Tag: scifi

Book review: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #5)

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Much like Wizard and Glass, Wolves of the Calla feels like the wait at a train station between stops. The story reads like filler for the greater series arc; King pausing to recollect his characters and stop some gaps in a tale than in its writing spanned decades. And by this point you’re entangled enough that you indulge him the sandbox town of Calla Bryn Sturgis and its inhabitants and their secrets, because like Thunderclap darkens the Calla’s horizon, the ending of the series draws near…*

The story follows on the heels of Roland and his ka-tet’s confrontation with the wizard in the previous book. As a gunslinger of old, Roland’s aid is theoretically available to anyone who asks and is deemed worthy of assistance. The Calla, with their children being stolen every two decades or so and their husks sent back, ruined, reluctantly ask him for help, and Roland, Susannah, Eddie, Jake and Oy stay to render assistance in the only way they can: with their guns.

As far as filler goes, it’s not bad. Like I said, at this point you forgive King his dwelling on the town’s inhabitants and their idiosyncrasies. He covers a lot of important ground in a by-the-by sort of way, though, and fans of his will enjoy the return of a character from Salem’s Lot. But if you’re concerned mainly with finishing the series, Wolves of the Calla feels like an unnecessarily long phone call with a slightly delirious uncle: just cut to the chase already!

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Wolves of the Calla
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner (1991, 2003)
Rating: 3/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.17/5)
The best feature of the book: The Dark Tower series’ plot strings start to pull together more discernibly.
The worst feature of the book: It errs on the self-indulgent.
Trigger warnings: Kids with disabilities. A dash of misogyny. The usual, really.
You’ll like this if… If you’re committed to the series you’ll like it, but if you had to start the series with this book you’d likely never get beyond this book.


*Or so you think. You fool.

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Book review: Wizard and Glass by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #4)

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I should probably start this review by admitting that after finishing Song of Susannah (The Dark Tower #6) I made the mistake of reading spoilers for The Dark Tower’s ending, and haven’t touched the novels since. I’d heard, years ago, someone describing the series ending as (spoiler alert) “they all go back to the start”. Apparently that’s a very literal summary. Pre-Song of Susannah it didn’t make sense to me, but after finishing the sixth novel in the series it really, really does. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

When I read the series years ago it was Wizard and Glass that proved to be my boredom/offended threshold for King’s The Dark Tower. Roland, not fully committed to his ka-tet the way they are to him, begins Wizard and Glass by telling his friends about the events that led him to seek out The Dark Tower. This involves a lengthy flashback to Roland’s adolescence, his love affair with “girl at the window” Susan Delgado and the things that happened in the small town of Hambry. Roland and his friends had been sent there to keep them safe after Roland’s fateful confrontation with Walter, but Walter and the King he serves have a long reach, and Hambry is not as far removed from danger as Stephen Deschain had hoped.

Wizard and Glass is the emotional gut-punch that, despite your best intentions, finally wins you over to Roland’s side. An ambivalent character for the first three books, erring first on the side of apathy and then becoming more human, Roland’s yarn completes his transformation from “The Gunslinger” to Roland Deschain, son of Stephen, son of Eld. King takes you deep, emotionally, if you can stand the story-world of Hambry and its archaic ways, and the arrogance and youth of adolescent Roland. Unfortunately Susan Delgado, for all King’s attempts to the contrary, stubbornly remains merely “the girl at the window”. It’s a pity because she was an interesting character.

Altogether a decent, if slow, addition to the series. Much of it reads like King was just sitting down and having fun in putting his world and its people together, but he does it well enough that it’s tolerable – at least on the second attempt.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Wizard and Glass
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scriber (1991, 2003)
Rating: 3/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.24/5)
The best feature of the book: King’s great at telling stories, and this book is the story of Roland.
The worst feature of the book: It’s a dull interlude. The pace slackens, and it isn’t really picked up again until Song of Susannah, two books hence.
Trigger warnings: Misogyny in general, nonconsensual sexual contact, teens having at it.
You’ll like this if… If you’ve come this far you won’t need a reason to keep reading.

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.

Book review: The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #2)

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When I first read these novels more than a decade ago, the only thing that got me past Roland’s betrayal of Jake at the end of The Gunslinger was curiosity about whether Jake would return, and remembering this is what inspired me to keep reading this time around. The Gunslinger doesn’t paint Roland Deschain in the best of light: he cuts a lonely, implacable figure that verges on the sociopathic, and the lack of supporting characters in The Gunslinger make it hard to draw an outsider’s bead on him.

