Warning - possible spoilers, but I've tried to keep them to a minimum
Song of Susannah (SoS) is the sixth book of 'The Dark Tower' series by Stephen King.
SoS picks up immediately from the cliffhanger ending of Wolves of the Calla. The ka-tet of 19 (which reading WotC will make clearer…ish) are left pretty shaken by the battle against the Wolves of Thunderclap, in pretty much the same way that the reader is left shaken by some of the startling revelations King hammered us with during the fifth book. However, where WotC is a pretty linear, straightforward chapter in The Dark Tower series, SoS gets a bit confusing.
Without giving too much away, much of the book is spent with the group split up more than in any other volume – not just geographically, but also ‘dimensionally’ and temporally as they enter the Door with two objectives – to find Susannah/Mia, and to ensure they secure the empty lot with the Rose from Calvin Tower.
King provides us with some excellent action again – there are some clear parallels with earlier battles fought, notably Eddie and Roland’s first shootout together in Balazar’s office in The Drawing of the Three. However, it is Roland and Eddie’s later meeting with a certain character (sorry – too much of a spoiler to go into further detail) which is really gonna mess with you! The reader may really struggle with taking some of this, not because it’s too complicated (though it can be), but because it’s potentially just a little bit far-fetched. The only clue I’ll give is this – have you seen the last couple of episodes of the 1990’s Spider-Man animated series? If so, that may give you a flavour of where King’s going with his climax to the series. If not, I’ve just done a double geek-out and will leave it there!
”Far-fetched?” you say, “but it’s The Dark Tower series – of course it’s far-fetched!” OK, I know that the whole thing is fantasy fiction of the highest order, and that King has woven a myriad of literary references and notions in from classic fiction as well as his own past works. But in this volume we see the culmination of all these strands brought together in a risky way – I can’t decide if it’s all slightly clumsy, or whether King may have compromised a little due to (self-imposed?) time constraints, or whether it’s an extraordinary and bold decision. Probably all three, and maybe primarily the latter.
The development of the characters seems to be pretty much finalised. Roland is as ever Roland – stoic, driven, yet complex and troubled by the impact his ka-tet continually have on him. Eddie is the man and Gunslinger he was destined to be. Similarly Jake is the total prodigy of Roland, though we can’t help feeling concerned that this boy is living as a man. As for Susannah… Well, Susannah is four-in-one. She is Odetta Holmes the socialite heiress, Detta Walker the savvy offensive ball-breaker, Gunslinger Susannah wife of Eddie, and somehow Mia – “daughter of none, mother of one”, whose existence is finally explained in this volume, as is the origin of her "chap", the mysterious child that Susannah is/is not pregnant with. Other characters are also developed – notably Pere Callahan, and also Calvin Tower. When we first met Tower in his bookstore way back earlier in the series, he seemed a likeable though minor element of the tale, but in WotC and SoS King has developed him into a key lynch-pin and something of an antagonist.
Hopefully I haven’t given too much away. As for the verdict… Well, if you can simply suspend disbelief, trust King to make it all good, and finally just accept that it’s his story and we’ve come on a long journey with the end finally in sight, this is a worthy chapter in the series. I finished the book worried about Susannah, enlightened as to the literary references, and hoping that the last two Beams will hold long enough for Roland to stand before the Tower, speak the names he has promised to speak, and stop the end of the worlds.
…and all while remembering the face of his father.