Synopsis: In 1978, Stephen King introduced the world to the last gunslinger, Roland of Gilead. Nothing has been the same since. More than twenty years later, the quest for the Dark Tower continues to take readers on a wildly epic ride. Through parallel worlds and across time, Roland must brave desolate wastelands and endless deserts, drifting into the unimaginable and the familiar. A classic tale of colossal scope—crossing over terrain from The Stand, The Eyes of the Dragon, Insomnia, The Talisman, Black House,Hearts in Atlantis, ’Salem’s Lot, and other familiar King haunts—the adventure takes hold with the turn of each page.
And the Tower awaits....
Roland and his band of followers have narrowly escaped one world and slipped into the next. There Roland tells them a tale of long-ago love and adventure involving a beautiful and quixotic woman named Susan Delgado. And there they will be drawn into an ancient mystery of spellbinding magic and supreme menace.
Wizard and Glass is a strange book. It especially seems strange when one considers the fact that it is the middle piece in the Dark Tower series -- the middle of a series typically being when the action starts to really pick up and the story throttles toward the climax. That isn't always the case, of course, but it often is that way. Wizard and Glass is a different animal, though. It almost completely brings the forward momentum of The Waste Lands to a grinding halt, and instead focuses on a flashback to Roland's childhood, as told around a campfire late into the night. Seriously. 500 or so of this book's pages are devoted to a tragic love story of Roland's youth. It shouldn't work, but it does . . . for the most part.
The Waste Lands, the previous book in the Dark Tower cycle, left its readers on a serious cliff-hanger: the five members of the ka-tet riding the suicidal monorail named Blaine (what a fun character he is!) and the only way they can save their skins is through riddling. If they manage to ask a riddle that stumps Blaine the Mono (run by all the computer programs in the waste land that is Lud), he lets them go. If they can't, they die. Simple as that. The Waste Lands ended when the riddling contest was beginning, and King left his readership hanging for six long years. Holy moly. I am so glad I was not reading these books as they were published because the suspense would have killed me.
The first hundred or so pages deal with the riddling contest and, naturally, the ka-tet wins and Blaine the Mono holds up his end of the bargain. The group of travelers find themselves in a version of Kansas very similar to our own, but . . . not quite. (Connections to The Stand abound!) They soon hunker down for the night and Roland begins spinning his tale: the tale of a summer spent in Meijis, a small town far from his hometown, with his two friends. He soon meets Susan and falls in love, and the three boys discover the town government is corrupt. Epic shoot-outs occur, as well as apt commentary on politics and romance alike.
This is a good story. It's gripping from end to end, and it lets the reader in on why Roland is the way he is -- stoic and so dedicated to finding the Dark Tower. Wizard and Glass is a vital book in that sense, and without it the reader would not be able to sympathize with the series' lead the way he or she can in the final three novels. However, I do have a few complaints (but they aren't major, mind).
For one, as I mentioned before, this book brings a grinding halt to the momentum of the series. The ka-tet gets off Blaine the Mono, and that's about it for progress from book three to book four. I get the importance of Roland's story, but when King writes about Roland, Susannah, Eddie, Jake, and Oy, it's almost like he's spinning his wheels. I know this isn't an uncommon complaint; in fact, I see this issue brought up in almost every review of W & G I read. Sure, the time spent in Meijis is nice and the story is involving, but the Tower is calling . . . .
As well, I sometimes have trouble buying Roland and Susan's love story. They fall prey to something King rarely does, but when he does it's most likely taking place in a Dark Tower story: insta-love. These two meet one night, by chance, and instantly fall hard for each other. A good portion of the story deals with them sneaking around and having sex, which isn't that fun to read about. As well, I've always felt like Susan was a bit of a nothing character, a cipher, 2-D, et cetera. She is defined solely by the tragedies in her life and her hesitation to fall in love with Roland. She knows it's dangerous, but she can't help herself -- these questions and worries are what make up a good deal of her character, and I just don't feel like it's enough. I never feel like I really and truly get to know Susan, which is a shame because I like her on the surface.
Aside from those minor gripes, I really don't have a problem with Wizard and Glass. It's not my favorite in the series -- not by a long-shot -- but it isn't bad at all. In fact, this was my fourth reread and I think I like it more now than ever before. It's good if only for the long look the reader gets into Roland's life and what has driven him to become the man he is in the present day. The prose is some of King's best. Rhea of the Cöos is a hella fun villain. The battle scenes are nothing short of epic (with good doses of humor thrown in, mostly courtesy of Cuthbert). I have no real complaints, but I do think this one could have been trimmed down by a good hundred pages or so and nothing would have been lost.
The Tower draws nearer . . .