The Waste Lands

by Stephen King

  General / Favorable Reviews
  Critical Reviews

Book #3 And It Just Gets Better!! *****

Stephen King's "The Waste Lands" is the third volume in the epic Dark Tower series and every bit as good, if not better, than the two preceding novels. The plot and character development improve with every page, and the action and suspense are nonstop.

Gunslinger, Roland, and his two companions Susannah Dean, formerly the duo-personality Odetta Susannah Holmes and Detta Walker, and Eddie Dean, previously a drug addict and mule in New York City, at last begin their quest for the Dark Tower. Both Susannah and Eddie are in training and well on their way to becoming gunslingers. First, however, the threesome must defeat Mir, the gigantic, insane cyborg bear, called Shardik by the Great Old Ones. Mir guarded the Portal of the Bear, one of Twelve Portals which form the endpoints of the Beams. There are six Beams running between the Twelve Portals which mark the edges of Mid-World. The point where all Beams cross is the nexus of all worlds. The three backtrack along Mir's path and find the Beam, which should lead them to the center-point where the Dark Tower lies.

One of the most important events in this book, and in the series, is the entry of Jake, the boy, into the circle of questing companions. Jake was introduced to the reader in Book One, "The Gunslinger." There had been a great paradox surrounding Jake's existence - the paradox of shifting realities. Had the boy died or was he still alive? Had he, in fact, ever really appeared in Mid-Earth? This paradox was slowly driving both Roland, in Mid-World, and Jake, back in New York City, insane. In a scene rich in symbolism, Jake is reborn into Roland's world with Susannah as his symbolic mother, Eddie as midwife and the Gunslinger as Jake's symbolic father. The Drawing of the Three is at last complete and a fourth companion is also added. Jake adopts a talking billy-bumbler. Billy-bumblers resemble a combination of raccoon, badger and dog. This one is named Oy.

This magnificent Ka-tet, (King's word for a group of people drawn together by fate), moves on the Path of the Beam toward the city of Lud, an urban wasteland, inhabited by degenerate survivors of gang wars. Jake is captured and miraculously survives his trek through the underground world of Lud, and the acquaintanceship of some of the most unsavory characters King has created yet. Now Blaine, the psychotic, suicidal monorail train enters the picture to rescue the companions-in-arms from Lud. Rather than carrying them to safety, the train takes them into further danger. Before leaving NY, Jake had picked up two volumes in a local bookstore - one a book of riddles and the other, a book called "Charlie the Choo-choo." He was able to foresee the appearance of Blaine because of the train's resemblance to Choo-Choo Charlie. Spooky!

"The Waste Lands" leave the four speeding towards their destination, Topeka, Kansas, Mid-World, at 800 miles per hour on a train that won't stop. The only chance for survival is Blaine's love of riddles. We are left with a cliffhanger. Can someone come up with a riddle original enough to halt the train and save their lives? See Book Four - "Wizard and Glass."

This third novel in the septet is rich in description of characters, cityscapes, landscapes and creatures. The changing relationships between the foursome, their growth as individuals and as a group, is really worth mentioning. King is at his best here. Adventure-packed, the book moves along at a fast clip. Characters who were introduced to the reader previously, are now fleshed out and really become three-dimensional. The level of suspense is dramatically increased. I am totally hooked on this series. At this point, I don't care how King ends his epic . I just know that he has taken me on a 1500 page ride, (approximately), so far and I have loved every minute of it. Nothing that occurs in future books can spoil what I have already read. Highest recommendations!!

Jana L. Perskie "ceruleanna"




Time-lapse photography book-style ***

There's something about conceptual, temporal art that seems to be a pervading problem-- series novels, concept albums, time-lapse series of paintings, you name it. You hit a point where you've just had something really exciting happen at Point A. You've got a great idea for something exciting to happen at Point B. And you've got this really big space in between (Side 3 of Pink Floyd's The Wall, for example). How do you get from point A to point B without boring the life out of your reader/listener/viewer/whatever?

There are two choices. Choice A is used by visual artists a whole lot: ignore that span of time. Cut it out. Make it go away. Deus ex machina: "And then three years passed." You get a more impressionist work, and you risk losing some of your fan base, because they don't have the mental capacity to make the jump.

Choice B is used by almost everyone who writes books and/or music, and that is the transitional piece. Queensryche's fabulous concept album _Operation Mindcrime_ would be a perfect disc if not for the opening song on side two. Pink Floyd... well, I've already gone there. Point is, there's a weak link in every chain. The one book, one song, one whatever that contains a few useful tidbits but otherwise could have been ten minutes or four hundred pages shorter. In the present scenario, that book is The Waste Lands.

To be fair, given that this problem seems to be ubiquitous, King does some good with it, using this five-hundred-plus page monstrosity to bring back some old faces and acquaint us with some new ones (would it be a spoiler to tell you we've got a new adversary here whom you know from another, non-Dark Tower book or two?), drops a few more hints about the war that caused the world to move on, introduces us to the author of that war, a man named Fannin/Fanon (mentioned in Drawing of the Three as the leader of the opposing forces, and here given us as The Ageless Stranger, who we were told early on will be the final obstacle to Roland gaining the Tower), and gives us the latter half of the series' equivalent of Walter in the Tick-Tock Man. Did that last paragraph confuse you? It should have. The book probably will, too, although King gives all that to us in a lot more words. He also gets us from point A to... well, about halfway to point B (and the ending of this book will make you throw it across the room, guaranteed-- it's such a shocker that King felt the need to reprint the last eleven pages of The Wastelands as the prologue to Wizard and Glass!). We get to know the characters we already know a little better. We see more full-color illustrations (Dameron's just not right for this, Grant should have stuck with Hale, whose work for DOT was the best in the series to date). We tie up a loose end or two, but nothing really satisfying. We hope for a better book in Wizard and Glass (and, for those of you following this thing through to the bitter end, let me assure you that we get it). That being said, it's still not as bad as some of King's early-career unreadable howlers like Firestarter. It's confusing, it's pretty much plotless, but at least it's readable. The compulsiveness of a series, by book III, rests quite a bit on how much you liked what came before. And if DOT didn't hook you, you don't have a pulse.

Robert P. Beveridge "xterminal"





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