Stephen King – Wolves of the Calla

A nice little thing on Goodreads is that, when you mark a book as “currently reading”, then change your mood and put it back as “to read”, Goodreads remembers when you started reading and even where you stopped. This function showed me just how long it took me to finish this fifth Dark Tower book, or at least how long I put it aside before finally making it through. It’s almost three years, in case you’re curious…

wolves of the calla

WOLVES OF THE CALLA
by Stephen King

Published by: Hodder, 2003
Paperback: 771 pages
Series: The Dark Tower #5
My rating: 6/10

First sentence: Tian was blessed (though few farmers would have used such a word) with three patches: River Field, where his family had grown rice since time out of mind; Roadside Field, where kaJaffords had grown sharproot, pumpkin, and corn for those same long years and generations; and Son of a Bitch, a thankless tract which mostly grew rocks, blisters, and busted hopes.

Roland Deschain and his ka-tet are bearing south-east through the forests of Mid-World on their quest for the Dark Tower. Their path takes them to the outskirts of Calla Bryn Sturgis. But beyond the tranquil farm town, the ground rises to the hulking darkness of Thunderclap, the source of a terrible affliction that is stealing the town’s soul. The wolves of Thunderclap and their unspeakable depredation are coming. To resist them is to risk all, but these are odds the gunslingers are used to. Their guns, however, will not be enough…

divider1

So Roland and his ka-tet are on their quest to find and save the Dark Tower. In this fifth book of the series, they arrive at a place called Calla Bryn Sturgis whose population is visited by the Wolves of Thunderclap every once in a while. These wolves always do the same thing. They take their children and give them back roont (ruined) – they come back strangely tall and bulky, with their minds not fully intact. They’re never the same and they die very early. Now Roland could just walk on, continue without bothering with these people’s problems, but that’s just not like him. Plus, it all comes together and it all has to do with the Tower. So the ka-tet stays and decides to fight the Wolves.

I loved this idea so very much that I expected to rush through this book the way I did through the previous three (I’m one of those who don’t much like The Gunslinger). Alas, in the Calla, they meet a man named Callahan who relates his entire tale to them. And this tale takes SO. DAMN. LONG. and is so incredibly boring at times, that it was the reason I put the book away for years. What happens in the Calla, in the present, with Roland trying to win people’s allegiance, Susannah dealing with her own demons, Jake learning to understand betrayal from both sides – this was all fantastic and, just as you’d expect from Stephen King, written really well. Sure, things take a long time to happen but I like the way King builds up tension, creates his characters and settings and then brings us the big show-down.

Now Callahan’s story is important to the plot and I don’t have any useful criticism of it other than it bored me out of my mind. I was so glad when it was over. Suddenly, the pages flew by again, I couldn’t put the book down and I feared again for these characters that have become beloved friends to me.

One of the more intriguing things in this novel is the way technology weaves into the world. While Shardik was a relic of times long gone, here we are introduced to Andy, essentially a still-functioning robot who lives in the Calla. Although I know that technology was once present in this world, it still felt weird to have a robot play with the children of the Calla. There is also a fair bit of character development, not just in Roland but his entire ka-tet. Every one of the protagonists feels like a real person and seeing how they’ve changed from what they once were into… well, gunslingers, was just a joy to read. Seeing them work together as a team, communicate in glances and gestures as much as in words, it makes me dread the next two books all the more because I get the feeling King is going to kill off at least one main character. Just a gut feeling – I hope I’m wrong.

The idea of the stones and travelling doors is continued in Wolves of the Calla and again, doesn’t seem to fit into Roland’s world but somehow seamlessly works. King is mixing all sorts of sub-genres together and somehow makes it internally consistent. Time travel, westerns, science-fiction and epic fantasy all combine to create this wonderful thing. There were no great twists or surprises in the story surrounding the Wolves but there was one serious WTF moment at the end that makes me question the entire universe Stephen King has created in his Dark Tower series. I can’t possibly say more than that without spoilers but I re-read that passage to make sure I understood it right.

All things considered, this was my least favorite Dark Tower book because I feel Callahan’s story could have been shortened a great deal. The main plot, dealing with the Wolves, although atmospheric and an opportunity for King to show off his world-building skills, was fairly straight-forward and went as expected (by me). But there’s no denying that Stephen King is a great writer who knows what he’s doing and the language he created, especially the way the Calla folk talk, was entertaining enough. So not great, but good. On to Song of Susannah which promises an event that makes me cringe already…

MY RATING: 6/10 – Good

divider1

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

Books in the Queue – The Late Summer Edition

Lately, I’ve been switching between reading slump and reading burst and I have no idea what’s going on. For weeks I can’t bring myself to read more than 10 pages, and then suddenly I devour 3 books in as many days. But whether it’s hormonal or related to the weather, I am currently in that motivated, must-read-all-the-books phase. And because we’re already well into the second half of the year, I am tackling some reading challenges and review copies during the rest of the summer.

