Friday, July 30, 2010

Review: Wizard and Glass

Wizard and Glass is the fourth book in Stephen King's epic fantasy/western/horror mash-up extravaganza. This book takes a major detour into the past and explores an adventure from Roland's youth.

The previous book, The Waste Lands ended with Roland and his band of friends in a tight jam, aboard Blaine, a highly intelligent, computerized super-train, locked in a riddle-battle. Picking up where the last book left off, King kicks the novel off with the conclusion of the riddle-battle. The little fellowship survives thanks to some off-color jokes courtesy of Eddie Dean. Once they disembark the train, they find themselves in 1980's Topeka Kansas. However, it is not the Topeka Kansas of Eddie's, or Susnannah's, or Jake's "when", but one that has been wiped out by a deadly influenza.

Once on the outskirts of Topeka, they camp near a dimensional hole called a "thinny". As they rest for the night, Roland tells the crew about his first experience with a thinny, thus kicking off the novel-within-a-novel.

Roland's story goes way back to when he was fourteen and had just won his guns, becoming the youngest gunslinger in history. He and his friends Alain and Cuthbert have been sent to the far off barony of Mejis, in part for their own protection, but "officially" to do some counting for the alliance which Mejis is part of. While there, Roland meets and falls in love with Susan Delgado, a young lady who is promised to become the "gilly girl" to the aged, and son-less Mayor of Mejis. Roland gets so completely caught up in his love affair with Susan that it clouds his reasoning and judgment for some time. Roland's distraction comes at the worst possible time because he and his friends have run afoul of three local thugs called the Big Coffin Hunters, and have also uncovered a conspiracy; one that involves the local upper-class citizens of Mejis supplying and fueling the military machine of John Farson, rebel leader and enemy of the Gunslingers. Oh, and add in a wicked witch, and a magical pink orb for good measure.

The story within a story portion of this book was a bit of a let down for me. I have come to really enjoy the characters of Roland, Eddie, Susannah, and Jake, and they were more or less side notes as the story of Roland's youth took up the brunt of this book. It's not that Roland's back story was not interesting; it was quite entertaining, and well written, but was such a deviation from the overall plot of the series that I was disappointed to see the book go in that direction.

My wants and desires aside, Roland's character gets further developed, and his unwavering motivation for the Dark Tower becomes a lot more clear, so the back story certainly had it's purposes. In the past, I simply accepted Roland to be a hard-ass because it seemed to be his nature, but now King has given a reason for him being so hard, and I do appreciate that. I think King has done a wonderful job of crafting fantastic characters for this series, and I appreciate the effort. Roland is fast becoming an all-time favorite character of mine.

Yeah, I would have liked to have seen more happen in the way of the quest, and I would have liked more from the main characters, but despite that, this is still a great novel. The events that take place in Mejis add another layer to this series, and build upon the history of Roland's world which has only been hinted at or glimpsed in the past novels. I will say that Wizard and Glass felt like a middle novel, so hopefully the next book will put things back on track.

Grade: C+


Seak (Bryce L.) said...

Thanks man, nice review here. Just enough but not too much. My favorite parts of The Gunslinger were Roland's youth, so this might be really good for me.

Ryan said...

Seak- Glad to hear you like the review. I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts on the books in this series.

the Weasel said...

Hmmm, I must disagree with your grade of C+ here, though your review was succinct and true. I was hooked like a fool from page 1 of Book 1, but the backstory in DT4 is what completely knocked this series out of the galaxy for me. In fact, DT4 may be my very favorite of all King's books. Excellent character development, great emotional ride, hands down story-telling mastery from the very, very best!

Ryan said...

the Weasel- I mentioned this in one of your other comments, but now that I have the whole series behind me, I have a greater appreciation for DT4. It's pretty critical in understanding what makes Roland tick. I think it is safe to say that without this book, Roland wouldn't be as amazing of a character as he is.

the Weasel said...

Indeed! Well put.