This changes in the second novel in the series. Having tracked down and confronted The Man in Black in the previous novel, Roland wakes up on a beach apparently years after their conversation knowing that he has to “draw” three others to his quest. He sets out to do that, sickening on his journey from an attack by a monster that took most of a hand and a bit of foot, looking for people he knows only as “The Prisoner”, “The Lady in the Shadows” and “Death”…

More human this time round though not always humane, it’s as much a story about a fantastical quest for a tower through foreign worlds than it is about a man finding friendship amid duty and honour.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: The Drawing of the Three
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner (1987, 2003)
Rating: 4/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.23/5)
The best feature of the book: More characters means more movement, more intrigue, more plot. The Drawing of the Three reads as less self-indulgent than The Gunslinger.
The worst feature of the book: Though I understand King’s characterisation of Detta, the way she’s “othered” as an insane black woman to serve as temporary villain is offensive and to be honest, boring.
Trigger warnings: Racism, casual misogyny, unlikely romance.
You’ll like this if… You’re a fantasy fan or a Stephen King loyalist.

Book review: The Lunar Chronicles, by Marissa Meyer

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I always swear up and down I won’t read any more young adult fiction – my days as a Twihard haunt me still, though perhaps not as much as they should – but inevitably a YA title makes it way into my reading list, and here we are. Sometimes the experience is unpleasant – Jennifer Armentrout’s “Obsidian” and Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series both come to mind – but YA fiction isn’t always like being stabbed in the liver.

In that vein, I’ve got to say I enjoyed Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles without worrying how it would look if I died with these books on my bedside cabinet.

Cinder, Scarlett, Cress and Winter – with a bunch of novellas stopping gaps between the major instalments – follow the lives of various heroines loosely based on old fairy tales. In Cinder, we learn about cyborg Lihn Cinder, mechanic and outcast; in Scarlet, about the red-haired, red hoodie-wearing Scarlet, whose grandmother is missing; in Cress, about a girl with tangles of hair stuck in an orbiting satellite; and in Winter, the final instalment, we meet Princess Winter, the beautiful envy of her evil stepmother…

Half of what makes these stories so intriguing is the ease with which Meyer introduces her story world: an earth far into the future that still feels familiar, teetering, as it is, on the edge of dystopia but not quite there yet, although not for lack of trying on the disease and enemy fronts. Meyer tells you about the society through the experiences of her characters, so the narrative isn’t slogged down with her story world’s history.

The other half of what makes it work are the characters themselves. In many ways they’re your typical YA fare: the misunderstood heroine, spotted – against all odds – by the handsome or misunderstood or enigmatic or blasé-but-really-deep-deep-down boy, with the requisite angst, intrigue and romance. But as in all good YA, while the boy fights for the heroine, these heroines fight for themselves and the people around them. There’s a depth to them that colour them interesting.

And, you know, it’s fun. It’s fun reading Meyer’s adaptation of familiar stories into something else, something unexpected without robbing them of their quintessence, and reading it, I was excited to see how she would sketch all these characters into a cohesive narrative. The plot doesn’t slow down – I finished all four novels inside a week – so it’s fair to say that Meyer did a good job.

Why these novels aren’t more popular – the first I saw of them was a random pin on Pinterest – baffles me. I’m assuming it’s because they were published right between Twilight’s last hard fandom encore, and the then nascent Hunger Games frenzy. Meyer exceeds both Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins in technical writing ability, though I suppose you could say that The Lunar Chronicles had a slightly younger audience in mind. Still, it’s a shame that these books were overshadowed by other series when they have such interesting characters and such an intriguing narrative.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: The Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Winter).
Author: Marissa Meyer
My rating: 4/5 for the whole series (Goodreads rating for comparison: an average of about 4/5)
The best feature of the books: The heroines are all pretty cool. Skimming the reviews on Goodreads I noticed that more than one person disliked Cinder, the main protagonist of the series. She’s hardly perfect, but I found her relatable and well constructed. Also, there isn’t a single love triangle in sight; not a one.
The worst feature of the books: If I had to nitpick, I’d say it’s the fact that Levana could have solved a lot of her own problems, but reading the books you understand why she misses obvious opportunities. She’s a pretty despicable villain, but I find it a pity that her despicableness is so related to the typical “evil woman” stereotype – a lost or rejected lover, etc.
Trigger warnings: General creepiness. While aimed at a slightly younger audience, these books don’t mess around when it comes to mentioning things like rape, and there’s quite a bit of graphic violence. There’s also some serious ick factor when it comes to the Lunar gift (a form of mind control).
You’ll like this if… You like YA fiction in general or need to read something interesting but ultimately harmless.