divider1

Ellen Kushner – Thomas the Rhymer

(Ages ago) I read Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, and then forgot almost everything about it. I remember liking the book while I read it but can’t for the life of me tell you the plot or the character names – which could be either because my memory sucks or because the book really was forgettable. So I was hesitant about Thomas the Rhymer – a few pages in, however, I am positively ecstatic. This will be a good one, I just know it!

thomas the rhymerAward-winning author and radio personality Ellen Kushner’s inspired retelling of an ancient legend weaves myth and magic into a vivid contemporary novel about the mysteries of the human heart. Brimming with ballads, riddles, and magical transformations, here is the timeless tale of a charismatic bard whose talents earn him a two-edged otherworldly gift.
A minstrel lives by his words, his tunes, and sometimes by his lies. But when the bold and gifted young Thomas the Rhymer awakens the desire of the powerful Queen of Elfland, he finds that words are not enough to keep him from his fate. As the Queen sweeps him far from the people he has known and loved into her realm of magic, opulence—and captivity—he learns at last what it is to be truly human. When he returns to his home with the Queen’s parting gift, his great task will be to seek out the girl he loved and wronged, and offer her at last the tongue that cannot lie.

divider1

Stephen King – Wolves of the Calla (The Dark Tower #5)

Oh man, The Dark Tower has been with me since I was in my teens. I kind of like spreading out this epic series over many years. But the boyfriend (who finished the entire series in a few weeks after I gave him The Gunslinger) keeps pestering me. He wants me to finish it so we can discuss All The Spoilers. Somehow, I got in the mood again to return to my favorite ka-tet.

wolves of the callaRoland Deschain and his ka-tet are bearing south-east through the forests of Mid-World on their quest for the Dark Tower. Their path takes them to the outskirts of Calla Bryn Sturgis. But beyond the tranquil farm town, the ground rises to the hulking darkness of Thunderclap, the source of a terrible affliction that is stealing the town’s soul. The wolves of Thunderclap and their unspeakable depredation are coming. To resist them is to risk all, but these are odds the gunslingers are used to. Their guns, however, will not be enough…

divider1

Sarah Monette – Mélusine

My one big hope for this year’s Hugos is that The Goblin Emperor takes home the award for best novel. I loved that book so, so much! As I’ve owned a paperback copy of  Mélusine for over a decade, I thought it was time to finally read more by Katherine Addison/Sarah Monette. This sounds dark and tragic and absolutely wonderful (despite the cover).

melusineMélusine — a city of secrets and lies, pleasure and pain, magic and corruption — and destinies lost and found.
Felix Harrowgate is a dashing, highly respected wizard. But his aristocratic peers don’t know his dark past — how his abusive former master enslaved him, body and soul, and trained him to pass as a nobleman. Within the walls of the Mirador — Melusine’s citadel of power and wizardry — Felix believed he was safe. He was wrong. Now, the horrors of his previous life have found him and threaten to destroy all he has since become.
Mildmay the Fox is used to being hunted. Raised as a kept-thief and trained as an assassin, he escaped his Keeper long ago and lives on his own as a cat burglar. But now he has been caught by a mysterious foreign wizard using a powerful calling charm. And yet the wizard was looking not for Mildmay — but for Felix Harrowgate.” Thrown together by fate, the broken wizard Felix and the wanted killer Mildmay journey far from Melusine through lands thick with strange magics and terrible demons of darkness. But it is the shocking secret from their pasts, linking them inexorably together, that will either save them, or destroy them.

divider1

Zen Cho – Sorcerer to the Crown (Sorcerer Royal #1)

Aaaaaah, I got a review copy of this and I’m so excited! Zen Cho’s novella The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo wasn’t a great hit with me, but mostly because it was too short. I loved the language and just wanted more time to get to know the characters. Now Cho has written a novel which promises all those things. Plus magic.

sorcerer to the crownIn this sparkling debut, magic and mayhem clash with the British elite…
The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn’t even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England’s once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession…
At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

divider1

Fran Wilde – Updraft

Another review copy! I actually really dislike the cover but I’ve been hearing so many great things from early readers that I couldn’t resist. The story sounds ambitious and intriguing. Having never read anything by Fran Wilde, I’m curious how this will turn out.

updraftIn a city of living bone rising high above the clouds, where danger hides in the wind and the ground is lost to legend, a young woman must expose a dangerous secret to save everyone she loves.
Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.
Kirit Densira cannot wait to pass her wingtest and begin flying as a trader by her mother’s side, being in service to her beloved home tower and exploring the skies beyond. When Kirit inadvertently breaks Tower Law, the city’s secretive governing body, the Singers, demand that she become one of them instead. In an attempt to save her family from greater censure, Kirit must give up her dreams to throw herself into the dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City.
As she grows in knowledge and power, she starts to uncover the depths of Spire secrets. Kirit begins to doubt her world and its unassailable Laws, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to a haunting choice, and may well change the city forever—if it isn’t destroyed outright.

divider1

Now I’m only hoping that my current reading mood persists and I can catch up on everything I missed in July. Seriously, I only read two books in July. TWO! But August looks to be a quiet month at work so I’m hoping I will find enough time to read all these beauties up there.

