series and the book.
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