My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Be prepared for the longest flashback in literary history. I mean, it has to be. Almost the entire book is one large flashback that tells the formative tale of Roland’s life. It’s a strange direction for the Dark Tower series to go, but the writing is for the most part good and story interesting.
Imagine you’re a first time author pitching an agent or publisher. If you told them you were going to write a 750+ page book and 95% of it would be a long, drawn out flashback – they’d laugh you out of the office. If you’re Stephen King though, you can do pretty much whatever you want. I just wish that sometimes the author would keep things in perspective and think a bit harder on concepts that may or may not work as fiction.
Now that’s out of the way let’s discuss the actual material. If you can’t get past the weakness in the overall structure of the book (which I obviously have not) then try to view this book as separate from the Dark Tower series. The tale itself gives us background on the first adventure of Roland as an official gunslinger. Set out with his two companions Cuthbert and Alain on what’s supposed to be the equivalent of busy work, the ka-tet discovers an elaborate plot that must be rectified. Along the way Roland falls madly in love with Susan Delgado, who might just be distracting him from the monumental tasks at hand.
The story shapes into a sci-fi western with classic elements of gun play, chivalry, witchcraft, betrayal, romance, and tragedy. Like all the books in the Dark Tower series up until this point there are slow parts. King set out to write the longest novel ever written, and sometimes it really shows. The hokey use of dialogue (a staple in the Dark Tower series) wears on the reader and is a distraction from the plot at times. There are characters and plot points which come to play in later books so if you’re committed to the series then it must be read.
In sum, enjoy the sci-fi western tale, just don’t set yourself up for disappointment by hoping for a detailed story on the journey to the Dark Tower, like other books in the series.