It was with equal anticipation and excitement that I picked up the next two books within Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. Crossing the halfway mark of this series, tensions were certainly starting to run high, and I knew I had to read on. For those of you who haven’t yet read books 1-4 in this series, you can see my previous reviews here (books 1 and 2), and here (books 3 and 4). Firstly, I really want to acknowledge that this review will not be largely plot focused. At this stage in the series, so much of the plot is interlinked and dependent on other events within the novels that it would massively spoil the enjoyment for a new reader if I were to say anymore than what was necessary.
Book Five: The Wolves of the Calla
The fifth book within this series follows on from the events of the fourth book, after the group have once again found themselves on the path of the beam in continuance of their end goal – the Dark Tower. Yet the path, as the saying goes, does not run smoothly, and they are soon immersed in the troubles of other people. The people of Calla Bryn Sturgis to be precise. Every few years, the Wolves, horrifying, monstrous riders, emerge from the desolate land of Thunderclap to descend on the inhabitants of the Calla. The people do not have gold, money, even weapons to interest the riders. Yet what they do have is children; twins to be precise. Each time the riders emerge, one young twin from each pair is cruelly snatched, only to reappear at a later date as ‘roont’ – mentally disabled and with a short mockery of a life before them. And of course, who better for the people to fling their mercy at than the feet of Roland, the last Gunslinger.
You might think this adventure to be an annoyance, a side mission of sorts, distracting from the real momentous event of the search for the eponymous Dark tower. Yet you would be wrong. As you should already be aware by now, Ka rules over everything, linking many paths and destinies together. There is a crucial sense in this book that the group needed to find their way to the Calla, that Ka willed them to be there in order to set the correct wheels into motion, much like previous events within the series. As Roland himself wisely declares, ‘Unless we stand true, we will never get within a thousand miles of the tower’. And stand true they do. Additionally, this book really was full of excitement and action. After the long time in which Roland spend reminiscing of his childhood in the previous book, we are here sharply plunged into a present that does not allow any repose for either the reader or the gunslinger.
The wolves themselves, and the fear which they have instilled within the people of the Calla, really worked effectively. You can almost imagine what it would be like, watching your young child grow, ever fearful of the distant clouds of dust announcing the wolves arrival and the innocence they will steal. The idea itself is really quite a twisted one (as is what actually happens to the stolen children), and clearly shows the horror Roland and his Ka-tet could not only stop immediately, but could also prevent from ever happening again if they are able to save the Tower and the beams which hold the balance in place.
Whilst this is the first we see of the inhabitants of the Calla, King manages to cleverly and efficiently establish the social dynamics, without adding mundane details or facts. You will grow to admire, like, even loath certain members of the town, and I think it really does credit to the writer that this can be achieved in a novel where the main focus is not on these aspects or this particular plot line.
As always, these books are a minefield to review effectively without giving any great twists or plot lines away. What I will say is that this book will introduce you to some very interesting characters, with an even more interesting background of how they came to be there . . . and indeed who actually may have placed them there! Whilst it may answer a few niggling questions for us, it does in fact pose many more difficult and shocking ones which are sure to exercise your brain. King has cleverly studded this novel full of intertextualities, which as a reader, I adored. There is so much going on underneath the surface of this fantasy, so many obvious yet subtle points which work in harmony to add a depth and richness which many fantasies often lack. I cannot help but admire the forethought that a novel like this would have taken to complete.
Book Six: Song of Susannah
Song of Susannah wastes no time in following the fall out of the conclusions from book five. Shockingly, Susannah has vanished, stolen away into another time to safely deliver her baby with Mai, a former demon who has taken control of Susannah and her body. The Ka-tet is broken, and the remaining members must choose between saving Susannah from both Mia and her demon baby, or securing the ownership of a vacant lot in order to save the glorious rose (introduced in previous books)which in turn will help support the decaying Dark Tower.I am well aware that this is not the most eloquent summary of this book, but so much happens within this volume which is crucial to the rest of the series, but which must also remain a surprise, that this is about the most I can safely reveal.
This book is split into different perspectives and temporal spaces, allowing the reader to clearly follow each character’s story line without any confusion. This variety of both tone and plot really allows each character to continue to develop outside of the security of the Kat-tet which they have come to take for granted. We see how each person must gather both courage and strength to fulfil their individual and group duties, overcoming many personal challenges.
If you have gotten to this stage in the series, you will know by now that King has actually written himself into the Dark Tower series. I think it takes a certain kind of writer to be able to write using autobiographical fragments, without writing themselves as either a comedic joke, or a brighter version of themselves. King certainly seems to have found the balance, with no grand illusions about his own past or personalities. Despite the darker themes within these later books, King has clearly shown that he has a sense of humour in the way he confidently writes his own self, poking fun at his self admitted flaws. I absolutely adored the film Inception, and the way that King has written this book (a book about his own self also writing this book) was completely reminiscent of this, and worked both madly and brilliantly. Having stories within stories might sound a tad confusing, but here it is executed to a degree which does not completely fry the brains, but also make you rethink everything you have previously thought.
I felt that this book started to impress upon the reader to a much gloomier degree the fact that this is not a series which will have a happy ending merely for the sake of a neatly finished conclusion. We see much darker characters, and much more gruesome events take place, which really we should have already been anticipating. There is happiness and hope, but it is interspersed with tinges of guilt, sadness, loss, which we can see that the characters will never fully be able to come back from. Additionally, the importance of a few more minor characters we have already seen or are now introduced to, establishes how not ever one can be a Gunslinger at heart, and not every one is destined for greatness. Our very human nature makes us flawed. Yet that does not mean that we should undervalue the underdog, just as we should not glorify and exempt the hero’s of these books from blame and guilt.
Rating for Book 5: 5/5*
Rating for Book 6: 4/5*