Monthly Wrap-Up: November 2013

Happy first of December everyone! This year’s Christmas frenzy marks the spot where I finally got back to normal reading speed. I finally found the time to read more again and discovered some great books on the way. In other geekiness, my boyfriend and I have been watching Doctor Who non-stop for the last week (“our” first doctor was Matt Smith and we wanted to see what the others were like) and we are loving it.
Starting today, I am participating in Carl’s 2014 Sci-Fi Experience, a two-month celebration of all things science fiction. My first book for the Experience is almost read (I’ll spoil: It’s Wesley Chu’s The Lives of Tao) and because it is so much fun, I can’t wait to read more science fiction during December and January.
But now, on to the books I’ve read in November and how I liked them. As always, click on the title will lead you to my full review.

Books read: 7
Pages read: 2398
Series started: Tao, Paradox, Patternist
Series continued: Discworld
Series finished:

divider1
THE BEST

Octavia E. Butler – Wild Seed  8,5/10

wild seedAs a science fiction and fantasy lover, I’m surprised it took me this long to discover Octavia Butler. But the internet didn’t lie – she truly is amazing. This is the story of two immortals, Anyanwu and Doro. Doro is a tyrant who uses humans for his own breeding program, Anyanwu is the only other immortal he has ever met and has powers of her own.
Apart from the gripping story, I was deeply impressed and taken with how these two characters balance out and how they wage an emotional war against each other.  I can’t wait to continue reading the Patternist series and find out what becomes of Anyanwu.

Rachel Bach – Fortune’s Pawn  8/10

fortunes pawnThis was so much fun! Devi is a mercenary who is hired as security on a space ship cursed with bad luck. Not only does she have to deal with the sexy cook, she tumbles into a mystery much bigger than she ever expected. Space ships, aliens, fantastic action scenes and a bit of romance – you will find all of this here. Fortune’s Pawn is a light, fun, action-packed read with an endearing heroine who knows what she wants, who is clever but kind. I almost regret reading it so soon. The publication of the next volume (February 2014) seems very far away at this moment.

Terry Pratchett – Men at Arms  8/10

men at arms1I know, I know. My blog is beeing flooded by Terry Pratchett love but I can’t help it. I dare you to find your way into Discworld and stop reading after a book or two. Being a fan of the witches, I kept one last novel in their sub-series to look forward to and started reading the City Watch books instead. Commander Vimes is gruff but good-hearted, Carrot is too good to be true (but you just have to love him. All of Ankh-Morpork does, too!) and I particularly liked the new recruits, first and foremost Angua, the werewolf. I loved her right from the start and I think she makes a great addition to the Night Watch, not just because she is a woman, but because she adds a layer of complications to the entire sub-series.

divider1
THE WORST

Yay! No bad books this month.

divider1
THE REST

Terry Pratchett – Guards! Guards!  7/10

guards guardsThis was a re-read for me (or rather: re-listen) because I first read the book 10 years ago and didn’t remember much about it. Because the Night Watch books are next on my Discworld reading schedule, I thought I’d remind myself of who is who. Captain Vimes was never supposed to be the hero of these stories (Carrot was) but he steals the show wherever he goes. This drunk, depressed Captain of the Night Watch has low self-esteem and doesn’t really know why he’s doing his job anymore. But when a dragon shows up and devastates Ankh-Morpork, somebody has to step in. And believe me, it’s wonderful when Vimes and his guards do.
Not my favorite Discworld novel and, because it is one of the earlier ones, not as subtly clever as the later books, but still great fun and silliness. And it has Errol, the swamp dragon, which gives it a couple of brownie points.

Stephen King – The Shining  7/10

shiningI started reading this on Halloween because everybody needs a bit of creepiness around that time. As with so many Stephen King books, the monsters didn’t get to me that much. But the humans did! I will never understand how people dismiss King’s books. Few other authors do characterisation as well as he does. His characters come to life and, because they feel so real, the things they do seem all the more disturbing. I felt especially sorry for Danny, the child, and will try and read Doctor Sleep soon. Whatever happened to that kid after the events of The Shining, he must now be one messed-up man…

Jodi Lynn Anderson – Tiger Lily  7/10

tiger lilyI have an obsession with Peter Pan. Retellings, spin-offs, sequels and prequels are judged extremely harshly by me because how dare anyone ruin one of my favorite children’s stories ever? Anderson takes a look at one of the side characters who don’t get much attention. Tiger Lily had a life before Peter Pan and Wendy. It was the life of an outsider, in a village filled with prejudice and fear. Considering how quiet a book this was, there was a lot going on. We do get to see Peter (although he is nothing like the original) and the pirates, but we also get Englishmen trying to convert Tiger Lily’s tribe to Christianity and all that this ensues.
My favorite part was that Tinker Bell narrates the story. Her personality (again, very different from the original) is what kept me going, her emotions got to me and made me read on. This is not a riveting adventure story. It is a character study and a coming-of-age tale that, and while I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, I enjoyed it.

