First published back in November of 1997, ‘The Dark Tower IV: Wizard And Glass’ formed the fourth instalment into US bestselling author Stephen King’s epic ‘Dark Tower’ series.  The limited first edition hardcover included eighteen full-colour illustrations by Dave McKean and has since become a highly sort after edition.  The novel continues directly on from where the third instalment ‘The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands’ (1991) left off.

DLS Synopsis:
Aboard the insane locomotive ‘Blaine The Mono’, the four gunslingers together with their new companion, Oy the billy-bumbler, are hurtling through the Mid-World at the mercy of the utterly mad riddle-telling train.  Hours pass with the locomotive still undefeated, until Eddie uses his childish joke-telling on the train – throwing logic to the wind and shorting out the computerised mind of the locomotive, thusly ending their manic ride through the Mid-World.

Upon arriving at the Topeka railway station, the ka-tet leave Blaine and take to the deserted city on foot.  Around them they see disturbing signs of the city’s bygone past.  Eddie, Susannah and Jake know the city.  But subtle differences here and there throw them.  Devoid of all life, the ka-tet decide to leave the city to its empty streets and head out via the Kansas Turnpike.

That night, whilst the travelling gunslingers camp down for the night by a strange wormhole that appears non-threatening, Roland decides it is time to share his past with his ka-tet.  And so, in the shadowy darkness of the night, illuminated by the swirling void of the ‘thinny’, Roland begins his story.

Roland’ tale begins back when he was just a fourteen year old lad in Gilead.  After learning of his mother’s infidelity with his father’s trusted counsellor, Marten Broadcloak, the young Roland is in desperate need of a set of guns.  And so, sacrificing his faithful hawk, David in the fight against his gunslinger mentor Cort, Roland earns the right to his first set of guns and becomes the youngest gunslinger in history.

After the fight, Roland’s father sends his son eastwards for his own protection.  Together with his loyal companions, Cuthbert Allgood and Alain Johns, the newly formed ka-tet arrive at the Barony of Mejis, whereby they soon become acquainted with their new surrounds and the local townsfolk.  And it’s here that Roland meets Susan Delgado, the woman who will steal his heart.  But his growing love for the young woman begins to cause rifts between him and his close friend Cuthbert.  And as their once solid friendship is put over rocky ground, Roland Deschain uncover a cloak-and-dagger plot being put into action by the local ranchers to supply oil to a man named John Farson who has ambitions to rid the world of gunslingers using ancient machines of war.

Roland and his ka-tet must step in and put an end to this sinister plot, for the sake of everyone he loves and the people of Gilead.  But Farson has a lot of influence in the town of Hambry, and the people with power listen to him.  With so much at stake, Roland must act quickly in order to save his homeland.  But in order to do so, he will need the help of more than just his ka-tet.

Meanwhile, back in the current time, Roland’s sworn enemy, the sorcerer Marten Broadcloak has taken up residence in the nearby Emerald City.  And on their journey to the centre of the In-World, Roland’s new ka-tet will encounter the gunslinger’s despicable enemy from his past, as the venture ever closer to the mythical Dark Tower...

DLS Review:
For this fourth instalment, King takes a hefty proportion of the tale (close to five hundred pages worth) back to when Roland was just a fourteen year old youth.  Here we see a whole different character in comparison to the cold and hardened gunslinger we have come to know so well.  What King presents instead is a much more human and identifiable character, showing that Roland too was once just another youngster.  And in doing this, the great gunslinger’s backstory becomes an instantly compelling read.

It’s true to say that the book starts off at a ferocious pace and, one the cliff-hanger that we were left with at the end of ‘Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands’ (1991) is resolved, the novel does take a considerable step back from this action-fuelled pace.  But this is not necessarily detrimental to the storyline itself.  In fact, this departure from the main quest, to instead reveal much of Roland’s past, adds a new and fresh quality to the series.  Here King gets to commence with a whole new angle in the series, weaving an important story-within-a-story that adds much more weight to the epic quest and fleshes out our principal protagonist in veritable leaps and bounds.

Because this backstory forms such a large part of the book, Roland’s quest is soon almost forgotten, and instead this gloriously Wild West style of a coming-of-age backstory is handed the reins.  There are many comically clichéd moments in this inner-story and the characters are either exaggerated barons or twee townsfolk, with pretty standard defined roles within the progression of the story.  Again, not a particularly bad thing, but one that does feel a bit ‘easy’ compared with the complexities and imaginative depths to the main Dark Tower storyline.

What’s possibly most interesting in the novel is the inclusion of ‘The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz’ (1900) references within the actual storyline.  Indeed, outside of the story-with-a-story, the strange ‘Wizard Of Oz’ related plot forms a main part to the storyline within the book.  Here the tale shifts towards a strange paradox of the children’s story, drawing upon numerous aspects of the tale to make this parallel running world so much more ingrained in our own world and upbringings.

Furthermore, King continues to tie in pieces of his own earlier work, most notably now with the inclusion of the post-apocalyptic backdrop from his novel ‘The Stand’ (1978).  Indeed, the course of the book seems to be intrinsically tied-in with King’s ‘Dark Tower’ world, with the depopulated landscape just another parallel running universe that the ka-tet are confronted with.

Once again King gets himself knee-deep in the awe-inspiring intricacies of his carefully fabricated world.  The sheer depth to the whole world he has created just keeps on expanding.  In this fourth instalment we are given one of the biggest glimpses of the concept behind this parallel running world.  We are shown a wider expanse of time and taken through wormholes to whole new head-scratching dimensions.

The ending to the book is perhaps a little rushed, and dare I say forced?  I know what you're thinking...close to eight-hundred pages and I think it's rushed! However, the way in which the novel is constructed left King with just a quick-fire ending to conclude the book on, that doesn’t really reflect the importance and dramatic build-up to the situation.  It’s not a dire ending by any stretch of the imagination, but now that the reader is well acquainted with the characters and general flow of the ‘Dark Tower’ books, feels a touch too simplistic.

The book was later followed on by the fifth instalment in the series – ‘Dark Tower V: Wolves Of The Calla’ (2003).

The novel runs for a total of 787 pages.

© DLS Reviews

Other ‘Dark Tower’ instalments:

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