I had always avoided reading the Dark Tower series since it didn’t seem like “real” fantasy to me. I mean, c’mon, it was written by a horror guy (Stephen King) not a fantasy guy. Nothing against Stephen King, and I had read his one fantasy novel earlier (The Eyes of the Dragon). He’s a creative writer but many of his stories seemed to lack good endings; just my opinion. I’m also not a horror fan so I really haven’t read very much of his stuff.

Plus, much of the story took place on our Earth. Also, instead of a medieval setting, the fantasy in Dark Tower is set in an old west, cowboy setting. This is fine I guess, but was outside of my interests.

Yet, since everyone kept screaming at me about how great the Dark Tower series was, and since Stephen King considers this his magnum opus, I finally gave it a shot. I read every one of the original, primary seven books (I skipped the novellas, short stories, comics, and later-published ‘shove-em-in-the-middle’ books). I also knew a movie was coming, and wanted to read all the books first, since I didn’t want the movie to poison my view of the books. Books are always better than the movie or TV versions anyway (Game of Thrones being the one and only exception; those books suck, but the show is pretty good).

Here are mini-reviews of all seven primary books in the series. I will do my best to keep them spoiler free, but no promises.

The Gunslinger This is the first book King wrote in the form of several short stories in the late 1970’s. It tells the story of a lone gunman, Roland the Gunslinger, based on the Clint Eastwood character in the Dollars trilogy of movies, as he pursues the Man In Black through a vast dessert. It’s average. The best thing about the book is that it’s pretty short, and I read it with the assumption that the later books would be better. (My assumption was correct.)

The Drawing of the Three In this book, Roland “summons” his three companions from various times on our Earth; a kid from the late 70’s, a heroin addict from the late 80’s, and a black woman bound to a wheelchair from the 60’s.

Much of the book takes place on Earth, which I thought would bother me. However, the book is so creative (the most creative one in the series) that it really kept my attention and I ended up loving it. It is an extremely unconventional story. In the very first chapter, the hero gets some of his fingers and toes permanently lost (bitten off by giant lobsters), and it just gets crazier from there. It’s one of the best books in the series.

The Waste Lands My favorite book in the entire series. It’s actually the first “real” story of the series when Roland and his companions are finally assembled and they travel through Roland’s dying world to find the Dark Tower, the center point of all reality. The companions encounter giant cyborg bears, sex demons, diseased city pirates, insane robot trains, and all kinds of other crazy shit. This book was very exciting and I loved every page. If I had to go back and re-read one book from this series, this would be the one.

Wizard and Glass Sadly, my favorite in the series is followed up by my least favorite, by far. About 85% of Wizard and Glass is told in flashback form, when Roland was a teenager and how he met his first and only true love. The characters are interesting and King’s writing is skilled as always, but the story is so god damn boring that it was very difficult to get through. A huge portion of the story is focused on Roland’s lovey-dovey affair with a Susan, a pretty girl he meets in a village, and it just makes you want to puke.

Honestly, if The Waste Lands hadn’t been so good, I would have chucked this book and given up on the entire series, but I figured that if The Waste Lands had been great, following books in the series would probably be too. At least, I hoped…

Wolves of the CallaThis book is okay. About a third of the book is told in flashback form from many different characters. What was most interesting to me is how the structure of this book is duplicated in the TV show Lost (which happens to be my favorite TV show of all time). The head writer for Lost, Damon Lindelof, cites The Dark Tower as one of his favorite things ever, and the series’ influence on Lost shows very strongly in this book (long, detailed flashbacks for characters, strange numbers that reappear in odd places, lots of discussion about fate and purpose, etc).

Most of the stories are interesting and entertaining, but there were times during this book when I just wanted Stephen King to get on with it. The entire story leads up to a giant battle at the end, most of which is just mildly okay and doesn’t meet expectations. I still liked the book; just wish it could have been better.

Song of SusannahOkay, now we’re talking. This is a good one. The story moves quickly and is always interesting. Most of it takes place on Earth, which I thought I wouldn’t like, but once again I was happily proven wrong. This is also the shortest of the seven books (I think) and it has a fantastic cliffhanger ending.

This book is a great example of combining deep character study with fast action and a plot that makes sense. Many other fiction authors could learn from Song of Susannah. Well done.