Susan Cooper – Seaward  6/10

seawardHere’s a rare occasion. A book I read but didn’t review. At first I thought, I have nothing to say about this, how can I write a review that’s more than 20 words long? Now I feel that I do have some things to say about it. I didn’t love it. But I didn’t dislike it either. What bothered me the most was how fast things happened. There was no time for exploring the repercussions of the events, everything happened bam-bam-bam without room for emotional growth. But all things considered, it is a beautiful children’s story. Meh… maybe I’ll end up writing more about it during the holidays.
At this point, I think I should have read this as a child to fully appreciate it. As an adult, it didn’t quite convince me.

divider1
WHAT I’M READING IN DECEMBER:

  • Wesley Chu – The Lives of Tao
  • Mark Helprin – Winter’s Tale
  • Terry Pratchett – Feet of Clay
  • Space Opera (one of these:)
    • Iain M. Banks – Consider Phlebas
    • Timothy Zahn – Heir to the Empire
    • David Weber – A Beautiful Friendship

Stephen King – The Shining

I’m very, very late to the party with Stephen King’s The Shining. Having never seen the movie (though I did know key scenes and, thusly, spoilers) I didn’t really know what was coming. In truth, I expected an almost classic haunted house story with lots of squeaking floorboards and tricky mirrors. I should have known better. Stephen King is, after all, a master of character study. And that was the book’s strength: it’s characters.

shiningTHE SHINING
by Stephen King

Published by: Hodder, 2007 (1977)
ISBN: 0340951397
Paperback: 497 pages
Series: The Shining #1
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: Jack Tor­rance thought: Of­fi­cious lit­tle prick.

First published in 1977, The Shining quickly became a benchmark in the literary career of Stephen King. This tale of a troubled man hired to care for a remote mountain resort over the winter, his loyal wife, and their uniquely gifted son slowly but steadily unfolds as secrets from the Overlook Hotel’s past are revealed, and the hotel itself attempts to claim the very souls of the Torrence family. Adapted into a cinematic masterpiece of horror by legendary Stanley Kubrick — featuring an unforgettable performance by a demonic Jack Nicholson –The Shining stands as a cultural icon of modern horror, a searing study of a family torn apart, and a nightmarish glimpse into the dark recesses of human weakness and dementia.

divider1
This is one of those books that need no introduction. Everybody at least knows something about it, if only that famous scene from the movie adaptation “Heeeere’s Johnny!”. That and a few other scenes (creepy twins, anyone?) were everything I knew prior to reading this. I evaded the movie successfully for many years because I am one of those people. The ones that want to read the book first. Even from the little bit I knew about the movie, I can tell that the book tells quite another story.

Jack Torrance is hired as caretaker of the Overlook hotel, a place that will be snowed in during winter, limiting outside communication to the radio. The book’s beginning was great in many ways. We are introduced to the hotel and some of its history by the current manager, a despicable guy named Mr. Ullman. And Stephen King does despicable so, so well. At the same time, we get to know the characters and what has brought them to this godforsaken place in the mountains.

I don’t normally like reading books about alcoholics. I couldn’t tell you why. There is no history of alcoholism in my family, I’m not traumatised by bad experiences, I just find characters whose one defining characteristic is their addiction to booze pretty boring. But Jack Torrance, despite being a recovering alcoholic, is much more than that. He is a devoted father, he is scared by his own outbursts of violence, and he does love his wife, Wendy.

Stephen King grants us glimpses into each of their heads, as well as Mr. Halloran, the cook’s. I can’t say I disliked any of these characters. Sure, they all have flaws – some worse than others – but they felt so real that I couldn’t simply dismiss any one of them as The Villain or The Good Guy. Danny in particular got to me. At five years old, he is precocious and eager to learn, and also cursed with the Shining. Sometimes he can almost read minds, he certainly picks up on people’s feelings, and his imaginary friend Tony shows him visions of the future. They don’t always come true, but from the moment the story starts, you get a feeling that one particular vision will happen…

redrum

I read this for Halloween because, as we don’t celebrate that holiday here, it’s pretty much the only way I can get in the mood. Read scary books, watch horror movies. That said, the horror element left me rather cold. When it comes to movies, I’m a scaredy-cat. I jump at shadows, I try to guess from the music and background where the next ghost/zombie/demon will jump out to make me shriek – and I still shriek every time.

