My final book for 2014 was supposed to be Wizard & Glass, the fourth book in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. Despite my best efforts, however, I was unable to finish it before the New Year. Nevertheless, it definitely would have fallen on my list of favourite books for 2014, so I thought I’d talk a little about my feelings on the novel.
This will not entirely be a review. While I will be critiquing it and discussing what takes place in it, it does not sit well with me to give a full review on the fourth installment of a series without having discussed any of the previous entries (this was also the reason I didn’t review A Dance with Dragons).
The Dark Tower series is another I have been reading gradually throughout the years, and it does not disappoint either. I do have one significant gripe with the novel, however, as I’m sure many others have had as well, which is the fact that almost all of the content is a flashback, going into detail about (the protagonist) Roland’s youth. After cleaning up the events of the previous novel, it embarks upon a tale of Roland’s first real adventure off on his own, dealing with life-threatening danger, conspiracy, and having his first experience with love.
I was pleased that I actually found the flashback story just as compelling as the rest of the series thus far, but a part of me would still rather the plot continue to move forward rather than spending such a huge amount of pages on events that have already taken place.
I really did appreciate how much it built about the world, as I found Roland’s Mid-World a little confusing at times in prior installments. Beforehand I couldn’t really see what the world Roland lived in was like before most of what even he knew fell to ruin. It was full of a lot of occult presences and mutated monstrosities, but also remnants of a world much like our own. Also, everywhere Roland seemed to go was full of people who appeared to be the last dregs of humanity, leaving me to sometimes question how Roland could be the man he is in a world that is decaying all around him.
Wizard & Glass painted a much clearer picture of the Western-styled post-apocalypse that Roland lived in, which I feel will help carry me through the series further. The flashback was a bit of a drag, sure, but it also felt necessary, ultimately helping to aid the present-day plot as well. I found this more forgivable after finishing the novel than I had going into it, knowing structurally what was coming.
In his Afterword King talks about how he is great at writing suspense, but didn’t feel he properly knew his way around writing romance, which hurt his writing of this novel. While I can’t speak for sure if he wrote highly skilled romance, it worked very well within the story, helping to add to a lot of the tension of their situation. I never felt it wasted my time or dragged me along. The plotline invested deeply in their situation and I needed to see how it played out and worked its way into the story as a whole. It turned out both beautiful and tragic, helping me to understand how Roland became who he is.
Another thing I appreciated about the way King writes is how much attention and care he can give to side characters, or in this case, one of the villains. Eldred Jonas, the leader of the Big Coffin Hunters, the rival party of gunman to young Roland and company, was a very interesting character to me.
A lot of the flashback is not just told from Roland’s perspective, but the perspective of many other characters as well, including Jonas. Instead of simply casting him as a purely despicable villain for the reader to hate, however, there was something I found very sympathetic about him. He was still a deplorable person, there’s no question about that, but he felt very human.
He had a bum leg that ailed him under stress or bad weather, was both brilliant and uncertain about his moves against Roland, and despite his age he lived with a shame that still ate at him and haunted him — he was a failed gunslinger who could never leave his place of exile, no matter how much he wanted to. I found myself enjoying reading his perspective just as much, if not more, than Roland’s, because of this unique viewpoint. I didn’t side with him, but I could still sympathize, and I think this is normally a very tricky thing for a writer to pull off.
Again, it is difficult to talk too in depth about a book that is so far into a series, so I hope I haven’t spoiled anything or been too esoteric. I spent a lot of time with this book over the last few weeks, so I wanted to make sure I talked about it.
The world of The Dark Tower series is one I always find hard to describe, so I hope I have done the novel at least some justice as well. If you are intrigued at all, I highly recommend you check it out. It helps to have a background in King’s work, as interconnecting narrative universes is a big part of the series, but it is far from necessary. The only King novel I’ve read prior to this is The Cycle of the Werewolf, and I do not feel anything substantial has been lost on me. It is fun to catch the references, however, even if it is related to books I haven’t read yet.
It’s a little clichéd to say, but if you only read one work by King in your life, make sure it is the Dark Tower series.