Stephen King – The Waste Lands

After a mindbogglingly good second novel, I couldn’t really stop reading this series. The Waste Lands was even more intriguing than The Drawing of the Three and pulled me in faster, harder and longer. I’d go so far as to say, this is the book that made me a true Dark Tower fan.

by Stephen King

published: New English Library 2003 (1991)
ISBN: 034082977X
pages: 584
copy: paperback
series: The Dark Tower #3

my rating: 8,5/10

first sentence: It was her third time with live ammunition… and her first time on the draw from the holster Roland had rigged for her.

Now this is where it gets awesome. I may have said the same thing in my review of The Drawing of the Three, but it speaks for King’s ability to one-up himself every single time. The set-up of this third novel in the Dark Tower series is similarly structured as its predecessor, though this one may be more a book of two halves rather than divided into three parts.

We continue our journey with Roland teaching Susannah and Eddie to be gunslingers and casually surviving one of the coolest and most terryfing attacks I’ve every read about. But inside Roland’s mind, there is war. Having saved Jake from being killed by Jack Mort – the third door on the beach, remember? – Jake never died and thusly never came back to life to meet Roland in The Gunslinger. I love me a good time paradox if the author knows how to use it and make it seem logical somehow. And Stephen King does. Roland, struggling with his dual memory of both meeting and sacrificing Jake and another past without Jake, is not the only one who feels the paradox. Jake, in the New York of our world, is also fighting strange memories that seem like half-remembered dreams. Both characters feel as if they’re slowly going insane if some closure isn’t found soon.

The first half of the book deals pretty much exclusively with this problem and its solution. While I’ve heard many people say that they felt it was drawn out a bit too much (including my significant other), I wouldn’t have shortened any passage in this book. Sure, we jump back and forth between Mid-World and New York more and more quickly as the story moves on and that did grind a little bit. But it also created more and more tension and made it impossible to put the book aside. Nailbiting and tearing eyes ensued. And honestly, who doesn’t want to be drawn into a story so much that they’re yearning for the next chapter, hoping for the heroes to survive? I was utterly taken, even more than with book two in the series.

We don’t get to meet too many new characters but those that we meet are fantastic. Some because they are as frightening and disgusting as they come, others because their particular type of insanity may be scary but is also a lot of fun to read. Blaine the Mono will forever have a place in the darkest corners of my brain (is it weird that I grew strangely fond of him?). And I feel that I have to give the book an extra bonus point for Oy. I’m a sucker for that creature.
The characters we’ve now known for a while go through interesting developments and especially Roland, who’s always felt a little distant and difficult to understand to me, gets more drive. I started feeling towards him the way Eddie, Jake and Susannah do – with utter trust that in the end, Roland will make it all ok.

King uses riddles and some powerful imagery to give this book atmosphere. You may think he’d just go with what we saw in the second volume of the series, but no. Stephen King is better than that. He does use the groundwork he has built for this universe but he gives us so much more. The city of Lud with its inhabitants and its crazy sense of balance felt like a real place to me. I wouldn’t want to get lost there even if Roland were there to (probably) rescue me. Now the riddles were great! This plot thread starts with Jake, when he picks up an old riddle book in a New York bookshop with the answer section torn out of the back. But riddles keep being important throughout the book. Even if I hadn’t loved the book as much as I did, I would have enjoyed riddling along with Roland, Eddie, Susannah and Jake.

Already, and very subtly, we get glimpses of Roland’s past, of a former ka-tet and of his life before The Gunslinger. I’m glad I didn’t wait very long between reading books 3 and 4 because it let me appreciate the set-up even more. Knowing that for Stephen King, there was actually quite a bit of time between the publication of these novels, I find it all the more impressive how tightly he weaves everything together. It really is one large story packed into seven (or now eight) books. Personally, I can’t wait to find out more about… well everything in this world and I admit that I dread the ending. Not because I’m particularly worried about Roland (like I said: total trust in his abilities) but because then it will be over.

I feel justified in recommending this series already, after having read only the first three books (and half of number four) as one of the best fantasy series I know. Go out and read it. And never mind that the first book feels a little slow. It gets better. And better. And better.

THE GOOD: Oh the suspense! There’s action, interspliced with scenes of thoughtful calm. Great characters, amazing atmosphere and not a boring moment in sight.
THE BAD: Maybe the first half took it a little too far. I didn’t mind but I know people who did.
THE VERDICT: If you’re undecided whether to continue the series, this will be the book that decides it for you. You can’t – and won’t want to – stop.

RATING: 8,5/10  Truly excellent (if you make it to this book at all).

The Dark Tower Series:

  1. The Gunslinger
  2. The Drawing of the Three
  3. The Waste Lands
  4. Wizard and Glass
  5. Wolves of the Calla
  6. Song of Susannah
  7. The Dark Tower
  8. The Wind Through the Keyhole

Other reviews:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s