Stephen King’s stories, to me, are horror much more in the sense that they show what actual humans are capable of doing to each other. The monsters don’t bug me, at least on the page. Subtle things – a door ajar when a second before it was closed, a painting hanging crooked on the wall – do give me the chills, and there was a little bit of that in The Shining. But the truly scary moments came when that hotel invaded people’s minds and made them do horrible things.

I had no idea how this was going to end, despite Danny’s precognition. Some parts can be guessed but a lot of threads are left open and keep up the suspense until the very end. Now that there’s a sequel out (Doctor Sleep) I am looking forward to reading it. Everybody knows Danny survives because the sequel is about him. And boy, that kid must be fuck up beyond belief. Having the Shining would be enough to unsettle the most psychologically stable person, being through this hell is quite another thing. All of that considered, the ending was beautiful. Well rounded and with a glimmer of hope for the future, it delivered on all the things that are most important to me in books. Character development and believability. Well done, Mr. King. Well done, indeed.

MY RATING: 7/10  –  Very good.

divider1

Books in the Queue – The Currently Reading Edition

Hello, fellow lovers of books. This month I believe I have taken on a bit too much. What with various challenges, my ever-changing mood and the poor books that have been queueing for a while, my current Books in the Queue is almost identical to my Currently Reading list.

China Miéville – Un Lun Dun (finished March 9th)

un lun dunChina Miéville is the guy I would like to have discovered when I was a teenager. I’m not sure my 14-year-old self would have made it through Perdido Street Station, but this young adult novel is just so  much fun. I picked it up because I wanted a nice big book that I could nibble at a little each night (and it’s on my TBR-challenge list). A mere couple of days later, I find I’m halfway done with the book. What? How did that happen? So I’m reading what feels like a little every day and just having fun discovering UnLondon. I am especially in love with the sentient empty milk carton, Curdle.

dividerJuliet Marillier – Daughter of the Forest (finished 19th March 2013)

daughter of the forest1I have owned this book for so long, I can’t even remember. A few days ago, I finally picked it up (again, that TBR-challenge got to me) and found myself liking it quite a bit. I notice that I am reading this very slowly. I had a few hours at my disposal on the weekend and read, and read, and read. In the end, I saw that I had gotten about 50 pages into the book. It’s the opposite Miéville effect. That said, I really don’t mind. I like large books that slowly build an entire world and let me get into the characters’ heads. Sorcha, the protagonist, is a likable young girl, whom I enjoy following around. I am looking forward to the part where The Six Swans retelling begins, though. Also, I find myself looking for good music to go along with this book. It feels like it needs a soundtrack… any recommendations?

divider

Martha Wells – Emilie and the Hollow World (finished 29th March 2013)

emilie and the hollow worldI got an e-ARC of this and have been reading on and off in it for several weeks. For a short book, it’s taking me an enormous amount of time. And it’s not bad at all. Emilie runs away from home to catch a ship to her cousin’s place. She ends up on the wrong ship and has to join an expedition to the inside of the Earth (vie aether current). I enjoy the adventure quite a bit. My only problem was that Emilie, in my mind, is about 12 years old and behaves as such, but in the book, it is said she is 16. I’m just ignoring the author and imagining my 12-year-old anyway. Right now, I’m about halfway through this Jules Verne-esque YA adventure book.

divider

Here’s the actually queueing books (that I haven’t started)

Caitlín R. Kiernan – The Red Tree

red treeWhy do I want to read this? If you haven’t read my gushing review of The Drowning Girl, you won’t know how much I need to read another one of this author’s books. I have no idea what this one is about (and I don’t need to), except that there is another unreliable narrator. And I do love me some of those. If Caitlín Kiernan’s books are at all alike in style, theme, or darkness level, I believe I have a new favorite author on my hands. An author I would never have picked up because I find the covers unappealing. Thank you, Worlds Without End.

divider

Dubravka Ugrešić – Baba Yaga Laid an Egg

baba yaga laid an egWhy do I want to read this? It’s all Catherynne M. Valente’s fault, really. She tore my heart out with Deathless and gave me a taste of Russian mythology. Ever since I read Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana,  I wanted to learn more about rusalki. Then Cat Valente comes along and introduces me to Baba Yaga. I now know that I have been missing out on Russian fairy tales for a long time. I will start my journey of discovering Russian mythology with this book here. I heard very mixed things about it and am not sure at all that I will like it – but I’ll give it a shot.

divider

And the rest…

You may think these aren’t all that many books, right? But of course, I’m still trying to read as many of the Nebula nominees as I can fit into my free time (I do have that annoying time killer called work to think about, after all. Plus another semester at university.) as well as some other books I’ve started and am somewhere in the middle of:

  • Connie Willis – Blackout
  • Tina Connolly – Ironskin
  • John Crowley – Engine Summer (finished April 21st)
  • Meljean Brook – The Iron Duke
  • Stephen King – Wolves of the Calla
  • Leo – Betelgeuse (The Worlds of Aldebaran cycle 2) (finished April 19th)

Other than that, I still have a lot of catching up to do for my older Books in the Queue. Patrick Ness’ Monsters of Men is eagerly awaiting to be read, Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone has been jumping at me for months now, Jean-Cristophe Valtat’s Aurorarama just looks at me with sad puppy eyes from my shelf. And I won’t even mention The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood (edit: Ha! Finished it. It was awesome.). It gives me a serious case of guilty conscience for being in my late twenties and not having read it yet.

