It’s no secret that I’m a big Stephen King fan. It’s even less of a secret that I’m a big Dark Tower fan, given that I have the Sigil of Eld tattooed on my wrist (although I suppose one would also have to be a big Dark Tower fan to recognize it as such). Therefore, I was excited when I heard that King would be releasing a new Dark Tower novel this year, if “excited” is a strong enough term. I was even more excited when I found out it was to be set between the fourth and fifth novels (Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla), an excellent place for a little more information about Mid-World and Roland Deschain’s ka-tet.
The story begins with Roland, Eddie Dean (be still, my heart), Susannah Dean, Jake, and the billy-bumbler Oy taking shelter from a “starkblast”—a devastating, deadly storm that rips through Mid-World leaving destruction in its path. The starkblast reminds Roland of an event in his adolescence when he and Jamie De Curry, a member of Roland’s original ka-tet, investigated a Skinwalker. The novel is actually three stories in one, with Roland telling the skinwalker story to the Deans and Jake, and within this story, a younger Roland relaying the legend of “The Wind Through the Keyhole.”
I wish I hadn’t gone in to this book with expectations. I think if I was just a person looking forward to reading a book, or even a big Stephen King fan who didn’t have strong feelings about the Dark Towerseries, I would have loved this. The layer of the story where Roland and Jamie track the skinwalker to the mine and work to find a way to flush it out is particularly interesting, and the twisted fairy tale aspect of Tim Ross’s quest to find a cure for his mother’s blindness, dogged by the Covenant Man
(aka the Man in Black aka Marten Broadcloak aka Randal Flagg), in the “Wind Through the Keyhole” layer is reminiscent of The Eyes of the Dragon.
Still, I couldn’t help but be slightly disappointed at how little we got to see of Roland’s ka-tet (outside of Jamie from the original ka-tet, which was awesome, although I was sad there were so many mentions of Alain Johns and particularly Cuthbert Allgood* without either actually making an appearance in Roland’s story)—when I heard “new Dark Tower book” I was hoping for more adventures from Eddie and Susannah and Jake (and Oy). Obviously, this is my own fault for having these expectations with nothing to precipitate them, and it doesn’t in any way detract from the book that King actually wrote, but it did still lessen my enjoyment of the novel slightly.
*if I remember correctly, the original poll on King’s website as to which book readers were most interested in (this one or a sequel to The Shining called Dr. Sleep which is set to be released next year), said that Roland would be hunting the skinman with Cuthbert, who was my favourite of the original ka-tet, so it’s extra disappointing that he changed it to Jamie although it was nice to see him a little more.
Despite my personal annoyance, The Wind Through the Keyhole fits in well with the Dark Tower canon. The titular legend features the same creepy blend of medieval lifestyles and modern technology with Tim’s friend the sentient GPS, and the skinwalker saga adds to Roland’s backstory as well as being a Western-tinged hell of a gunslinger story. And, brief as it was, I will never complain about getting a glimpse of the ka-tet again.
The forward to the novel provides enough information about Roland’s quest and companions and Mid-World that someone who has not read the rest of the Dark Tower series should be able to follow it without much difficulty, and I would recommend it to those people. It is an engaging story (or story in a story in a story) and it doesn’t seem to be much affected by the prior circumstances or have much affect on the outcome of the later books. It would also probably be less frustrating to those of you who aren’t already Tower junkies. I’m finding it hard to decide what rating to give this novel—for the worldbuilding alone it deserves, as does the entire series, a perfect review—but I can’t ignore my personal disappointments, unjustified though they may be. I will always be happy to revisit Mid-World, and I hope that King does so again at some point in the future. I just wish there was more.