written by: Stephen King
Synopsis: After his confrontation with the man in black at the end of The Gunslinger, Roland awakes to find three doors on the beach of Mid-World's Western Sea—each leading to New York City but at three different moments in time. Through these doors, Roland must "draw" three figures crucial to his quest for the Dark Tower. In 1987, he finds Eddie Dean, The Prisoner, a heroin addict. In 1964, he meets Odetta Holmes, the Lady of Shadows, a young African-American heiress who lost her lower legs in a subway accident and gained a second personality that rages within her. And in 1977, he encounters Jack Mort, Death, a pusher responsible for cruelties beyond imagining. Has Roland found new companions to form the ka-tet of his quest? Or has he unleashed something else entirely?
Since this is the second book in the series you can expect a certain amount of spoilers from the first book. Also, you should go read my review of The Gunslinger (book #1).
"There were too many shaky hands holding lighters near too many fuses. This was no world for Gunslingers. If there had been a time for them, it had passed"
The first book was something of an enigma to me. The basic plot was straight-forward enough, but I spent the whole time trying to decipher the hints and teasers for the rest of the series. Because it's definitely the kind of book you come back to after completing the series only to go "of course! How did I not see that before!" In any case, I spent the whole book wondering and questioning everything, which was great but also kind of exhausting. This book on the other hand is a lot more grounded in the current action and a lot less fantasy based. I mean, as less fantastical as a book with "lobstrosities" (lobster like menaces) and doors to different time periods in New York can be.
And the doors to New York are awesome. One of the things I loved most about this book is the world-jumping. I'm still not sure where/when this series is set, it could be a future Earth or a parallel Earth or something completely different* - but one thing is for sure, it's a world apart from what we know, and our world is as alien to Roland as his is to us. When Roland "jumps" from his world into another via one of the doors, he is struck by the unsettling differences and similarities between the worlds. He can understand what people are saying, most of the time. He can recognise certain items, but others are completely foreign to him. And because we spend most of the book in or around Roland's head it's just as unsettling for us since we hear his interpretation, and not what is actually said...if that makes even a lick of sense. It's like Chinese whispers, and it is a really effective way of forcing you into the dead centre of the narrative.
But the differences don't only exist for Roland. The three characters Roland finds through these three doors, Eddie, Odetta and Jack, are from three different decades in New York. This leads to some confusion and problems between them. References aren't always recognisable, words have different meanings and their priorities are worlds apart. It adds a whole different level to the story, instead of just wondering if the people from our world can survive in Roland's world (or with Roland), you begin to wonder if they can survive each other. Not that there's necessarily a level of danger between them (well...), but I found myself wondering if their chasm of differences would cause further problems down the trail. I really liked the three people Roland found through the doors. Or, well, no. I didn't like them like them, but I found them to be fascinating characters moulded and shaped by the version of the city that they call home. There's Eddie, a heroin addict in the late 1980s who is barely keeping his head above the waves. O/detta, a black woman with a split personality during the civil rights movement who is equal parts compassion and aggression. And Jack Mort, a villainous psychopath in the vein of King's best creeps. Jack's section of the story just gave me the heebies the whole time - but the way his part ties into the rest of the narrative was magnificent. You're meant to hate Jack Mort, feel conflicted about Odetta and feel connected to Eddie. Although, it is possible I only feel a connection for Eddie because he reminds me so much of Jesse off Breaking Bad (which is hardly a bad thing), but aside from Roland he's the most fleshed out of the characters in this book and he quickly became my favourite of the three.
And Roland. Poor, tough, sweet Roland. It is ridiculous how much I like the guy. He's the quintessential lone cowboy; tortured soul, rough past, in built sense of justice, travelling alone but craving company, knows that the right thing will probably result in his death or the death of the ones he loves but continues anyway. *sigh* I just really, really care about him, and in this book he spends much of it close to death after an attack by a lobstrosity so I spent a lot of the book with my hand to my mouth stressing out. I was a little worried that with him so weak and ill the narrative would grind to a halt, but since he exists inside Eddie/Odetta/Jack in their worlds and doesn't rely on his actual physical strength we get to see him thinking and acting fast, forging connections (somewhat badly at times) with the three, and being comically out of step with the world around him.
This book is really hard to review because I feel like there's so much more to mention, but it all needs so much explanation and what I've tried to explain, I've explained badly. And yet, none of it is discussed extensively or with lengthy exposition scenes in the actual book. That's part of King's success as a writer, and not just in this series. He's able to create complicated worlds with extensive rules which you understand almost instinctively. I know I hark on about how great Stephen King is every time I review one of his books, but the guy deserves way more respect than he's ever given. And this series just really, really pushes that point home. Truth.
*I just know those of you who've read the series are laughing at my dismal attempts to decipher the book!