Hodder & Stoughton, out now in paperback
While sheltering from a storm, Roland the Gunslinger relates a tale of his youth – and within that, a story from far-off days…
An unexpected additional story within the Dark Tower canon, this occasionally feels as if it’s a portion of the manuscript for one of the middle books that King couldn’t find a way to make fit within the main stories while writing them. Such a massive digression would slow up the narrative flow of the key novels, but works very well as The Dark Tower 4.5 (King’s own description of it).
Those wanting more adventures of Roland his ka-tet may be a little disappointed: to all intents and purposes they feature in a framing sequence, which is there to set up a time when Roland needs to relate a tale, but those who have persevered with the Dark Tower sequence will recognise little flashes of insight into the characters which play out later.
The Marvel comics series based on the Dark Tower has concentrated on Roland before he began his quest, and this story fits into those days. Not long after his fight with Cort and Roland’s killing of his own mother, the young gunslinger is sent to investigate terrible deaths. These are related with all King’s enjoyment of gore and horror, made even stronger by Roland’s own way with words, which sometimes lacks subtlety.
There’s one survivor of the attacks, and to him Roland tells the tale of The Wind Through the Keyhole, a coming of age and rite of passage story that at times feels like a Dark Tower version of The Boy Who Loved Tom Gordon. As ever with the Tower, there are allusions to other writers’ works (Narnia is co-opted here), and, as with The Eyes of the Dragon, although King is telling a children’s tale, he doesn’t talk down at any time.
Overall, it’s an interesting diversion back to Roland his ka-tet, which illuminates without negating any of the preceding stories. 7/10