The Waste Lands is the third book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. The end of the previous book (The Drawing of the Three) leaves Roland of Gilead, the last gunslinger, standing on a beach, and he is no longer alone. He has two new companions: Eddie and Susannah.
The Waste Lands picks up the story a few months later and Roland has found, with no great surprise, that Eddie and Susannah are born gunslingers. The three friends have taken a little time out because Roland needs to recover from the injuries inflicted on him by the lobstrosities, and Eddie and Susannah needed a chance practice their new skills. As ever, though, the Dark Tower has never been far from Roland’s mind, so they set off on what is now a joint quest.
I don’t want to give too much of the story away, so I won’t go into too many details, but Roland has a problem for quite a lot of this book: he is losing his mind, and it’s all because of Jake. In the first Dark Tower book, Jake, who had been run over in New York City, dies and wakes to find himself in Roland’s world. Jake saves Roland’s life and becomes his traveling companion until the gunslinger (given a choice by the man in black, between saving Jake or continuing his pursuit of the Dark Tower) allows Jake to fall to his death. At the end of the second book, however, Roland saves Jake’s life in New York City. This means that Jake never died and so never came to Roland’s world in the first place. And because Roland never knew Jake, he couldn’t let him drop to his death. It sounds complicated, doesn’t it? It isn’t if you have read the previous books. By saving Jake, Roland has created a temporal paradox and it is splitting his mind in two. Roland knows Jake is alive because he saved him, but he is also aware Jake is dead because he can remember dropping him. Things are not looking good for the gunslinger and his failing mental health is a constant worry for Eddie and Susannah, because if a man with Roland’s skills loses his mind it can be dangerous.
Meanwhile, in sunny New York City, Jake has a similar problem because he can remember dying in the street, and then dying again when Roland dropped him. Jake is holding it together as best he can, but realizes that he needs to find another door leading back into Roland’s world. What Jake doesn’t know, however, is that trying to pass through the door, if he can even find it, will be extremely dangerous unless he has a little help from the other side of it.
I liked the first two Dark Tower books and this one is no exception. I enjoyed reading it immensely. The Waste Lands not only provides the reader with a little bit of Roland’s history—which is interesting—it also shows a slightly more human side to the gunslinger as his friendship with his traveling companions develops.
All of these things are just interesting subplots though. The real story is always the quest for the Tower and, in this book, the gunslinger finds a visual pointer to follow and leads his friends along ‘the path of the beam.’ Even with a guide to show them the way though, the path to the Dark Tower is still a dangerous one and the companions encounter a gigantic (and totally mad) bear named Mir, get caught between the warring forces of the Pubes and the Grays, and encounter a talking train that might carry them across the perilous wastelands. If they can meet its price.