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Not the swan song but the build up to it!
The Dark Tower: Song of Susannah v. 6 - Stephen King
Member Name: Jojoborne
The Dark Tower: Song of Susannah v. 6 - Stephen King
Advantages: Great continuation for King fans.
Disadvantages: Not to read if you haven't read the first five volumes or you'll get lost!
Stephen King - The Dark Tower Volume Six - Song of Susannah
The Gunslinger and I
I have been a Stephen king fan since nineteen seventy-eight; so basically, thirty-four years. Just sitting back and thinking about that makes me think 'My God, where has all that time gone?' ;and yes, I am forty-five this year for those who question the longevity of my admiration of this superb author.I will be reviewing all of the Dark Tower series and will be using my own story as a base for each one so nothing has been plagiarised here as the only thing being copied from one review to the next are my own words.For the purpose of these reviews I will not give away any main character names or major plot lines as it would spoil the enjoyment of anyone who wants to read. The review of the book itself is a slim-line over-view of the plot and the book itself is quite a thick volume and offers a hell of a good read and a lot more detail than revealed in this review.The story of my reading of the Dark Tower books, of which there are seven in the original series, is an adventure in itself and one which I will share with you now before I move on to review the fifth volume.I have read over fifty King novels and have signed books in my collection. There are many books that I love and many epic tales, such as 'The Stand' and 'It' that will forever be a testament to King's imagination and prowess as a story teller. However, for me, The Dark tower series must go down as one of the best fantasy, horror crossover tales ever told. Tolkien may have created one of the best, if not the best, imaginary world in 'Middle Earth' but believe me Stephen King's 'Mid-World' runs it a close second.I think even Tolkien would've doffed his cap to King for the sheer scope and diversity that us readers are privileged to witness when reading these books.I remember picking up a copy of 'The Gunslinger' (book One of The Dark Tower series) in nineteen eighty-two when I was fifteen years old. I won't go into detail about the book here but will save that for the review proper. I found it captivating and different; something new that to me at the time had not been done before.
Needless to say I thoroughly enjoyed the book and could not wait to get my hands on the second volume. I waited and I waited and I waited; several tumbleweeds did there windswept boogie past my much looked upon feet. Five years would pass and then at last in nineteen eighty-seven I heard the announcement that volume two Entitled 'The Drawing of the Three' was about to hit the shops. I pre-ordered a copy from Andromeda bookstore in Birmingham. But wait, I thought, I must read the first volume again as a refresher. So I sat and reread volume one and finished it the night before I went to pick up my new copy of volume two (oh the joyous wonder of the world of fiction). I would not be disappointed as volume two was three times the weight in wordage as the first offering. I found it captivating and enthralling and once again I was away on another plane in the land of Mid-world. The only drawback was the damn four year wait for volume three 'The Wastelands'. Once again when the time came, I felt I needed a refresher, so I reread volume one again and then volume two. Volume three was an even thicker tome than the other two so I would forgive King eventually; that was until the six year gap to volume four. Six years Stephen! What are you trying to do to me man, was the cry from my bedroom with a scowl at the first three volumes sat on my bookcase.