The Dark TowerThis is the second best book in the series behind The Waste Lands. It’s perhaps the densest book in the series, since so many things happen, so many characters die, and so many new characters are introduced. A new villain is introduced that the series had been alluding to for a long time, and he’s very flawed and compelling.

One complaint is that the primary villain of the entire series is dispatched somewhat easily at the end, at least in my opinion, which was sort of a letdown. There’s also a lot of dark shit that happens in this book, and the ending is also dark, but Stephen King doesn’t go full bore with it, and I think he should have. It’s more “dark, but with hope” rather than dark. He should have gone full dark or full happy ending; one or the other.

I’m also quite sure that if I had read all of Stephen King’s other books, I would have enjoyed this book more, since there are so many characters from his other books. However, as I said above, I haven’t read King’s other stuff since I don’t really like horror. These are minor complaints though. Of all the Dark Tower books, this was the one I was most excited about getting to and finishing.

Overall, I rate the entire Dark Tower series an eight out of ten. Good and entertaining, but not amazing. There are several other fantasy series that are much better, including Sanderson’s Final Empire series, Abercrombie’s First Law series, and of course the granddaddy, Erikson’s Malazan series.

At least now I’m ready to watch the movie when it comes out in a few weeks. My guess is it will probably be shitty or average, but it won’t ruin anything for me now that I’ve read the books, which was the entire point.

Now to find a new fantasy series to read that I haven’t read yet. Hmm…

21 Comments on “Book Review – Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series

  1. Another one where the movies are better than the books is Lord of the Rings. Requiem for a Dream is also in that category (although the book was still pretty good), and from what I’ve heard The Shining is too (I haven’t read the book, but the movie is so good it’s hard to imagine the book topping it).

  2. Books are always better than the movie or TV versions anyway (Game of Thrones being the one and only exception; those books suck, but the show is pretty good)

    Is it that bad ? I’ve been holding back from reading them because I’m pretty sure the last one will either come in the late 2020s or never, but I picked a few random bits and pieces and it looks like very good writing. Every dialogue I’ve read with Stannis in it is badass.

    the TV show Lost (which happens to be my favorite TV show of all time)

    LOL. Just yesterday, I was wondering “what does BD think of Lost ?”. My guess was that you liked it except for the fact that most male characters are betas or very flawed Alpha 1.0s. I’m currently rewatching it (last time was in my blue pill days), and the hindsight is very rewarding.

    Another one where the movies are better than the books is Lord of the Rings. 

    I’m gonna have to disagree. The LOTR and Hobbit movies are extremely good on their own terms, but as book adaptations, they butchered the source material. I’ve read LOTR, The Hobbit, Silmarillion, and Children of Hurin, and I’m convinced the argument “they had to modify the book version to make it more suitable for cinema” isn’t valid. I still believe in a high quality LOTR/Silmarillion interpretation that does more justice to the books, somewhere in the future.

  3. I have only read the first two SOIAF books but I honestly can’t belive that the books are worse than the last two seasons of the TV show. It’s all about shocking audience now instead of compelling characters and good storytelling. Just look at how they turned Danny into a boring and bland Mary Sue character that every other character in the show worships for no reason (I still adore Emilia though) or the whole Dorne side story that was a bad joke. That is only two examples out of like 20 I could name off the top of my head.

    It’s hard to believe that books are worse.

  4. The main difference between LotR and the movie trilogy is in pacing and scale. I happen to like the pacing of the book very much, maybe others have different tastes.

    Another instance of film being better than book is King’s (by the way, his first name is Stephen!) The Green Mile, also due to pacing.

  5. pacing and scale

    I’m not sure it’s the main difference. I could name many other non-trivial differences if I sat down for it, but off the top of my head, many characters in the movies are barely caricatures (or just too different) of their book counterpart, and many important character relationships were just done wrong (I’m looking at you, Frodo and Sam, SMFH).

    Back to the main subject, I do plan to read The Dark Tower at some point. It’s just not on my near term list because I know King more for his horror stories and I wanna keep that image for a few more years. By the way, I advise anyone who hasn’t read The Dark Half to do it. The ending was a bit meh, but the story and the villain are just awesome.

