April 2012 sees the publication of Stephen King's new Dark Tower novel The Wind Through the Keyhole...

Editor's Choice:

 

Stephen King: The Wind Through The Keyhole

 

Hodder HB

For readers new to The Dark Tower, THE WIND THROUGH THE KEYHOLE is a stand-alone novel, and a wonderful introduction to the series. It is a story within a story, which features both the younger and older gunslinger Roland on his quest to find the Dark Tower. Fans of the existing seven books in the series will also delight in discovering what happened to Roland and his ka tet between the time they leave the Emerald City and arrive at the outskirts of Calla Bryn Sturgis.

This Russian Doll of a novel, a story within a story, within a story, visits Mid-World's last gunslinger, Roland Deschain, and his ka-tet as a ferocious storm halts their progress along the Path of the Beam. (The novel can be placed between Dark Tower IV and Dark Tower V.) Roland tells a tale from his early days as a gunslinger, in the guilt ridden year following his mother's death. Sent by his father to investigate evidence of a murderous shape shifter, a "skin man," Roland takes charge of Bill Streeter, a brave but terrified boy who is the sole surviving witness to the beast's most recent slaughter. Roland, himself only a teenager, calms the boy by reciting a story from the Magic Tales of the Eld that his mother used to read to him at bedtime, 'The Wind through the Keyhole'. "A person's never too old for stories," he says to Bill. "Man and boy, girl and woman, we live for them." And stories like these, they live for us.

I was deep into my third reading of 11.22.63 when THE WIND THROUGH THE KEYHOLE arrived. Never mind, I can return to it. WIND is extraordinary. I know everyone is going to have an opinion on it, so here's mine. It's extraordinary. It's like finding a new Tarzan novel, or a new Charles Dickens (though with DIckens it would not have characters in with whom you were already familiar). It's been described as a Russian doll of a novel, with Roland peeling back layers of history just as he did in WIZARD AND GLASS. I guess that's the neatest analogy, but I prefer to think of it differently. It's urban fantasy (about a shape-shifter, a "skin-man") but set in something akin to the old West. The Gunslinger, the first story in the series, has been likened to a cross between a fantasy and a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western. I never bought that. For me it was always a quest. Roland's quest. And along the way, whilst pursuing that quest, Roland amuses his friends by telling them stories of his past. The others, Eddie, Susannah and Jake, don't do this, they don't partake. It's not like the old gentlemen's clubs, where they meet once a year to tell horror stories. It's Roland's quest - he knows some of their pasts, but it's his past that is important because it is his quest to find the tower and prevent the destruction of the beams. The Russian doll element stems from the fact that whilst recounting his adventures with the skin-man, Roland gets to tell one of his favourite stories, one that his mother read to him when he was younger - The Wind Through the Keyhole. But it's simply an episode along the way. Another beautifully told story as only King's Dark Tower can do. There's language in the High Speech, there's conversation, there are words that are similar to our own but not quite - and the ka-tet takes quite a back seat whilst the new characters come to the fore. Bix, the ferryman, Everlynne, and Peavy. It's similar to Wizard and Glass in that it recounts another episode of Roland's young life. And it is most welcome. It stopped me reading another book, and once I'm into a book, that really takes some doing. The anticipation was high. The joy of reading another Dark Tower episode is utterly fulfilled. Ka is like a wheel, and turns full circle. THE WIND THROUGH THE KEYHOLE pierces the circle, finds its rightful place, and the world moves on. How long before Stephen King unearths more notes from his Dark Tower notebooks and moulds them into another episode, I wonder? He could carry on like this till the end of his writing days as far as I'm concerned. Like I said, it's like finding a new story after a writer has died, or a new composition after a composer has died. Sublime, simply sublime. I feel privileged tonhave been allowed to read it a full month before publication date. The illustrations are by Jae Lee, who worked on the brilliant Marvel adaptations of the Dark Tower series, now running to its eighth volume and showing no signs of stopping... The back cover of the UK version from Hodder is composed of fans' faces.

