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Book Review: Song of Susannah, by Stephen King

Song of Susannah is my favorite of Stephen King’s Dark Tower books so far.

Cover of Song of Susannah, by Stephen King.

There are several reasons. For one thing, King picks up right where the last book, Wolves of the Calla, left off, with Roland’s companion Susannah partially possessed by Mia, a former demon determined to have her baby in Susannah’s body. And unlike some of the earlier subplots in the series, this one ties directly to the main story: Mia’s child will be no ordinary boy—he’s foretold to be Roland’s doom and the Breaker of the last Beams supporting the multiverse. Upping the urgency even more, one of those Beams fails early in Song of Susannah. In short, the stakes are high and the story gripping.

Until King enters the story. Literally—as a character.

This threw me at first. Earlier books in the series have referenced some of King’s other works, most notably The Stand and Salem’s Lot. And some of the characters were starting to realize that they might be characters, fictional constructs rather than actual people. But in Song of Susannah, King is one of those constructs.

It’s easy to see this as indulgent. Every character an author creates contains a bit of that author, but explicitly writing yourself into your self-proclaimed “Ur Story” like this is only a character sheet and a twenty-sided die away from roleplaying. And Song of Susannah isn’t a tongue-in-cheek piece of self-aware literature like Redshirts. The Dark Tower series takes itself pretty seriously (well, as seriously as a series with “lobstrosities” can). It’s an epic tale that didn’t start with any indication that it would feature such a device.

I also balked at how King’s inclusion of himself took me out of the story. The best books allow you to get lost in them; they’re not just words on a page—they’re experiences. But when the author appears on the page, you’re forced to acknowledge that you’re reading something he/she wrote, and it destroys the illusion.

So given those reservations, why did I still like Song of Susannah? Because as I went further, King pulled me back in by making himself a believable character. He doesn’t shrink from his brushes with alcoholism and drug use. He’s not a hero: he’s a person, flawed but trying. And I’m okay with that.

I’m also excited to read the final book in the series. I wasn’t sure that would be the case when I set out on this journey with Roland and (later) his band of gunslingers, but if nothing else, Song of Susannah suggests the Dark Tower will finish strong.

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