So, nineteen ninety-seven and volume four 'Wizard and Glass' came out and yes, you guessed it, I reread the other three first. Fifteen years between book one and two is a long time and to be honest it only makes the story epic, in the true sense of the word. Now, volume five would be another six years but in no way can I hold this against King as he almost lost his life and in the process would make a decision that would appease every Dark Tower fan to their hearts content. Stephen King was out walking one day when he was hit by a truck. He was hospitalised for months and he was so ill he almost lost his life. He made a decision that he would not or could not write again and his millions of fans would mourn the death of the great writer but be grateful and happy that the great man had survived. While lying in his bed he got to thinking about Roland of Gilead (The Gunslinger) and of the torture he had put himself and the fans through by not finishing the story. It was King's own curiosity about how he would end this story and of whether Roland would find the Dark Tower or whether one of his ka-tet (group) would find it instead, raised his writing muscle from the jaws of literary death and into a new found child-like enthusiasm to finish the tale. That was fantastic for King fans but what would be even more stupendous would be the fact that not only would he write volume five in Two Thousand and Three but he would write volumes six and the final volume seven in Two Thousand and Four. So having had four books in twenty-one years, King fans, myself included, and were now treated to three books in just over a year! Volume Five 'Wolves of the Calla' would be the first, followed by volume six 'A Song of Susannah' and finally, volume seven 'The Dark Tower'. Of course before I read volume five I reread the first four volumes, so now I had read volume one, The Gunslinger, five times. Now my story doesn't end there. In two thousand and four I didn't read the last two volumes because of work commitments and then in two thousand and six I moved from the UK to Holland. It would be two thousand and eleven before I picked up volume six and yes I reread the whole series again; so book one for a sixth time. So volume six was great but I was forty-four last October and my eyes are deteriorating, so I started wearing reading glasses. I was given The Dark Tower volume seven, which is called The Dark Tower as a present in paperback form having left the hardback in the UK. The print was so small that I had to give up after one hundred and sixty seven pages. I know this as it irks me something rotten.
So here we are in two thousand and twelve and my new glasses are ordered and I'll receive them in two weeks. I will restart the Dark Tower volume seven and finally finish a story that has almost spanned my life time thus far. I am a lover of books but am toying with the idea of a Kindle Touch for the practicality. I will always think books are better but a standard English paper back over here is fourteen euros and a hardback anywhere between twenty-two and twenty -six euros, which is horrendous, so having a Kindle makes sense as I can get e-books for nothing and won't have to carry loads on books on holiday with me. Anyway, that's another story; let's talk about volume six 'Song of Susannah'.
Song of Susannah
The Back-story and Plot
'The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed'
The opening line to the first book in The Dark Tower series is one that has stayed with me for a long time as I constantly came back to reread the first volume over the years.I would like to give those of you who haven't heard of the other books in the series or read my other reviews a little refresher of them before the sixth volume run down.
Book One Refresher - The Gunslinger
Roland of Gilead is the last of an order of gunslingers that derived from a great line of men that started with Arthur Eld. Arthur Eld is revered by gunslingers just like King Arthur in the real world. We learn a little of Roland's childhood and his coming of age as a gunslinger. The western world that Roland and is gunslinger friends live in is a lot like the western world that we know of where cowboys and Indians coexist. The difference being that Mid-world is also a magical world and a lot more advanced in technology than the great western plains that cowboy fans are familiar with. It was in fact a lot more advanced than the world that we live in today but now the world has moved on and things have been forgotten and unlearned. As mid-world is torn asunder and cities fall, Roland finds out that he has to find the Dark Tower. It is fabled to be the centre of Mid-world and control all universes. If Roland is to save Mid-world he must reach the tower at all costs. He knows not what he must do when he arrives there but feels sure in his gut that it will be revealed to him in some way when he does.In this opening novel of the series we don't really know that much about Roland's present circumstances, such as how old he is or how long he has been pursuing the mysterious man in black. We do find out more as the novel moves forward and have more answers at the end; although there are more questions.Roland meets a young boy by the name of 'Jake' who he is sure he knows already. They build up a good relationship and then Roland has an excruciating choice to make when he has to decide whether to keep on after the tower and sacrifice the boy or stay and save him from certain death.Will Roland finally catch up with the man in black and just who is he and what answers does he have?
