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 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.