Susannah Dean is possessed, her body a living vessel for the demon-mother Mia. Something is growing inside Susannah’s belly, something terrible, and soon she will give birth to Mia’s “chap.” But three unlikely allies are following them to New York City from the border of End World, hoping to prevent the unthinkable. Meanwhile, Eddie and Roland have tumbled into the state of Maine — where the author of a novel called ‘Salem’s Lot is about to meet his destiny….
Song of Susannah was an exciting change of pace for the Dark Tower series. As much as I liked Wolves of the Calla, it was a massive tome that took its time, mostly keeping the characters in a singular place for about a month over the course of the book. Song of Susannah drastically shifts the momentum of the story, propelling its characters toward the climax of their quest in a series of events that span a roughly 24 hour period. Even at a page-count of over 400, the plot felt like it breezed by in seemly no time at all.
That being the case, it never felt too rushed. It was perfectly natural to slip back among the ka-tet — albeit a broken one — and situate myself in their minds. The swift movement of the plot didn’t inhibit the time we spend with them either, each story thread steeped in their personal thoughts and feelings, which flavour the narrative in a way I’ve found unique to this series. We weave between different perspectives, no matter how contrasting, almost seamlessly. It’s amazing that the methodical contemplations of Roland can shift to the more wise-cracking and sarcastic reflections of Eddie without it feeling jarring.
The primary focus of the novel, as the title suggests, is on Susannah. Her body has been hijacked by Mia, an entity inhabiting her and carrying an unnatural child through her (thus far having allowed Susannah to appear physically unchanged). Susannah’s dealings with Mia are for the most part adversarial, but King still manages to make the latter sympathetic despite all the wrong she has done to the core group. Though enigmatic since the previous book, she is only a piece in a bigger game that sincerely yearns to be a mother. This obsession is dangerous, but beyond it we can see a being that wants to be something more than she is. While I still feel ambivalent about her, I’m glad that she turned out to be something more complex than previously speculated.
Susannah’s fight is largely a mental one, and it is thanks to her strength and fortitude in this respect that we come to learn a lot more about the nature of Mia, what’s in store for the group going forward, and a better glimpse at the nature of the Crimson King (their ultimate adversary). Susannah’s travails present the more prominent horror elements in the story too — in addition to the body horror of a paranormal pregnancy — taking her further into enemy territory than we’ve seen before, allowing us to witness the grotesqueries that lurk there.
This main narrative through-line is broken up by branches involving Roland and Eddie in 1977, and Father Callahan, Jake, and Oy who are trying to catch up with Susannah in 1999. Roland and Eddie’s story is the most action-driven, which nicely mixes up the pacing. It also moves the plot forward in other areas, working to resolve the ka-tet’s mission from before Susannah’s self-abduction. Their path brings them to Stephen King himself, circa 1977.
Though a little self-indulgent as a concept — I had mixed feelings when it was introduced at the end of Wolves of the Calla — I think King’s inclusion of himself works well here. He’s quite honest about his own history of alcohol and substance abuse, which I respect, and though he had his quirks he was otherwise a mundane character. Despite Roland and Eddie’s reverence of him, due to what he represents, he wasn’t too overblown.
My only disappointment with the book was that Jake and Callahan’s section was relatively short and less eventful. It did leave me highly anticipating what happens to them in the next book, so it’s not a huge negative. Nevertheless, a lot happened to them both in Wolves of the Calla and it was unfortunate that they didn’t get to be developed much further. That one misgiving being said, Song of Susannah is yet another great entry in the Dark Tower series, setting a great tone as the beginning of the end of this long tale. The clearing at the end of the path is in sight, and while it’ll be bittersweet to get there, I cannot wait.