Most authors wouldn’t start the second installment in a seven-book series by maiming the protagonist. But The Drawing of the Three was written by Stephen King, so hey, let’s chop off a few of the gunslinger’s fingers—he doesn’t need the dexterity to, I don’t know, operate a pistol, right?
This early crippling directs much of the ensuing story: the gunslinger’s wounds become infected, and he (Roland) spends most of the book on the edge of death, searching for medicine. But he never loses sight of his larger quest: finding The Dark Tower, the supposed center of everything—for his universe and all others. In the previous book, Roland came a step closer to the Tower by catching the man in black, a sorcerer who told the gunslinger’s fortune from a deck of tarot cards. Those picked included The Prisoner, The Lady of Shadows, and The Pusher. Roland “draws” the people these cards represent by crossing planes into versions of twentieth-century New York.
It’s… kind of underwhelming.
The Tower is a vague goal that becomes no clearer. The people Roland drags into his world are vivid characters, each with their own handicaps, but how they’ll help the gunslinger reach the Tower is equally hazy. In total, there’s more backstory here than plot, along with some unnecessary, self-referential mentions of The Shining (King’s 1977 bestseller, later turned into the classic movie of the same name).
There are interesting bits, of course—a Stephen King book is never wholly dull, and the connections between the New York characters are fascinating once the threads come to light. So are the rapid point-of-view shifts during the action sequences; most authors couldn’t pull off this level of head-hopping without disorienting the reader. (Although even King stumbles here and there; skipping from one consciousness to another is a tricky business.)
Still, I finished the story wondering if it—and perhaps the series—had been led astray by King’s famously improvisational style: a “plotter” (an author who outlines before writing) might have packed more of import into The Drawing of the Three than a true “pantser” (an author who writes by the seat of his/her pants) like King. Part of me feels like I could have skipped this book and gone on to the next in the series without missing much.
The gunslinger might even agree; I bet he’d like his fingers back.