  6. Another one where the movies are better than the books is Lord of the Rings.

    Disagree completely (though those are the best movies ever made in my opinion).

    Is it that bad ?

    In my opinion, yes. The first 2 books are good, but after that the plot meanders and never gets anywhere. Not good for a series that’s thousands of pages. Yes, the dialogue and characters are fantastic, but that’s it.

    Just yesterday, I was wondering “what does BD think of Lost ?”.

    Best TV show ever made, ever. So good that I still can’t quite believe it.

    My guess was that you liked it except for the fact that most male characters are betas or very flawed Alpha 1.0s.

    That’s all TV shows (and almost all movies).

    I have only read the first two SOIAF books but I honestly can’t belive that the books are worse than the last two seasons of the TV show.

    You’re comparing the best parts of the books with the worst parts of the show. Not a fair analysis.

    1. As I said above, the first two books are pretty good. The rest suck.

    2. A really good show with two lackluster seasons out of six is still really good.

    his first name is Stephen!

    Corrected.

  7. Not a fair analysis.

    I was more surprised than analyzing since I didn’t read the rest of the books but I guess now I never will. It’s really a shame since both the show and the books had such a strong start.

    A really good show with two lackluster seasons out of six is still really good.

    In my opinion, that really depends on how the show ends or in this case how good seasons 7 and 8 will be. For now yes it’s still a good show but if they fuck up the final 2 seasons I will consider it mediocre at best.

    I was just disappointed since it’s the only thing I watch on TV

  8. Hey Caleb I’m having trouble editing my comments after posting. Yesterday after posting my first comment here I tried editing. “SOIAF” to “ASOIAF” multiple times but after pressing Save nothing happened. The same thing happened now when posting my last comment and trying to change a few sentences after. This never happened on Blackdragon blog.

  9. Hey Caleb

    I’d really recommend R Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing/Aspect Emperor series for your next big fantasy read. Its a big commitment and gets very very dark though.

     

  10. Lindeloff also said he wanted to make a Dark Tower Show. But then he decided against it when many people complaint about Lost’s ending(which is amazing in my opinion) because he thought he will ruin his best book.

    Lost changed television forever. I watched that series more than 3 times to get the little clues. No other show comes even near Lost.

    What about Twin Peaks? Crazy stuff.

  11. I’m having trouble editing my comments after posting

    Me too. Editing and underlining (re-testing it now and we’ll see) don’t seem to work.

  12. I will get my I.T. guys to fix the commenting problem. Sorry for the inconvenience.

    I’d really recommend R Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing/Aspect Emperor series for your next big fantasy read. Its a big commitment and gets very very dark though.

    Interesting. Never heard of it. I’ll check it out.

    Lindeloff also said he wanted to make a Dark Tower Show. But then he decided against it when many people complaint about Lost’s ending(which is amazing in my opinion) because he thought he will ruin his best book.

    Yes, I remember reading that as well.

    Lost changed television forever. I watched that series more than 3 times to get the little clues. No other show comes even near Lost.

    I agree. The closest thing to it’s level of intricacy was Babylon 5 back in the 90’s. (B5 was really great, but it had a limited budget and the acting was sometimes dicey.)

  13. If you like fantasy that isn’t set on planet earth, the Cold Fire Trilogy might be right up your ally, its my favorite fantasy series of all time.

     

    There are three books in the series:

    Black Sun Rising

    When True Night Falls

    Crown Of Shadows

     

    I saw the art work on one of them when I was in the book store, liked the art so much I bought it and read it, turned out to be the middle book of the series and I was hooked, read the whole series at least 3 times.

     

    Also, agree with the LOTR movies being some of the best made movies of all time.

     

  14. If you like fantasy that isn’t set on planet earth, the Cold Fire Trilogy might be right up your ally, its my favorite fantasy series of all time.

    Read it. Couldn’t get past the first book. Very interesting premise and a talented writer, but way too much time is spent on the inner emotions of the characters for my tastes.

  15. Ah, cool, glad you took a shot at it. First book is a little slow, second is the best, and third is good too and I like how she wraps it up at the end.

     

  16. Have you ever tried Witcher series?

    If you’re talking about the video games, I dabbled in the first one and got bored. I understand the newer ones are better.

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