First published back in November of 2003, ‘The Dark Tower V: Wolves Of The Calla’ formed the fifth instalment into US bestselling author Stephen King’s epic ‘Dark Tower’ series. The novel continues directly on from where the fourth instalment ‘The Dark Tower IV: Wizard And Glass’ (1997) left off.
Now back from the baron and depopulated state of Kansas in the parallel running dimension where Randall Flagg (aka Marten Broadcloak) has just fled, Roland and his ka-tet continue on their journey, arriving at a farming village known as Calla Bryn Sturgis. Here they meet with a man named Father Callahan, who in sheer desperation for the sake of Calla’s townsfolk, pleads for the help of Roland and his ka-tet of gunslingers.
As Callahan explains, the small self-sufficient town is being plagued by an army of beasts known as the Wolves Of Thunderclap, who at a designated time for each generation, tear across the landscape and forcibly remove one child of each pair of twins (a trait of the town). Having collected together and then taken away these young children, the Wolves later return them to the townspeople, having turned the children into mentally handicapped and genetically-accelerated youngsters who are now destined to die young. And now the Wolves are due to return to Calla within a matter of weeks.
Father Callahan is not new to fighting such despicable and ruthless beasts. Soon enough he tells the gunslingers of his past and how he came to live in Calla. A story that goes back to when he lived in Maine, working as a vampire hunter, slaughtering any Type-3 vampires that he encountered. But he battle against the vampires was not without its costs. And eventually Father Callahan fell to the master vampire, Kurt Barlow. And as such, Father Callahan entered Mid-World and has since lived a simple life with the good people of Calla.
Meanwhile, back in Manhattan in 1977, the single red rose that Jake found growing in the litter-covered vacant lot, is now under threat. Having become aware that the fate of the Dark Tower itself is joined in destiny to that of this single red rose, Roland and his faithful ka-tet know it is their duty to do everything in their power to protect the rose. And so, after Father Callahan offers Roland one of the thirteen crystal balls that was given to him by none other than Randall Flagg – a magical talisman known as Black Thirteen that has the ability to move people between the parallel worlds – the ka-tet decide to use the powers of the Sorcerer’s sinister crystal ball to secure the future of the Dark Tower for the rest of time.
But with the threat of the Wolves Of Thunderclap still looming, the ka-tet learn of another equally troubling problem. One that is growing within their very closely-bonded cabal. After Susannah’s sacrificial coupling with the demon, Roland has become aware of changes in her behaviour. A shift in her personality, as she is once again becoming split in two. And Roland fears the worst. He fears that Susannah may be carrying the demon’s child. A child that could bring the end to their ka-tet, and in doing so, an end to their great quest...
What’s very much apparent to the reader upon commencing with this fifth instalment in the series is King’s obvious awareness of the time that has passed between the publication of this instalment and the previous one – ‘The Dark Tower IV: Wizard And Glass’ (1997). King seems overly concerned in referencing back to events that took place in the previous books, as if to jog the reader’s memory (and maybe his own) as to what has already taken place in the series. At times this becomes a little too tediously spoon-fed, which regrettably begins to grate on the reader somewhat.
However, after a moderately slow start to the novel, the ‘Dark Tower’ tale soon gets underway again, putting us back on track for the epic adventure to continue. And sure enough, King starts to reveal another complex and mysterious plot for our travelling gunslingers to tackle. One that is bursting with excitement as well as interweaving complex layers to the whole Dark Tower mythology.
The sudden inclusion of Father Callahan into the ka-tet is likely to come as quite a shock for most (if not all) readers. Having already been a principal character in King’s earlier novel ‘Salem’s Lot’ (1975), the character’s pre-existing backstory is cleverly incorporated into the whole ‘Dark Tower’ world, with the storylines intertwined and ingeniously slotted into the progress of this next instalment.
Surprisingly, the ‘Father Callahan’ backstory takes up a reasonable chunk of the novel, with the character’s involvement making a critical impact on how the quest continues. Indeed, as if from out of the blue, the novel starts to bring in monumentally impactful events that suddenly threaten not only Roland’s quest, but the whole of the ‘Dark Tower’ universe.
Parallel universe hopping becomes a principal factor in the storyline, with the main body of the tale jumping here, there and everywhere adding to the various levels of complexity within the progression of the tale. Although so many plots, subplots and interwoven layers are running along at the same time, King manages to masterfully keep the whole novel taut and permanently on track, without taking his eye off the final goal for a second. Admittedly there does at first glance appear to be quite a lot of meandering around with the way the storyline is leading, but there is always a reason behind each action, which King eventually addresses when and where it becomes necessary.
By far and away the most energetic and exciting aspect of this fifth instalment is the plotline involving the mysterious Wolves Of Thunderclap. Oddly, as more and more of these marauding beasts are revealed, so strangely out-of-place elements from our own modern-day pop culture slip in. ‘Lightsabers’ from the Star Wars franchise along with ‘Snitches’ from the Harry Potter series find themselves included within the tale. And it’s here, in including such aspects, that we see King really start to expand out the ‘Dark Tower’ mythology to incorporate our own world. The principals behind fiction and reality are being played with. The once distinct divide being blurred to suit King’s ambitious and highly imaginative needs. And it all starts to really take place here, in this crucial fifth instalment.
All in all this is an immensely ambitious and brave development for the series, which I personally believe has well-and-truly paid off. It’s certainly true that many readers have been a bit miffed with the incorporation of ‘real life’ (for want of a better description) into the tale. But in doing this, King has broken the boundaries of fiction and taken the series to a whole new level to explore. And trust me, explore it he will. None more so than in the next instalment in the series - ‘The Dark Tower VI: Song Of Susannah’ (2004).
The novel runs for a total of 714 pages.
© DLS Reviews