Book review: The Waste Lands by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #3)

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The third book is probably my favourite so far (I’m on book number six, Song of Susannah, at the time of writing this review), though I have my reservations about it. Having drawn first Roland, then the other major characters for the series, the story is more settled and its eventual destination is less up in the air, subject to King’s (often drug or alcohol induced, let’s be honest) whimsy.

The Waste Lands picks up in the forest just beyond the beach Roland found his two companions, Eddie and Susannah, on, three months after Odetta and Detta’s doorway confrontation. Roland has been training Eddie and Susannah in the way of a gunslinger. But all’s not well with Roland: having stopped Jake’s (first) death in the second novel, his mind is tearing itself apart, one part insisting that Jake is dead, and the other insisting that he’s still alive. As the trio find the Path of the Beam, which will lead them to its centre, the Dark Tower, Roland’s condition deteriorates, as does Jake’s back in New York.

Roland, Eddie and Susannah eventually pull Jake back through to their side. The relief of this scene – for some weird reason you want Jake and Roland reunited, although it’s obvious that Roland can’t really be trusted with the welfare of the individual members of their ka-tet, their group – is undercut by what can only be described as a rape, though King plays it like it’s a victory for Susannah (or the Detta part of her, anyway). It sucks. I’ve always thought of King as more or less benign, but the sexual aspects of his fiction often go to dark places and honestly the novel could’ve done without it, though not the series, as we see later.

With Jake (and a bumbler named Oy) completing their ka-tet, the group set off to find Blaine the Mono – a train that could take them across the wastelands and bring them nearer the tower. But first, they have to get through an otherworldly, gang-infested New York called Lud…

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: The Waste Lands
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scriber (1991, 2003)
Rating: 3/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.24/5)
The best feature of the book: There’s more emotional investment in the characters.
The worst feature of the book: Lud sucks. Blaine sucks.
Trigger warnings: Nonconsensual content of all shades. Evil technology. Hazardous conditions.
You’ll like this if… You, like me, just want to finish the bloody series.

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Book review: The Gunslinger by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #1)

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Though I was a big Stephen King fan back in high school (a result as much of his books as our limited local library I fear), I’ve never actually finished The Dark Tower series. I zipped through the first three books and started on the fourth, but there was a long flashback and I lost my appetite for it. I’ve been meaning to reread and finish the series ever since, but it wasn’t until its sort-of adaptation loomed in theatres that I actually made good on my intentions.

The Gunslinger picks up Roland Deschain’s quest as he battles his way across a desert in pursuit of The Man in Black, a figure who (in The Gunslinger at least) is part phantom and part prophet – a shadow from the haunt of Roland’s past. Roland, his world’s last gunslinger (think Knight meets cowboy meets king), wants The Man in Black to lead him to the Dark Tower, a tower that stands at the centre of all worlds and holds them all together. Roland’s world is breaking down, and in finding the Tower he hopes to find a cure. But The Man in Black is a cunning enemy and has laid his traps well…

It was interesting to reread The Gunslinger a decade after I read it first. It’s not quite as good as I remember, but I think that’s maybe because ten years on I can better separate my appreciation of King as a writer from his actual work, and his work is often problematic. Reading The Gunslinger and its sequels (at the time of writing this, I’m on novel number five, The Wolves of Calla) it’s pretty hard not to run up against the “wall” of his maleness and even his whiteness, and many of the things I once found charming about his writing now annoy me.

Still, this is Stephen King we’re talking about, one of his generation’s most popular and prolific writers. He’s a storyteller with a passion for his characters, whether those characters take up whole novels or just a paragraph, and his interest in them feeds your own. The Gunslinger plants the seed from which the whole series sprouts: Roland, his ghosts, his loneliness and his stubborn, desperate, hopeless quest to change things the reader suspects are far past changing…

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: The Gunslinger
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner (1982, 2003)
Rating: 3.5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 3.99/5)
The best feature of the book: Probably King’s ability to draw in and draw together. Its biggest boon, though, is that it’s very accessible for a fantasy novel: not as remote and dense as high fantasy, but little like his usual fare either.
The worst feature of the book: The unlikely sex scenes.
Trigger warnings: There’s non-consensual sexual contact and murder of varying degrees of violence.
You’ll like this if… You’re a fantasy fan or a Stephen King loyalist.

