I'm late for this party. But as I mentioned in my reviews for The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three, though I've had Stephen King's The Dark Tower installments patiently awaiting my attention for years, I wanted to wait till the series was done before starting to read The Gunslinger.
The first two volumes were more or less set-up books for what would come after. Hence, I was quite curious to discover what would transpire in The Waste Lands. Most fans seem to agree that the third and fourth volumes are the best of the series, so I was looking forward to finding out where King would take us.
Here's the blurb:
Roland continues his quest for the Dark Tower, but he is no longer alone. He has trained Eddie and Susannah—who entered Mid-World from their separate whens in New York City in The Drawing of the Three—in the old ways of the gunslingers. But their ka-tet is not yet complete. Another must be drawn from New York into Mid-World, someone who has been there before, a boy who has died not once but twice, and yet still lives. The ka-tet, four who are bound together by fate, must travel far in this novel encountering not only the poisonous waste lands and the ravaged city of Lud that lies beyond, but also the rage of a train that might be their only means of escape.
Up until this point, the worldbuilding had not been a factor in the Dark Tower series. This universe reminiscent of America's Wild West had captivated me in The Gunslinger. Sadly, Stephen King had played his cards pretty close to his chest, and readers had learned next to nothing about the series' universe. In terms of worldbuilding, The Waste Lands is a world away from its two predecessors. To begin with, the novel finally establishes the physics by which the world operates. Six beams run between twelve portals which mark the edges of Mid-World. Standing at the point where the beams cross at the center of the universe lies the Dark Tower. Hints seem to indicate that the Dark Tower might lie at the center of all worlds. We also learn more about the twelve Guardians set to guard the twelve Portals. Each Guardian matches up with a Guardian at the Portal on the other end of the Beam. Roland, Eddie, and Susannah face one of the Guardians in the early part of the novel. They encounter a gigantic cyborg bear known as Shardik. The beast was created by North Central Positronics Ltd. As Roland and his party make their way along the Path of the Beam, passing through River Crossing on their way to the city of Lud, readers learn more and more details. These discoveries raise a panoply of additional questions, yet they demonstrate that the Dark Tower universe resounds with an incredible wealth of depth.
The first portion of the book is dedicated to the drawing of the true third in their ka-tet, Jake Chambers. But in order for this drawing to become a reality, Roland and Jake must first battle their own fraying psyches and achieve some sort of reconciliation between their doubled memories concerning the paradoxical events which led to Jake's death. The second portion chronicles the events that lead the ka-tet toward the city of Lud, searching for a train known as Blaine the Mono. This is the sole means of transportation which can take them to Topeka, where Mid-World ends and End-World begins.
As a no-nonsense kind of Gunslinger, Roland of Gilead immediately became a fan favorite. Though both The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three featured an interesting supporting cast, the books' main focus more or less remained on Roland. What differentiates The Waste Lands from its predecessors is that the secondary characters really come into their own and take their rightful place in the narrative. Although the series continues to be about Roland's quest for the Dark Tower, it is now evident that Eddie, Susannah, and Jake will play important roles in what is to come.
It is also in The Waste Lands that a number of connections with Stephen King's other novels are unveiled. References to The Stand and It are hidden within the narrative.
Unlike the second volume in the series, The Waste Lands doesn't suffer from an uneven rhythm. The pace keeps you turning those pages, eager to discover what happens next. The plot keeps moving forward, revealing layer after layer regarding those convoluted storylines.