I finished reading Stephen King’s The Wastelands (Book III in The Dark Towers series) on February 12, 2018. Here I am, on March 18, 2018, finally sitting down to write about it. I’m not sure what that means, except perhaps that I wasn’t feeling very compelled to get thoughts down right away. Usually, that means I was feeling rather “meh” about the title. When I absolutely love a book, I need to write about it right away. When I hate a book, I need to write about it right away. Lately, it seems I’ve read quite a few books that were middle of the road, and that’s unusual because I tend to pick well for myself. Of course, I might be blowing all of this out of proportion and simply ignoring the fact that I’m pretty damn busy teaching six classes this semester. Next week is spring break, so maybe I’ll finally get caught up on my own stuff.
Anyway, here’s what I can remember of The Wastelands. It is pretty weird. Even by the standards of Stephen King and this particularly weird fantasy series, The Waste Lands is weird. The last gunslinger, Roland, is back in action with his two new sidekicks from The Drawing of the Three (which I’m only now realizing I never reviewed?) They continue on the quest toward the Dark Tower, where Roland believes he will meet his fate. What this is exactly, remains unclear. The “villain” seems to have died back in the first book, The Gunslinger, but he remains a menacing figure throughout the series thus far. In addition, a new menace is revealed: a lingering technological sentience, a kind of senile artificial intelligence whose dementia, taking the form of an evil locomotive, is on a murder-suicide mission. The only thing standing in the way of this train and its quest to destroy the planet is The Gunslinger, his posse, and a book of riddles.
Sound weird, yet? Honestly, the premise is pretty ridiculous, and I say this as a devout King fan. He’s certainly imaginative. On the plus side, this book does manage a somewhat believable miracle which returns a favorite character from The Gunslinger to the plot line. I was not expecting this development, but it was wholly welcome because, honestly, he was the most interesting character in the series and I think the story needed him. To avoid spoilers, I’m walking a fine line in trying not to reveal anything about this character, but those who have read the first book in the series probably know to whom I am referring. That said, the characters “reanimation,” as it were, is pretty interestingly handled. It is certainly fantastical, but this is a fantasy series, after all.
Eddie Dean and Susannah continue to develop as well, and even Roland has moments of growth-through-weakness. The connection between our own earth—in time and space—and the planet Roland belongs to, gets a little bit clearer. Not only do we learn more about the doorways that bridge the space-time gaps, but we also learn who might have visited Roland’s world before, which explains the evil that has manifested itself there. In the wake of this early visitor is a “legion of fiendish foes both more and less than human.” The bad guys are acceptably creepy and disgusting, and specifically contrasted against the pure innocence of the one who returns from book one. The tension this creates could not have happened without that character re-entering the storyline, which is all the more reason to applaud King for doing it (despite some complaints that, well, the character was dead… and that’s cheating!)
Ultimately, even though this was the strangest of the three books so far, and felt sometimes very silly, it was still almost as gripping as most of what King does. It left me more eager to continue the series than did The Drawing of the Three, so hopefully that gradual trend continues. I began this series in 2013 – five years to read the first three books in an eight book series. That’s unusual for me.
Final Verdict: 3.0 out of 4.0