Another review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #37:-
WOLVES OF THE CALLA: STEPHEN KING
Hodder & Stoughton hb, 616pp, £25
This fifth doorstop volume in King’s Dark Tower epic cycle sees the gunslinger Roland of Gilead and the three other members of his katet (a group of people bound by friendship and a common cause or destiny) continue on their journey towards the DarkTower, bringing them to the Calla, a sprawling crescent of agrarian communities. Every twenty three or so years the towns of the Calla are menaced by the Wolves, who sweep out of the wastelands to seize half their children (generally the people of the Calla only give birth to twins), returning them later in the condition known as roont, stripped of intelligence and doomed to a stunted growth that will see them to an early grave. The coming of the Wolves is close at hand, but the people of Calla Bryn Sturgis ask the gunslingers for aid and succour. They are spurred to do so by Father Callahan, a priest from our own world, who tells Roland of his battle against vampires in the town of Salem’s Lot and his flight from the low men. Callahan is holding the mystical orb known as Black Thirteen that permits travel between the worlds, but at great cost. Roland thinks that he is fated to be part of their katet. A battle must be fought on two fronts; in the Calla against the Wolves, complicated by the treachery and appeasement of others, and in our own world against agents of the Crimson King, who seek to possess The Rose, the force that holds the many universes together. Roland must also deal with personal problems and a situation with a member of his katet that could undo all their hard work, as if the guy didn’t have enough to cope with.
This is a large and complex book, one that can be read in isolation as a many layered novel of adventure (though King himself does not advise this and neither do I), but which also moves the overall story on in several ways. Most significantly the connection between events in Roland’s world and fiction in our own, hinted at in previous volumes, now becomes a bit more apparent, with the books of one Stephen King thrown into the mix, suggesting a metafictional or philosophical richness to the work as a whole. King is superb at drawing character and he does so with real panache, bringing newcomers such as Callahan and the people of the Calla to vibrant life, while revealing yet more facets to old favourites such as Eddie, Jake, Susanna and Roland himself. He doesn’t spare the characters hard choices either, as they all come to realise what is required of them and the cost, most especially for Jake, who befriends a teenage boy only to be faced with the most terrible decision of his young life as a result. The groundwork is laid, with every single brick slotting neatly into place, and then the showdown with the Wolves, brief but striking, brings it all to a close, only for the reader and Roland to realise that something has gone horribly wrong. This is not a book without flaws; there were moments when I thought that it went on a little too long, that much of what was on offer was merely padding, but ultimately King brings it off and with hindsight you wouldn’t want a single less word than this master storyteller is prepared to give you.
The cover price may seem a little steep, but this is a large and complex novel, beautifully produced and with some breathtaking colour plates by artist Berni Wrightson. And besides, anyone who can’t find it marked down somewhere simply isn’t trying.