Book Two Refresher - The Drawing of the Three
Volume two starts with Roland on a beach, almost dying of thirst and starvation. He finds sustenance by the way of giant lobster like creatures that he thinks of as 'lobstrosities'. In an encounter with one of these creatures he loses the shooting fingers of his right hand and has to resort to using his left hand to fire his guns. He is still more adept with this hand than a normal individual would be with their good hand; but he is a gunslinger after all and the last one, no less. As he makes his way along the beach he comes across a door; just a free-standing door on the beach. There is a name on the door. It says 'The Prisoner'. Roland walks behind the door and he can no longer see it; the same from the side. The door is only visible when he looks at it full on. Roland will eventually come across three doors on the beach and each one will open and allow him to see a scene from New York City and different instances of time. Each scene is seen from the point of view of another person. Roland discovers that he can step into that person and communicate with them. He soon realises that he must draw one person from each door; hence the title: The Drawing of the Three. The three people that Roland draws from the doors will form his ka-tet or group and will be pivotal in his search for the dark tower.
Book Three Refresher - The Wastelands
As with book two, volume three takes off exactly where the previous book ended. This is great for those of you reading them one after the other as all seven books read like one long novel; which was King's intention. In this part of the story, Roland and his Ka-tet come across one of the guardians of the beam in the form of a giant mechanical bear that goes by the name of 'Shardik'. We find out more about the path of the beam in relation to the Dark Tower. The tower stands in the middle of twelve other towers or portals, which stand on the edge of the world. There are six beams that all converge at the tower. Shardik is guarding one of the beam paths. Roland and his ka-tet must defeat Shardik to continue along the path. Back in New York in a different time, one of our main characters has stumbled across a rose that emanates a strange glow and a sound so beautiful that it is mesmerising. This character realises that he needs to find a door to get to Roland and becomes determined to succeed. The rose seems pivotal and it makes him feel happy and alive but somehow seems threatened and vulnerable. He must protect the rose and make Roland aware of its existence. He finds a key next to the rose. Back with Roland and another one of the ka-tet starts to carve something out of a branch for no apparent reason other than the fact that he knows he has to. It starts to look like a key. The character in New York must be drawn from that place and time and the ka-tet has a battle on to achieve this and a fight with a powerful demon. Their trek across the Wastelands leads them to a high speed train with a computer controlling it named 'Blaine'. This is where the book ends and the fourth one starts.
Book Four Refresher - Wizard and Glass
Volume four starts the story off exactly where we left it in book three. Roland and his ka-tet are trapped on a high speed train that is going to plummet hundreds of feet off the end of the track when it reaches its journeys end. Blaine has a nasty streak in him for a computer and also a penchant for riddle solving. He sets the ka-tet a challenge and tells them that if they can give him a riddle he cannot solve, then he will let them live. The ka-tet travel to a city that has been decimated by a super flu (The Stand anyone?). In this volume Roland tells the ka-tet his story over many days around the campfire. He recalls his past love and his loss. He recalls great fights and stories of his boy hood friends. You really find out about Roland Deschain in this volume and it makes for a great read.
Book Five Refresher - Wolves of the Calla
The fifth volume is a wondrous tale of different times and quests, which all come together and begin to make Roland's search for the tower, seem like an impossible one. Back in nineteen seventy-seven New York, the rose is in danger. Our ka-tet must split and some must travel back in time and save the rose in order for the tower to survive. They come across the Calla, a town of rice growers and cattle herders in a county called Calla Bryn Sturgis. Most of the pregnant women in the Calla will give birth to twins and have done so for generations. Also, every generation a group of hideous wolves will come and steal one child from each set of twins between the ages of 4 and 13. They return the child months later and the child is mentally retarded. A messenger robot by the name of Andy has told the villages that a visit from the wolves is imminent. It is up to Roland and the Ka-tet to stop them with the help of the local holy man. The holy man will be a surprise to you if you are an ardent King fan. This volume is a fantastic story of a battle against the odds and brings up many moral questions and provokes much thought within the reader. As mentioned earlier, this volume gives the reader a little more clarity as to the scope of Roland's task and the very real notion that it may not be Roland who gets to the tower in the end.
