Science Fiction Book Review

Song of Susannah

(2004) Stephen King, Hodder & Stoughton, 20.00, hrdbk, 430pp, ISBN 0-340-82718-1

This is part six, the penultimate part, of 'The Dark Tower' books and it's hard to know what to say about it. The plot's simple enough, carrying on from volume five: using the magic doors Roland and Eddie travel to the 70's to buy the plot of land with the rose (a manfestation of the Dark Tower) on it from Calvin Tower, in hiding with his friend Aaron Deepneau, while Father Callahan, Jake and Oy go to 1999 to recover Susannah who, if you remember, is possessed by the pregnant Mia. You get to find out who the father is, which shouldn't be a surprise if you've been reading carefully (and remember what succubi and incubi do for a living), and Roland gets to meet his creator, the fictional Stephen King. I've got no problems with this - metafictions where the writer appears in the story have many precedents, though obviously some are better than others. Even stories about stories and storytelling don't especially bother me (another good current example would be Alan Moore's Promethea series of graphic novels). If anything does bother me about this series, it's that it seems overwritten - certainly both volumes four and five (Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla) come across as filler, an idea re-inforced by a friend I turned on to the books. I still wouldn't single The Dark Tower out for this particular criticism, since it applies to so many series (especially fantasies), but it does apply. The real problem, from a reviewing perspective, is that there's little to say about King's writing after nearly three decades (still very readable, page-turning stuff), about the series itself (moving along slowly) except that I do look forward to the last part (even if it is King's swan song), or even about King's work in context (ie. I wouldn't, and couldn't, recommend this volume or this series to a non-King reader, but would probably start them somewhere else). I can tell you that the book has 10 full-colour illustrations by Darrel Anderson, which are very nice, though more as stand-alone pieces than as a contribution to the reading experience per se. I suppose it's also some kind of recommendation, given the thoughts I've expressed about various series over the years, that I can even be bothered to wade through seven volumes of anything! But then I'm the right age to be a King fan, having first encountered him in my mid-teens when his career began with Carrie, though I'd be the first to point out that not all of King's books have been a triumph - his particular weak area being SF. Whatever, I do look forward to enjoying the climax in book seven, The Dark Tower, which should be out later this year (November if memory serves). Also, for those who have had a problem following the series over its 22-odd years, we should also see the second volume of The Dark Tower 'concordance' from King's assistant Robin Furth (a pedant's delight for spotting continuity errors - and explaining them away!).

Tony Chester

Previous Stephen King reviews on this site include: Wolves of the Calla, Bag of Bones, Black House, Dream Chaser, Everything's Eventual, From a Buick 8, The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Wizard and Glass: The Dark Tower 4

Also see The Dark Tower, A Concordance vol.1 by Robin Furth.

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