Stephen King – Wizard and Glass

When I first found out about this series, I wanted to read it all in one go. And then I found out that Stephen King built a whole universe around this series – in his other fiction. So I decided to take it a bit more slowly and delve into other King books as well. So far, reading any Stephen King has paid off, and some books have fairly obvious references to the Dark Tower series that made me giggle as if I’d found an easter egg. Nowadays, it’s all on the internet, easy to be found. Which doesn’t make the hunt any less thrilling.

WIZARD AND GLASS
by Stephen King

published: New English Library 2003 (1997)
ISBN:0340829788
pages: 845
copy: paperback
series: The Dark Tower #4

my rating: 9/10

first sentence: “ASK ME A RIDDLE,” Blaine invited. “Fuck you,” Roland said.

Wizard and Glass picks up where the last book left off, with our hero, Roland, and his unlikely band of followers escaping from one world and slipping into the next. And it is there that Roland tells them a story, one that details his discovery of something even more elusive than the Dark Tower: love. But his romance with the beautiful and quixotic Susan Delgado also has its dangers, as her world is tom apart by war. Here is Roland’s journey to his own past, to a time when valuable lessons awaited him, lessons of loyalty and betrayal, love and loss.

And the broken record continues. This is awesome!
This book differs a lot from the others in the series, because 90% of it are a flashback into Roland’s past. 14-year-old Roland is sent to Mejis with his friends Alain and Cuthbert – both of which I came to love very easily. It is in a small town called Hambry that he doesn’t only discover first love but also a plot that could threaten his own home and people.  One might think that after the enormous cliffhanger of book three, I’d be annoyed that we only spend enough time with Eddie, Jake and Susannah to get them settled around a fire where Roland can tell his tale. But, to be honest, I got so drawn into Roland’s past and this new cast of characters that I wouldn’t have minded reading another book solely about Roland’s former ka-tet.

While our well-known (and more and more beloved) characters still feature in this novel, we are introduced to a lot of new ones. New for us readers, not for Roland. His first love, Susan Delgado, the extremely scary with Rhea (I shudder to think of her), the despicable aunt Cord, or the Big Coffin Hunters – they all come to life on the pages of this novel and manage to evoke some emotional response from be, be it fear, disgust, compassion of love. In a flashback told by the progatonist, you can be sure he’ll survive. This does not mean, however, that there wasn’t a myriad of moments where I feared for him and his companions. King is truly the master of suspense!

We do learn new things about the quest to the Tower, despite spending most of the novel in the past. The new themes and ideas were mindblowing and kept me hooked for hundreds of pages at a time. I keep my reviews spoiler-free, so all I’m going to say is that the title of this instalment in the series is well chosen.The flashback also made Roland more human to me. While in the first book he comes of as this perfect hero without much going for him except his obsession for the Tower, he has grown more likable and more real in subsequent novels. After this, I care for him as much as I do for Jake and Oy (he’s still my favorite) and Eddie and Susannah. In my reader’s heart, this is the book that cements them as ka-tet.

Roland and Susan (art by Jae Lee)

What surprised me was how beautifully the love story was told. Sure, Stephen King is great at shocking and scaring his audience, but I know believe that he could write anything he sets his mind to. I was drawn into Roland’s love story, I completely understood how his 14-year-old heart could beat for nothing but his beloved and how preoccupied a teenage mind gets when in love. Despite King’s worries in the afterworld, I think he’s done an extraordinary job and written a better love story than many romance authors manage.

After Roland has finished telling his story, we do shortly return to our present day ka-tet. And they deliver one of the most awesome show-downs I can remember. There is no mean cliffhanger this time but I loved how King decided to weave in more references to literature and pop culture. He manages to conjure up childhood memories and scenes from famous books and twist them so they’re utterly scarey and make you feel just as frightened as Eddie, Jake, and Susanah. I also feel the urge to read The Stand very soon because it is the novel that feeds most heavily into this part of the Dark Tower series.

Stephen King’s afterword is well worth reading as well. He is not just a brilliant writer but he’s also so damn likable! In my opinion (and it may only last until I’ve read the next book) this is the best novel in the series so far.

THE GOOD: New characters, an amazing story that gives Roland more personality and keeps you hooked on every page. A beautiful love story and an awesome ending.
THE BAD: There is one passage that got drawn out a bit too long for my taste.
THE VERDICT: Yet another fantastic instalment in this series. I am growing fonder and fonter of the story, the characters and the quest for the Dark Tower. More please!

