THE DARK TOWER VII

THE DARK TOWER

WHEN KINGS MET AT THE DARK TOWER

Will the long-awaited completion of Stephen King’s lifework, the seven-volume adventure/action/horror fantasy The Dark Tower, stir fans to love or sadness? The next-to-last volume, The Song of Susannah (2004), was less than exciting, and the final installment kicks off from the cliffhanger where Susannah ended, with the ka-tet split up into different towns and eras and the tripartite Susannah/Mia/Odetta in 1999 giving birth to Mordred and about to be drained and baked and eaten by dancing vampires in the Dixie Pig in New York. Just like a Saturday serial, Father Callahan, the billy-bumbler Oy, and Jake show up outta nowhere and blast vampires, monsters, and ratheads to bits, but not before these grotesques pile fatally onto Callahan despite his glowing crucifix held high. But now we must not be spoilers who give away plot points fans won’t want to know. Even so, we can’t not tell you about Mordred, who we know already from Song of Susannah is supposedly slated to kill Roland Deschain, the Gunslinger headed for the Dark Tower of the Crimson King, axis of time, space, and all universes. His monstrous growth being one of King’s greatest inventions, Mordred is born with a full set of teeth in his lower jaw, an erection as big as Susannah’s little finger, a red birthmark on his heel, and Roland’s electric-blue eyes. He at once tears off his mother’s breast, eats it, drains her blood (Mia’s, not Susannah’s), and turns into a fat eight-legged spider with baby Roland’s face and eyes on his back. This kid could eat a horse—and does. Mordred’s two fathers are Roland and the were-spider Crimson King, a paternity that feeds his physical supergrowth and vastly expanding and capable mind. That should suggest something about this whizbang bloodfest. Amusing turns feature Nigel, a comic Jeevesian butler-robot, knocked off from Asimov and Star Wars’s C-3PO, and the happy reappearance of all these characters’ creator, a sighing Stephen King, killed by a Dodge minivan herein but still around to tell the story. Many bizarre doorways to Mid-World and End-World and a short deck of new characters and extra-series characters such as Ted Brannigan from Hearts in Atlantis show up and integrate this series with several King books outside the Dark Tower series, so that King fashions for himself something of an all-inclusive lifework. As foretold, there’s bad news for nearly all the ka-tet. And for some fans there’ll be bad news when Kings meet at the Dark Tower and the horrormeister shunts aside the world-bursting galactic climax expected for a more formulaic end. Even King himself apologizes for falling short. Multidimensional fantasy-leaps and grisly horror balance long ho-hum stretches that calm the waters between the tsunamis. Big literary laurels or hack masterpiece? Oil paintings (not seen here) and page drawings by the great SF illustrator Michael Whalen help. But what can you say when your lead character is less expressive than Audie Murphy (not Clint Eastwood, as King hints)—and far less compelling than Frodo or Harry Potter?

—Donald Newlove

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2004

ISBN: 1-880418-62-2

Page Count: 864

Publisher: Donald M. Grant/Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2004

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

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THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE

After 1,000 years of peace, whispers that “the Nameless One will return” ignite the spark that sets the world order aflame.

No, the Nameless One is not a new nickname for Voldemort. Here, evil takes the shape of fire-breathing dragons—beasts that feed off chaos and imbalance—set on destroying humankind. The leader of these creatures, the Nameless One, has been trapped in the Abyss for ages after having been severely wounded by the sword Ascalon wielded by Galian Berethnet. These events brought about the current order: Virtudom, the kingdom set up by Berethnet, is a pious society that considers all dragons evil. In the East, dragons are worshiped as gods—but not the fire-breathing type. These dragons channel the power of water and are said to be born of stars. They forge a connection with humans by taking riders. In the South, an entirely different way of thinking exists. There, a society of female mages called the Priory worships the Mother. They don’t believe that the Berethnet line, continued by generations of queens, is the sacred key to keeping the Nameless One at bay. This means he could return—and soon. “Do you not see? It is a cycle.” The one thing uniting all corners of the world is fear. Representatives of each belief system—Queen Sabran the Ninth of Virtudom, hopeful dragon rider Tané of the East, and Ead Duryan, mage of the Priory from the South—are linked by the common goal of keeping the Nameless One trapped at any cost. This world of female warriors and leaders feels natural, and while there is a “chosen one” aspect to the tale, it’s far from the main point. Shannon’s depth of imagination and worldbuilding are impressive, as this 800-pager is filled not only with legend, but also with satisfying twists that turn legend on its head. Shannon isn’t new to this game of complex storytelling. Her Bone Season novels (The Song Rising, 2017, etc.) navigate a multilayered society of clairvoyants. Here, Shannon chooses a more traditional view of magic, where light fights against dark, earth against sky, and fire against water. Through these classic pairings, an entirely fresh and addicting tale is born. Shannon may favor detailed explication over keeping a steady pace, but the epic converging of plotlines at the end is enough to forgive.

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63557-029-8

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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