Warning: This article may contain spoilers.
I think this is a very important book in the series of the Roland story as it provides the reason for his entire obsession with the Dark Tower. From the standpoint of understanding the quest for the Dark Tower, this is the most critical piece of the puzzle. Roland tells his ka-tet the tale that shaped him and set him on his path. It is a tale that begins with his entry into manhood – a trial by violence where he bested his teacher, Cort, in a duel and ends with Roland’s soul nearly destroyed. It tells the journey that Roland goes through from a young, talented, naive 14 year old gunslinger to the jaded, cold and solitary figure we have known throughout the series. We finally get to see Roland as the truly tragic hero that he is. Here we get the grand tale of Roland’s youth; we learn just who Susan Delgado was (and what happened to her) as well as more about the Dark Tower and the dangers involved in trying to reach it. We finally get to meet Alain and Cuthbert, Ronald’s two close friends of his youth.
Roland and his companions, Alain and Cuthbert, have been sent by their fathers to the most out-of-the-way place they know – a small village called Hambry in the Barony of Meijis. Their alleged purpose is to count things, more as a punishment than a mission. They seem to be three boys who got into trouble, and who now must pay by spending their summer doing menial work. They don’t want any trouble, and they hope that no one will give them any.
That’s the story, anyway. In reality, they’re looking for evidence of the workings of John Farson, also known as The Good Man, who is leading a popular revolution against the established order in Roland’s home country, In-World. Hambry has an oil field, the work of the Great Old Ones, which is known to locals simply as “Citgo” Should Farson get enough oil – and the means to refine it – he will be able to revive ancient war machines and bring death to all of In-World. With Roland, Alain and Cuthbert as spies for the Affiliation, the Gunslingers in Gilead hope that they can stall, if not stop, Farson’s rebellion.
That would have been great if only Roland Deschain hadn’t met Susan Delgado, the daughter of a deceased horse-breeder and soon to be the promised girl of the mayor of Hambry. As soon as they meet, their destiny is clear: it is true love. No more able to stand against their fate than a tree in a whirlwind, Roland and Susan do as all young lovers have done, and risk discovery and death in the process. In every corner there are those who would stand against them: Susan’s spinster aunt, Cordelia, who hopes to make some money selling her niece off to the mayor; the Big Coffin Hunters, three mercenaries who work for Farson and who mean to see every last drop of oil gets in his hands; and Rhea of the Cöos, a horrible witch who possesses a crystal orb that lets her see all the malicious things that people do. Against these arrayed forces, Roland and his friends must not only foil the plans of John Farson, but also escape Meijis with their lives.
King has done a fantastic job with the relationship between Susan and Roland – it’s as realistic as he can make it, without being mawkish and overly romantic. We are never allowed to forget that, like so many doomed lovers before them, they are risking everything with their love – their mission, their friends, and their lives – and we know that even the slightest misstep can mean disaster. Mixed with the other, more adventure-driven elements of the plot, it’s incredibly tense, and it’s handled very well.
There are some wonderful characters in this book, but as always the best ones are the bad ones. Susan’s aunt Cordelia is a bundle of jealous paranoia, and you can feel her mainspring winding up every time she shows up on the page. Eldred Jonas is a laid-back killer, an old man who has buried countless young men, and means to bury Roland and his friends. And Rhea is just palpably foul. You can almost smell her when she shows up, which is a great accomplishment – and you can’t wait to see her again.
Now he and his ka-tet can continue in their quest for the tower, confident that they know a little more about this man who yanked them from their worlds into his. After reading this book, for me, the characters and Ronald’s world become richer, more full of meaning. Things in the first few books become more meaningful, and I got to appreciate the history of Ronald,s dying world. Most importantly, I now understand why it is so important that he finds the Dark Tower.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It is filled with growth and pain, discovery and love,friendship and predestination,betrayal and heart-ache,good and evil.
The plot was a bit complicated at times, but it was due mostly to the fact that the story was been told going back in time instead of in the present.
We finally get to meet the rest of Roland’s friends from his past. Cort his evil teacher, Alain and Cuthbert his two closest friends we grew up with him. Susan the woman he fell in love with and risked his life for.
About the Author:
Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes Doctor Sleep and Under the Dome, now a major TV miniseries on CBS. His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers Association. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.