The Dark Tower

It’s over. Seven books, two countries and just under four months later, I’ve finished Stephen King’s epic fantasy series – the one he sees as the axis on which all his other writing spins.

It was excellent.

NB: I’m going to try and write this without spoilers

After a rather disappointing sixth installment, the final book brought back a sense of adventure, cut down on obscure hard sci-fi-esque lexicon, and wrapped up one almighty quest.

I enjoyed the second half of the seventh book more and more. Although King sometimes seems to shy away from a genre outside of horror, (and the desire to ‘earth’ this story in reality is clear throughout the series) his fantasy writing is wonderful. Those final chapters demonstrate most clearly that the Dark Tower series is a fairytale at heart, albeit an extraordinarily long and complex one.

There are elements of the books I did not like. King’s meta-writing does become tedious, and doesn’t seem as necessary as he thinks it is. However, it does show just how much the Dark Tower has meant to him.

And disgust took over any interest or fear I had for much of book six.

There are, probably, too many characters. But the main ka-tet are so detailed that it feels like you know them; Susannah in particular is one of the best drawn and most interesting characters I’ve read in a while. And Roland, of course, is pretty unique as heroes go.

One of the best parts of the Dark Tower is the different societies and communities we come across. King does this in plenty of his other books too – he has a knack for local dialect and customs that ring with truth. While the number of words which require translation does grow over-large, there are some which sit nicely within the story, and serve to strengthen it.

This love affair with language runs through the repeated use of riddles, made-up brand names, songs and jingles. Playing with words this way certainly appeals to me. It makes you think harder, about meaning, and what it says about the people who use it in their speech.

And the ending made me immediately think about reading them all over again; a neat trick.

Long days and pleasant nights.

Books on location

It’s not often that I read books wih locations I’m familiar with; more because I don’t seek them out, not because they don’t exist.

But New York is the setting for so much popular culture – I recognise things I never knew that I knew. Streets, shops, even the way people walk.

This also includes books, and especially the series I’m currently reading, The Dark Tower. Large parts of these novels are set in New York and there’s a whole host of references which I know would have gone completely over my head before.

Now, I feel like I understand the story more completely, like I am sharing an inside joke with Stephen King. One of the central elements of the story is located really nearby; I walk down the same streets and it seems almost as if I could wander into the fictional universe.

This might be particularly enhanced due to King’s tendency to use regional brands, slang and businesses within his fiction. Anyway it’s definitely something I’ll look for in the future when choosing books.

The Stand

Just made it through my first Stephen King book, The Stand. On the whole, I really enjoyed it and the book definitely improved as you got further through.

Things I liked:
The setting up of a new society in a post-apocalyptic world (excellent)
Good character progression
Interesting theological threads
The journey across America

Things I didn’t:
The beginning. Too many people to keep track of, and too many dying in disgusting ways
Any of the characters at the beginning. Didn’t start caring about anyone till quite late on, which made it harder to read at the start
The way so many people almost saved themselves, but didn’t. (I realise this is good writing, to make me wish they would do different things, and makes them much more human etc.etc. but its still annoying)

All in all, it wasn’t as scary as I expected – the premise is horrifying in a very abstract way, and characters’ fear and confusion is described very well, but the fear didn’t translate to me. Except perhaps with the weasels.