I’ll freely admit, much like Roland Deschain himself I’m a Dark Tower junkie. As I’ve said before, I love Stephen King’s epic series. So the prospect of a new novel set in that world made me happier than a billy-bumbler. For completists, technically The Wind Through the Keyhole is a midquel, taking place between the fourth and fifth books in the series, Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla. That said, Sai King makes it easily accessible to curious new readers, with our hero’s quest for the Dark Tower momentarily put on the back burner.
After leaving the erstwhile Emerald City the ka-tet of Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy are forced to seek shelter on their journey to the Dark Tower. A starkblast is coming, and my description of it as “an arctic front on steroids” doesn’t do it justice. Holed up for a few days, Roland tells them a tale of his younger days. Set after the flashback that dominated Wizard and Glass but before the new material presented in Marvel’s Dark Tower comics, it sees Roland’s father dispatching his son and Jamie DeCurry to the outlying town of Debaria on a mission to find and deal with a possible “skin-man,” a human who can shape-shift into various animal forms. There they encounter lots of death and young Bill Streeter, the sole survivor of the skin-man’s murderous rampages. Part way through the tale, Roland entertains Bill by telling him a legend called “The Wind Through the Keyhole,” about a young man named Tim Stoutheart and his first adventure. This story takes up a good middle of the book, and though it’s presented as a legend, astute readers will realize there’s far more to it than that, especially with the appearance of some North Central Positronics technology (unusually for a Tower story, one that proves very helpful) and an unnamed character whose identity should raise a flag. Eventually both stories end and our ka-tet continue their trek to the Tower as ka guides them to Calla Bryn Sturgis.
King does some remarkable work here. The plots are easy to follow, even though it bends your brain a bit to think halfway through you’re reading a story told by Roland in a story told by Roland in a story told by King. At first I was more interested in the skin-man tale, as Roland’s story about Stoutheart felt more predictable, with a “shocking” twist that most will see coming a mile away, but as Tim’s journey continued I found myself more and more engrossed in the legend, wondering what the young man would encounter next. The skin-man sections are also the first instance of a Dark Tower story using first-person perspective, and it’s interesting getting inside Roland’s mind a little more than usual. The only drawback to the novel is that if you’re looking for more adventure with the main ka-tet, you’re pretty much out of luck. There’s some nice stuff in the beginning, Eddie gets a few good lines, and there’s a little action that doesn’t hold much suspense since we know they’ll all make it out relatively unscathed. As a reader of Marvel’s Dark Tower comics, it was also nice to see King dedicate the book to Robin Furth and the others who have enriched his original stories with their work by acknowledging their contributions. It was great to return to Mid-World once again, and King hasn’t missed a beat, the cadences and voices fitting in perfectly with the Dark Tower series. The Wind Through the Keyhole notches 4.25 out of 5 Dodge Dart gearshifts.