Book Six - Song of Susannah
The sixth book, as with the previous books, starts off exactly where book five ended, which gives you a great feeling of being in the now with the series, no matter when you happen to read it or how long after the others. The illustrations in the book are provided by Darrel Anderson and are exceptional. It does feel great to get back into the story again and I was excited about getting back onto the path of the beam and wondering where the story would take Roland and his ka-tet next. The sixth book is probably the most exciting of the series yet and there are lots of side stories and off-shoots to keep the pace moving nicely. For me, this novel is the defining one in the series to this point and it tells us so much about Roland, his ka-tet and the world or worlds they inhabit. It is a complex tale, rich in plot and keeps you on the edge of your proverbial seat. The story really comes to a head and sets up nicely for the final seventh book. At four hundred pages it is not a small book but the pace is such that it doesn't seem like a long book. King's imagination is second to none when it comes to a book like this. Many will argue that some fantasy and science fiction writers create worlds with even more scope but what makes King unique is the fact that his characters are real and even in a world such as this they are believable and interesting in their many layers. This book is a great continuation of a fantastic series.
The sixth book, for me, is the one that starts to bring the story together and starts to answer some of the questions a lot of readers had from the first five books. I am a big fan of time-travel books and there is an element of time-travel in this and the other dark tower books. Again, the book takes place in different times and runs in tandem with itself until the stories come together at one place.
This volume gets you thinking even more than the other five, if that is possible.
King has always had a way with characters and dialogue as I have mentioned before and Wolves of the Calla really does give you a feel for the group and you feel like you know them all a little deeper and Song of Susannah adds to that and compliments it so well.
I love this book and the series even more. It doesn't end with the seven books either as eight years later in two thousand and twelve, King has penned another Dark Tower book called 'The Wind Through the Keyhole', which is a story that slots in between volume four and five. King has also been rumoured as saying that the seven or now eight books are only a small part of and uber novel.There are also comic versions available and each set of comics is available in a hardback version in graphic novel form.A woman named Robin Furth has also penned a couple of books called 'Stephen King's The Dark Tower a concordance, volumes one and two. Each one has been endorsed by King himself and they are a must for all Dark Tower fans. They act as a reference for everything that Mid-world contains and tell stories of all the characters involved in the series, of which there are many.A lot of the characters in the Dark Tower books are from other King novels and a lot of them tie up loose ends from other books rather nicely.It is the ultimate fantasy series; with bits of Science fiction, fantasy and horror delightfully mixed in by one of the best imaginations there has ever been.What I would say to anyone thinking of reading them is give the first book a chance. It is a little slow at times and has to build a back story of huge content. When you get into the second book you will be glad you continued and then it is a case of not being able to read the rest because they are just so good.Once the first three books were in print a special run of them was produced with art work by Bernie Wrightson. They are superb and a great part of my collection.
Wrightson was a horror comic illustrator from the sixties and seventies. He worked on such titles as 'House of Secrets', 'House of Mystery' and 'The Swamp Thing' series, some of which I had in my early collection of comics myself.
I would highly recommend this book and the series, even if you're not a King fan. If you are a King fan and haven't read them, then you simply must; not doing so would be sacrilegious. It is also wise to read the first, second, third, fourth and fifth books before this sixth volume.
King has really outdone himself with this series and the different places he has created in his books all come together full circle. It is not just his life's work but his life. King has been on his own journey, in search of his own tower and I think he can rest a little easier now knowing that his story has been told and so has Roland's; but knowing King there will be a lot more to come from Mid-world in the next decade or so.
I would also like to mention the TV series and three movies being made in which Javier Bardem is to play Roland, the gunslinger. Originally Viggo Mortensen was up for the part and I think he would have been great but there is the fact that he may have been thought of as stereo-typed after playing Aragorn in the three The Lord of the Rings movies. I think Bardem may surprise a lot of people and I for one cannot wait to see what it is like. We may see the first appearance in 2013.
Summary: Roland and his Ka-tet continue on their journey towards The Dark Tower.