It’s around here where the fandom generally agrees that the series starts to decline. Indeed, this volume does lack the magic that the previous three had. Still, I don’t know if I’d call it a bad read. Even though the thing clocks in at over 700 pages, you’ll find yourself moving through it pretty quickly.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t have faults. The “19” plot point was rather clumsily introduced. Ideally, King would’ve had it in mind from the get-go, allowing him to plant seeds (much like he has with the series ending, which in hindsight, we all really should’ve seen coming). Considering how this series was written over the span of several years, I can’t fault him for coming up with an idea later. However, it was rather shoehorned in. The early pages talk about how all these things happened off page to try and get it out of the way, and I don’t think it works that well.
The book was also a bit heavy on the Calla-speak. I actually like the gunslinger lingo, but this was too much. I understand the Calla folk using it, and I was even OK with the ka-tet using it when speaking with said townsfolk. The thing is that they keep using it, even when it doesn’t make sense to. When Eddie returns to New York, you’d think he’d fall back on some of his old mannerisms, but instead, he keeps up with the “say thank yas” and “do ya kens” etc. Maybe it’s supposed to be an indicator that Mid-World is Eddie’s home now and he doesn’t fit in with his old surroundings, but it still felt a bit odd.
I did like how Father Callahan was worked into the narrative. I first read this before I had read Salem’s Lot, and while reading that certainly adds to the appeal of seeing him here, the way he’s brought in works well enough that you don’t necessarily need to in order to enjoy his presence or become intrigued by the tale he tells around the mid-point of the book.
Giving Jake a chance to just hang out with a friend and be a normal kid was also a nice character bit. Granted, things go south, but even Roland was able to appreciate the sight of Jake just being a happy kid.
As I said, this volume doesn’t quite have the same magic as the previous, but it does make an effort to try and tie into the previous ones, as one of the subplots introduced centers around helping Calvin Tower, the used bookstore owner that Jake talked to in The Wastelands, escape the wrath of Balazar, a crime boss that Eddie and Roland battled in The Drawing of the Three.
Speaking of which, Tower’s characterization here is rather different from what we saw before. He was a likable character before. Here, he’s painted as more spineless and pathetic. Even Eddie says that he hates the guy after talking with him for a few minutes. Having him show up again would’ve been a positive mark for the book, but it’s kind of ruined by the changed characterization.
As for the titular wolves, I have to say they are something of a disappointment. The buildup is great, but the final showdown was lacking. You’d think that robot wolves that wield lightsabers, hurl sneetches, and dress like Doctor Doom would be the pinnacle of awesome, but they just fell flat. They’re defeated rather easily, which is sad to see after reading 600 pages building them up as this huge threat. I actually kind of wish that Roland had been telling the truth when he told the townsfolk that the wolves were undead creatures. Better yet, add that to the explanation that we got. Reveal that they are in fact, cyborg zombie wolves that wield lightsabers. Yeah, that’s some good stuff right there.
Now, your first thought upon hearing a synopsis of this book, would be to write it off as, what the RPG’ers call, a sidequest. While this is true to a certain extent, King does manage to incorporate it into the progressing story enough that you don’t feel like the series is just spinning its wheels. Even if the idea of incorporating a giant nod to The Seven Samurai makes perfect sense, it could’ve easily become an unwelcome addition (or at least been a better fit as supplemental material).
I think that the thing that really marks this as the decline is the introduction of the meta-aspect of the series. When dealing with a multiverse, it’s not that unheard of to handwave fictitious characters as “real in another universe”. I’ve seen it done in comics quite a bit. Even so, when I heard that King was working himself into the narrative, I cringed. I remember back when the series was being written that one of the big “wild mass guesses” was that King himself would’ve sat atop the Tower. I actually think that that would’ve worked better, but that’s a moot point.
Even now, I’m not that big on the characters discovering that they are characters in a novel. It just takes me out of the story, when it’s been rather immersive up to this point. Oh, and Roland can dance apparently. Who knew?
Is the book terrible? No, but it does fall short of the expectations that the other entries have built up. After the lengthy flashback in the previous book, it was nice to get back to the characters we know and move forward, but there were some flaws that really detract from the book. I also have to give credit where it’s due and say that the book ends on a pretty solid cliffhanger. It’s not quite at the level with Blaine’s riddle challenge, but I’d say it comes rather close. When all is said and done, the book ends up being something of a mixed bag.