Ugh. This messy, messy seventh book caps off one of the most awe-inspiring and frustrating reading experiences of my life. Too often the chapters are either baffling or straight-up boring. It's either the endless cul-de-sacs of trivial descriptions or, for the love of Gan, the relentless mentions of 19. But then without warning I'd be caught breathless by moments of unforced artistry and think, "Yes, this is what it means to seek the Tower."
** a few spoilers ahead **
I've written this review before, a rather lengthly one. I was in college when Dark Tower 7 came out and I remember hauling that near-1,000 page hardcover to class, tuning out the lecture, and reading while pretending to pay attention. The final push through End World and the scarlet fields of Can'-Ka No Rey was one of the most memorable of my life. In spite of an uneven narrative and a somewhat baffling conclusion, I still couldn't hold back the tears of elation and anguish when it was all over. Few other stories have ever moved me in the same way.
In 2006 and again this year (2015) I revisited the entire series. Regretfully, this last book feels less and less inspired each time. There are exceptionally good passages throughout, but the lackluster ones stick out even more. I'm not going to churn out another elongated review for a series I may not return to again for a decade or longer (or ever).
So I'll keep it short. Well, shorter at least.
With the exception of Eddie's death, Roland palavering with Stephen King in 1999, and a few other random moments of odd brilliance, the first part of the book isn't nearly as good as the second. The Ka-tet's victory at Algul Siento was far too easy. And having that be the act that saves the Tower—a series-long tension that's resolved a third of the way through the book, no less—cheapens the reason Roland set out on his journey in the first place.
The second half has plenty wrong with it too, but overall it's an improvement because it's a return to the overland quest that's been MIA since book 3. After a quick stop off at 2 Hammarskjöld Plaza—an interesting visit that seems to raise just as many questions as it answers—Roland and what's left of his gang finally pass the sign announcing their arrival in End World. The anticipation of reaching the Dark Tower is so all-consuming at this point that it's easy to ignore the clunkier parts of the narrative—moments that upon closer inspection make you question if King's motivation for these final several hundred pages wasn't to just finish the darn thing.
And, at last, we reach the Tower. The Crimson King is a ridiculous adversary with his bag of Harry Potter sneeches so nevermind him. Roland's final march towards the Dark Tower while shouting all the names of his lost friends is still as powerful as ever in spite of all the literary distractions that came before it. I look forward to seeing this scene play out on the big screen one day.
What follows next, mere pages after Roland's triumph in the fields of Can'-Ka No Rey, is the worst offense of the entire Tower septology. I'm not talking about the weird happy ending in Central Park, nor about what Roland finds at the room at the very top. I'm talking about where Stephen King re-inserts himself in the story one last time to EFFIN' REPROACH HIS OWN FANS for caring about Roland's final fate. WTF? Tell us how you really feel? Was King trying for some kind of staged artistic indignancy? Or worse, was he honestly this resentful toward his Constant Readers?
Either way, that was cruel and it broke my heart.