*Contains Spoilers (I specify where); I recommend you only read this review if you have finished the book, or if your intention is never to crack open its pages.
Revival is the life-spanning story of Jamie Morton and his “fifth business,” Pastor Charles Jacobs (who goes by a number of names throughout the book). The story opens with Jamie as a six year old boy, and closes with him in his late fifties. Pastor Jacobs is a friendly, vibrant young man with a passionate interest in all things electricity who is newly-hired as a preacher in Jamie's small town. While their first interactions are pleasant—even profound—Jamie and Charles run into each other a number of other times (and under vastly different circumstances) throughout the book.
I had some trouble getting interested in this book until roughly 100 pages in when Jamie's music career begins. The childhood portion of his story is in many ways sweet, but feels a bit rushed on the character development. In fact, I would say that this book had a rushed feel about it overall, at least rushed by King's usual standards, as he is so known for lengthy (and excellent) character development in earlier works. Scenes and people breeze past in Revival before the reader gets much of a chance to get a solid feel for them, and something about it feels underdeveloped.
(Mild plot spoilers from this point on:) The strongest section of the book by far is the middle third when Jamie Morton becomes interested in playing guitar, picking up his brother's dusty ax on a whim and finding he is more or less a natural. Once he begins playing with various bands in high school and beyond, there are some great passages lusciously describing the experience of performing live music and all that goes with it: shaky nerves, the thrill of applause, impressing cute girls in the crowd, etc. Jamie primarily plays in cover bands, and King goes to the trouble to mention quite a few specific bands and songs from the fifties and sixties (some nostalgia on his part, no doubt) that they perform, which only adds to the liveliness of these passages. To top this all off, Jamie develops a serious drug problem which makes for a more enthralling read.
The section following Jamie's music career (but before the big climax) is only mildly interesting. Jamie is growing older and acquires a job at a recording studio/ranch in Nederland, Colorado. Jacobs is now a traveling tent revival preacher with nationwide hype. He travels from city to city and apparently “heals” people with his secret and powerful electricity inventions. There are some fun moments here (like the over-the-top charismatic religious language), but the healing reverend concept feels like something we've seen before.
(SEVERE spoilers, this paragraph only:) Some King readers have taken issue with the big finish to Revival, as it was perceived by many to be a rather random left-turn. The idea of a secret, terrifying “behind-the-curtain” world of damnation and slavery for all mankind at the hands (claws?) of ant-like beasts accessed by means of Jacobs' “secret electricity” seemed to some like a bit of a stretch. I admit, there are hardly any indications earlier in the book that it is leading anywhere remotely supernatural (which, granted, preserves the element of surprise), other than the indication that the electrical force Jacobs has tapped into may have some spiritual or otherworldly origins. The ending reminded me somewhat of the ending to Under the Dome, if only for its completely unexpected turn and inexplicable, there-are-things-bigger-than-us-in-the-universe quality. There is also a definite nod to the works and universe of H.P. Lovecraft (of whom King has been a lifelong fan), specifically the mention towards the end of “The Great Ones.”
Personally, I liked the ending, zany though it was. I'm always up for a batshit crazy conclusion. However, this ending almost feels like a random weird conclusion just for the sake of weirdness. The book builds and builds, but it is almost as if King didn't know how to end it in a logical way, so he threw in some Crazy. That's an unfair criticism, I confess. Maybe King had this particular ending in mind the whole time, and the book is simply imbalanced. But again, that is not to say it is, on the whole, bad.
Still, anyone claiming that Revival is 'KING'S TRIUMPHANT RETURN TO TRUE HORROR, WITH THE CLASSIC QUALITY OF HIS EARLIER WORKS!' is just a yes-man or -woman who is going to put five stars on anything the man puts out.
Revival isn't great, but neither is it crap. In my view, a middling King book is still at the same level of quality as a very good book from any other writer. The man is a genius, but even the masters write a dud here and there.
P.S. I did catch a few minor links to The Dark Tower series. There are several mentions of a red race car stenciled on the side with the number 19. Also, I believe the band name Jamie plays with for the longest amount of time, "Chrome Roses," is also a passing reference to TDK universe.