 

Jason Starr: The Pack

 

Penguin PB

 

Let the hunt begin . . . When Simon Burns is fired from his job without warning, he takes on the role of stay-at-home dad for his three-year-old son. But his reluctance pushes his already strained marriage to the limit. In the nestled playgrounds of the Upper West Side, Simon harbors a simmering rage at his boss's betrayal. Things take a turn when he meets a tight-knit trio of dads at the playground. They are different from other men Simon has met, stronger and more confident, more at ease with the darker side of life- and soon Simon is lured into their mix. But after a guys' night out gets frighteningly out of hand, Simon feels himself sliding into a new nightmarish reality. As he experiences disturbing changes in his body and his perceptions, he starts to suspect that when the guys welcomed him to their "pack", they were talking about much more than male bonding . . .

 

This amazing book is an urban fantasy masquerading as a thriller - I was at least halfway through it before I realised what was going on, and I think Jason Starr is to be congratulated for that. I rarely read the blurb on the back cover of a book - this was recommended to me as a book worth reading, and I took that at face value. It is certainly worth reading. Starr's characters are matter-of-fact and the kind you encounter in any decent American thriller. It's only when you start to put two and two together and it hits you, what's actually happening to Simon, that you can appreciate just how good this tale is. Urban fantasy doesn't get any better than this. Sensationally good.

 

V M Zito: The Return Man

 

Hodder PB

The outbreak tore the USA in two. The east remains a safe haven. The west has become a ravaged wilderness. They call it the Evacuated States. It is here that Henry Marco makes his living. Hired by grieving relatives, he tracks down the dead to deliver peace. Now Homeland Security wants Marco, for a mission unlike any other. He must return to California, where the apocalypse began. Where a secret is hidden. And where his own tragic past waits to punish him again. But in the wastelands of America, you never know who - or what - is watching you . . .

 

I fancy we'll be seeing this very soon as a movie - it has all the elements of THE ROAD, and that one with Will Smith battling the zombies... terrific sense of hopelessness and despair. Really, really good stuff.

 

 

Sean Wallace: The Mammoth Book of Steampunk

 

Running Press (Robinson) PB

 

An anthology focusing on newer elements of steampunk, one which deconstructs the staples of the genre and expands on them, rather than simply repeating them, with a greater spread both in terms of location and character. This is steampunk with a modern, post-colonial sensibility. Contributors include: Jeff VanderMeer, Caitlín Kiernan, Mary Robinette Kowal, Jay Lake, Cherie Priest, Cat Rambo, Catherynne M. Valente, Genevieve Valentine and many more.

 

Definition of Steampunk: "An imaginary Victorian Age, that features brass and copper clockwork and steampowered inventions that go far beyond 1800s technology." (Source: thesteampunkstore.com). Mr Wallace has gathered together an extremely satisfying collection of genre stories - some of which stray a little near the edge of the genre, but all deliver. One to read on the train, in the park, on the beach... the only thing that disappoints slightly is the cover, because that young lady clearly does not belong in the Victorian era...

 

 

Troy Denning: Star Wars Fate of the Jedi - Apocalypse

 

Century HB

In the stunning finale of the epic Fate of the Jedi series, Jedi and Sith face off - with Coruscant as their battlefield. For the Sith, it's the chance to restore their dominance over the galaxy that forgot them for so long. For Abeloth, it's a giant step in her quest to conquer all life everywhere. For Luke Skywalker, it's a call to arms to eradicate the Sith and their monstrous new master once and for all. In a planetwide strike, teams of Jedi Knights take the Sith infiltrators by swift and lethal surprise. But victory against the cunning and savage Abeloth, and the terrifying endgame she has planned, is anything but certain. And as Luke, Ben, Han, Leia, Jaina, Jag and their allies close in, the devastating truth about the dark side incarnate will be exposed - and send shoch waves through the Jedi Order, the galaxy, and the Force itself.