RATING: 9/10 Pretty close to perfection!

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

Related Posts:

Other Reviews:

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.

THE WASTE LANDS
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:

Stephen King – The Drawing of the Three

So, book one wasn’t the revelation I hoped it would be. But listening to all the good advice people gave me, I dove straight into book 2 of the Dark Tower series. It was a fast ride and I arrived at the end, excited and intoxicated by King’s storytelling abilities, thinking: Now that’s more like it!

THE DRAWING OF THE THREE
by Stephen King

published: New English Library, 2003 (1987)
ISBN:0340829761
pages: 455
copy: paperback
series: The Dark Tower #2

my rating: 8/10

first sentence: The gunslinger came awake from a confused dream which seemed to consist of a single image: that of the Sailor in the Tarot deck from which the Black man had dealt (or purported to deal) the gunslinger’s own moaning future.

SPOILERS FOR BOOK ONE AHEAD!

While pursuing his quest for the Dark Tower through a world that is a nightmarishly distorted mirror image of our own, Roland, The Last Gunslinger, is drawn through a mysterious door that brings him into contemporary America. Here he links forces with the defiant young Eddie Dean, and with the beautiful, brilliant, and brave Odetta Holmes, in a savage struggle against underworld evil and otherworldly enemies.

Roland doesn’t only wake up with the memories of his Tarot hand in mind, he is also welcomed on the beach by giant lobster-like creatures that are as frightening as they are aggressive. Injured and sick, he drags himself away from these lobstrosities, only to find a door standing freely on the sand. Above it, the word Prisoner is written. When Roland opens that door, we first get to meet Eddie Dean, a junkie in our New York city who has demons of his own to fight…

I am a fan of well-structured  novels. Does Stephen King structure them too much at times? Yes, he does. But in this case, each of the three doors gets its own part of the novel which focuses on each character we meet beyond these doors. Eddie Dean, as messed up as he is, immediately became a favorite of mine. The way his modern day attitude mixes with Roland’s strange Mid-Land ways made for a compelling dynamic between the two. Odette/Detta was much harder for me to like, mainly because of her peculiuar problem. What a foul-mouthed bitch!

What I loved about this book is not only that it brings some of the well-known Stephen King suspense with it but that it actually contains somewhat of a mystery/crime-solving vibe. We are fed little tidbits of information that give us an idea of how these people’s lives might be connected but it’s only at the end that the bigger pictuer is revealed. And while it’s rather easy to guess, King’s writing still made it interesting and gave this story a new thrill. I read this book in about half the time it took me to get through The Gunslinger and it has twice as many pages.

For me, this book was a lot more coherent and gave me a plot to follow, rather than contorted images of memories in Roland’s head or episodic events happening on a walk through the desert. Maybe that means I like “simpler” novels, I don’t know. But even without knowing that this is still the beginning of a much larger story, The Drawing of the Three was a hugely fun book to read. For anyone who gives up mid-Gunslinger, don’t worry. Read this one first and go back to volume one later. Or leave it out completely (eventually, you’ll want to read it, trust me).

This is what made me understand the hype about this series. I may not have read all the books in one go but I certainly had the urge to, and Roland, Eddie and Susannah have been in the back of my mind quite a lot, especially when reading something else that was not as much of a page-turner.

THE GOOD: Suspense, great writing, interesting and troubled characters, and above all: the looming image of the Dark Tower…
THE BAD: Due to the strucuture, you can see what’s coming. Sometimes, King takes a little too long to get on with the story.
THE VERDICT: Highly recommended! This will get you into the Dark Tower craze and it also happens to be an excellent summer book.

RATING: 8/10  Eight excellent doors on a beach

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

Stephen King – The Gunslinger

I read this book years ago and, like many people, wasn’t too impressed. It’s short for a Stephen King book and doesn’t really give you an idea yet of how big a story is starting with the black man fleeing across the desert and the gunslinger following…

THE GUNSLINGER
by Stephen King

published: New English Library 2003 (1982)
ISBN:0340829753
pages: 328
copy: paperback
series: The Dark Tower #1

my rating: 6,5/10

first sentence: The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

In the first book of this brilliant series, Stephen King introduces readers to one of his most enigmatic heroes, Roland of Gilead, The Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting figure, a loner on a spellbinding journey into good and evil. In his desolate world, which frighteningly mirrors our own, Roland pursues The Man in Black, encounters an alluring woman named Alice, and begins a friendship with the Kid from Earth called Jake. Both grippingly realistic and eerily dreamlike, The Gunslinger leaves readers eagerly awaiting the next chapter.