Book review: Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley (The Checquy Files #2)

I enjoyed the first book in the Checquy series, The Rook, but I can honestly say I liked Stiletto. O’Malley seems to have settled into his story world in this novel. It’s a funnier read, well-paced and not as bureaucratically bogged down as the first novel. There are twists and turns aplenty and a few new faces added to the cast of Checquy regulars.

Stiletto picks up The Rook’s aftermath. Negotiations between supernatural centuries-old enemies the Checquy and the Grafters are under way. Felicity Clements and Odette Leliefeld, both sceptical about the intentions of the other, are forced to work together to save these negotiations from sabotage by a shadowy group known as The Antagonists – Grafter enemies keen to see the alliance destroyed. Monsters and mayhem ensue.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Stiletto
Author: Daniel O’Malley (who I still assume is really Stephenie Meyer)
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (2016)
Rating: 4/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.16/5)
The best feature of the book: Just in terms of writing it’s a big improvement on The Rook. It’s a quick, fast-paced read.
The worst feature of the book: I assumed the sequel would pick up Myfanwy Thomas’ story (or that there’s more to it than what we saw in The Rook), and while she features it’s in a supporting role. I still have questions about what happened to her and I’m annoyed that they’re either not being answered, or got bumped back a book. Also, maybe it’s because I’m Afrikaans and so have a reasonable grasp of Dutch, but some of the terms seem cheesy to me (for example: Gruwels. Horrors, really?)
Trigger warnings: Flesh cubes, impromptu surgery, the return of weirdly appealing Gestalt.
You’ll like this if… You like the supernatural genre in general.

Book review: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (The Checquy Files #1)

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Google having determined that I’d been a Twihard in my younger years (there’s just no escaping your sins, is there?), news that Stephenie Meyer would be adapting Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook for television showed up in my feed. I’m rarely ahead of the various book-to-screen adaptations being churned out these days, so I was quite pleased with myself that I could catch this one before the screen version inevitably sullied the book for me.

Amid a clutter of nonfiction books I’m not making any progress with, The Rook turned out to be an island of escapist relief. Set in modern-day London (and written without the vexing fervour of a native), the book sees its protagonist wake up an amnesiac at a murder scene. The amnesiac soon finds herself in the labyrinthine world of her previous self, Myfanwy Thomas, and her employment at Britain’s supernatural secret service, the Checquy. Tasked with finding out who stole her memories, Thomas must also learn to navigate the consequences of her previous self – all while dealing with various and sundry monsters.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: The Rook
Author: Daniel O’Malley (who I’m assuming is a pseudonym for Meyer herself)
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (2012)
Rating: 3.5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.12/5)
The best feature of the book: It’s an interesting premise: a person figuring out the mystery of themselves in a very literal sense…with added ghouls and nasties.
The worst feature of the book: Some of the background information (in the form of letters Thomas left to her amnesiac self [long story]) verge on the dull. And, frankly, the names. Good luck pronouncing either “Myfanwy” or “Checquy” as anything other than mind gibberish unless you’re Welsh or the author.
Trigger warnings: General creepiness but nothing that’ll drive you to a Twitter boycott. Also, be prepared for the frankly fascinating possibilities presented by a being like Gestalt. That fan fiction back alley awaits my perusal, I’ll readily admit.
You’ll like this if… You want YA fiction that’s not quite so young or if you’re a fan of speculative fiction.

Book review: David Wong’s John Dies at the End, and This Book is Full of Spiders

I’m not sure how you resist a book titled “John dies at the end”; I obviously couldn’t. David Wong’s John Dies at the End and its sequel, This Book is Full of Spiders are funny and horrifying takes on the horror genre. I vacillated between consternated laughing and going “Euck” to myself. It’s solid entertainment and I finished both books inside a week with days to spare.

The novels follow the capers of directionless friends David and John, residents of an unnamed Mid-Western US city. Following a brush with the world’s worst party drug, they start seeing things and become embroiled, through bad luck and sheer stupidity, into an interdimensional conspiracy where a lot of things go bump in the night.

So, what’s the verdict?

Titles: John Dies at the End (2009); This Book is Full of Spiders (2012).
Author: David Wong
Publisher: Thomas Dunne
Rating: 4/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 3.92 & 4.26/5)
The best feature of the books: They don’t take themselves too seriously.
The worst feature of the books: The narrator wears on you after a while, although it’s better by the second novel.
Trigger warnings: Grossness, prepubescent humour, monsters, evil, canine death (second novel) (well, in the first novel too, but—you’ll see.)
You’ll like this if… This is the punk rock version of horror, so if you don’t like your horror too studious you’ll love the series.