The Waste Lands: The Dark Tower Book 3
Author: Stephen King
I’m struggling to get into the Dark Tower series. While I think this book was much better than the first book in the series, I’m giving it the same score. While more happened in this book than in the first one, it felt like a few interesting ideas tied together by King’s overly wordy prose more than a coherent story. The end is a cliffhanger, and the whole thing felt like something King kind of made up as he went along. The author’s note fittingly said the book wrote itself; usually that sounds like a compliment but here it felt like an apology.
There were some big developments in the series here, namely the revival of a deceased character and the equivalent of a level warp to get to their destination. **Spoilers follow** The first half of the book is about going through the Waste Lands, where instead of all desert, there are some trees and even the occasional robotic bear. It is all in the service of correcting Roland’s brain. At the end of the second book in the series, Roland has altered the time stream by stopping a killer from pushing a child in front of a vehicle. The child that he saved was Jake from the first book in the series (who had already died and been to the Midworld at that point). When he saves his life, his memory begins changing and he hears voices, as the reality that he experienced was no longer possible. On the other side, Jake has the same problem and seeks to return to Roland so that the voices will stop.
I thought this was an interesting idea, both in terms of adding some more characters to what had been a very closed loop prior to this, as well as presenting an interesting take on the ramifications of time travel. My one hangup though was that the same affects to Roland and Jake would have likely been felt by Jake’s family. After all, they had an entire different life after their son died than they would have otherwise, however King chose to keep them oblivious of their son’s problems (likely to make it easier to accept him leaving them). The payoff to the story involved a tie in to Eddie’s youth as well, and the mystery of a book of riddles and a seemingly evil children’s train.
After the first half of the book, King takes the story in a much more Mad Mad vision. Instead of solitude and wilderness, it is a dystopian city ruled by an evil man called the Tick Tock Man. While Roland is a gunslinger, the villain is a knife-slinger who has plenty of putrid and diseased henchmen looking to barter in young people. This section of the book really dragged for me, as it never felt like Roland, Jake or even the raccoon dog that they befriend were in danger. The climax, bringing the group face to face with the mode of transportation that the book leaves off on was much better feeling like a cross between the ends of Willy Wonka and 2001 a Space Odyssey.
I’m fine to keep reading the series, but three books in and I’m not a big fan of any of the characters, and the setting has only recently changed enough to make me interested in the direction. King is at his best when his characters feel real, having to deal with the twists and horrors he throws at them. Out of the core group, Roland is the only one I really care to see more of and he feels more like a cartoon or an archetype than a fully drawn character.