From the very first sentence, I could feel that this was the beginning of a big, epic story. Even without the knowledge of six (by now seven) books to follow, you sense it between the lines, in the way Roland behaves and from the memories he shares. The desert is a rather empty place and the only thing we know about Roland in the beginning is that he needs to catch this man in black.

As plot goes, I didn’t like this book too much. Stephen King delivers his usual very short chapters – sometimes even just one line – which keeps you going more easily, but the lack of things happenening made this a surprisingly hard read to me. I think now that I’ve read a few more volumes in the series, I’d love to go back and revisit the beginning. But being thrown into that universe, not really knowing what is going on, where we are, who the hell Roland is anyway and why he’s so obsessed with the Tower, made it hard for me to be engaged in the story.

That said, Stephen King’s style (and I sound like a broken record here) leaves nothing to be desired. He finds the right balance between descriptions and the characters’ inner conflict, of dialogue and action. Not everybody likes short chapters, I find they keep me reading faster and longer. If you know that the chapter will end very soon, you’re more likely to push through those few pages, only to find that something really awesome happened – which sends you right into the next chapter.

As I’ve mentioned, we don’t learn a lot about the Tower or Roland’s past yet but there is one flashback that was the best part of the entire book to me. Suddenly I was gripped and cared about Roland and couldn’t put the book down. That passage was wonderful but ended too quickly. My boyfriend just read this book a couple of months ago and is now well into the series. Book one is still his favorite – I guess that shows it’s really a matter of taste, not of the author’s talent. Which, in my humble opionion, is indisputable.

So I guess it’s the start of The Dark Tower series and you have to get through this one to get to the really good bits. I will probably re-read this novel after I’m done with the series because I suspect that Stephen King already knew very well where the story was going and put a lot of deeper meaning into his first volume than we think. This toying with readers’ expectations is a great thing, in my opinion, but it usually works better when you do it with a chapter, not an entire book.

THE GOOD: Fantastic writing, the epic beginning of a larger plot, worth it just for the flashback.
THE BAD: Really slow at times and hinting at many things the readers can’t understand yet. Gets frustrating.
THE VERDICT: Worth it! Read this book and be amazed at the worlds between volumes one and two. If you don’t get sucked into the story, don’t give up until you’ve met Eddie.

RATING: 6,5/10   A good book, leaning on very good

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

Stephen King – It

Whew! This has been quite a journey. It took me the better part of a year to read this book. I devoured 500 pages in two days, then set it aside for months at a time. Which does not mean it was a bad read or got boring, but it’s a lot to take in at once. And Stephen King’s masterful story-telling made it very easy to remember even the smallest details of something read half a year ago. It creeped me out, it made me laugh, it made me cry – the Master did it again!

 IT
by Stephen King

published in: 1986
by: Viking
pages: 1376
copy: paperback (huge!)

My rating: 8/10

First sentence: The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years – if it ever did end – began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter shell swollen with rain.

Anyone who has seen the movie – and who hasn’t? – will be familiar with the basic plot of this chunky King story. It, a strange force usually appearing as Pennywise the clown (though It has a range of other creepy shapes) is wreaking havoc on the little town of Derry, Maine. Children disappear, are killed brutally, and nobody seems to know what’s behind the killings. Except for a group of child misfits who know that Derry is being haunted by a monster. Apart from running from bullies, trying to stay alive and simply being children, they decide to destroy It, no matter what.

Stephen King’s ability to make characters, especially children, come to life, is uncanny. I’ve said many times that my favorite aspect of his books is the way he talks about childhood friends. But it’s not just that romantic 50ies playing-out-in-the-sun, riding a bike, and secretly smoking kind of thing that I enjoy reading. Every single person in this story seems to leap off the page with a life of their own. Stuttering Bill, fat Ben Hanscom, Eddie with his aspirator, and beautiful Beverly Marsh, along with the rest of the Losers’ Club and the bullies and side-characters, seemed so utterly real that it made the events of the story all the more scary.

Which leads me to the horror bit. I’m not one to be scared by monsters but I do admit a dancing demon clown is not my favorite subject to dream about. What scared the living daylights out of me, though, was the very human horror. Patrick Hockstetter’s story managed to make me cry in desperation, shake my head in disbelief and run to get a hug from my significant other because I felt so scared. So yes, It may be ablet to look like a werewolf or a leper or a clown with razor teeth, but It acted through humans and it was those actions that made this a true horror novel for me.

I feel silly trying to judge Stephen King’s writing. It’s impeccable, it grabs you and keeps you hooked. The ending held a few surprises for me so if you’ve seen the movie, don’t be put off – the book is bigger, not only in pages, but in scope and backstory. And it’s well worth the read.

THE GOOD: Well written, fantastic characters and great creepy moments.
THE BAD: It’s a big commitment. If you don’t want to read 1500 pages in one go, do it like me and put it aside for a while.
THE VERDICT: Essential Stephen King, I also suspect a lot of connections to the Dark Tower series.

MY RATING: 8/10