 

Fans of the original Star Wars trilogy will be absolutely delighted with Denning's closure of this series, and reading about the familiar characters of Luke, Obi-wan, Han and Leia bring a smile to the face. Much as I like the concept of a gargantuan Star Wars literary empire, you simply can't beat the original characters, and Denning has captured them to perfection in this series. Seriously satisfying.

 

 

Scott Sigler: Nocturnal

 

Hodder & Stoughton PB

For centuries, their race has lived beneath the earth, emerging only at night, to feed quietly on the dregs of society and slip back into the shadows. But now their time has come - their time to rise up from their hiding places and take back what is theirs. San Francisco homicide detective Bryan Klauser is supposed to be hunting a serial killer. But a serial killer couldn't be responsible for the seemingly impossible DNA evidence the crime-scene techs keep finding - or for the gory, strangely prophetic dreams Bryan keeps having. And what about the connections he keeps finding to a century-old cult - and his superiors' sudden reluctance to give him the answers he needs about cases that should be dead and buried? Ultimately, Klauser's investigations will reveal a race of killers who've long lurked beneath San Francisco's streets - and are preparing to take back the city. Klauser is the only man who can stop them, because . . . he might not be a man at all.

 

Thoroughly engaging, though the subject matter would be better suited, I feel, to a children's (young adult) novel. The introduction of a younger hero/heroine would have made it even more appealing for me.

 

J R Ward: Lover Reborn

 

Piatkus PB

 

In the darkest corners of the night in Caldwell, New York, a conflict like no other rages. The city is home to a band of brothers born to defend their race: the warrior vampires of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. Now back in the Brotherhood - and unrecognisable as the vampire leader he once was - Tohrment is physically emaciated and heartbroken beyond despair. When he begins to see his beloved in his dreams - trapped in a cold, isolating netherworld - Tohr turns to a self-serving fallen angel in hopes of saving the one he has lost. When he's told he must learn to love another to free his former mate, Tohr knows they are all doomed... Except then a female with a shadowed history begins to get through to him. Against the backdrop of the raging war with the lessers, and with a new clan of vampires vying for the Blind King's throne, Tohr struggles between the buried past, and a very hot, passion-filled future... but can his heart let go and set all of them free?

 

Ian Irvine: Vengeance

Orbit PB

Ten years ago, two children witnessed a murder. Tali saw two people kill her mother, and though she is only a slave in underground Cython, she has sworn revenge. She may be nothing to those who live above ground, but she will bring the killers to justice. Rix, heir to Hightspall's greatest fortune, watched as two masked figures murdered a woman for reasons he still doesn't understand. Even now, he is haunted by the killing. Tali's escape from slavery leads to war with Hightspall and, when she is rescued by Rix, they're hunted through a land in chaos. As Tali and Rix set out to unravel the mystery behind her mother's death, Rix is tormented by sickening premonitions that he too will commit murder - Tali's murder. Within days, Hightspall is close to defeat. The only way to save the realm is to unmask and defeat the killer. But how can Tali avenge herself on a sorcerer who died two thousand years ago?

 

Just arrived...

 

Helen Lowe: The Gathering of the Lost

The Wall of Night Book Two

Orbit PB

 

Tarathan of Ar and Jehane Mor ride into the great city of Ij in time for its grand Festival of Masks. But soon after their arrival they witness a terrible slaughter as their fellow heralds are targeted and assassinated. They must flee for their lives across the city when they discover Swarm agents at work as they attempt to destabilise the entire River Cities network for their own ends. And five years after her great flight from the Derai Wall, Malian remains hidden to those who seek her. But she has not been idle. Her goal is to muster all Derai magic users who have fled into exile rather than face destruction. Only by uniting against the Swarm menace can they hold their own against the dark tide. She has hunted down every rumour of their presence and has developed her own powers that the Swarm must learn to respect - and to fear. For Malian won't see her people fall to a dark tide of twisted magic, as demonic forces subvert a way of life.

 

Just arrived...

 

 

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THE SMALL PRINT: Books Monthly is published on or before the first day of every month and contains news and reviews of new and forthcoming books, together with information on classic books and series. It has been on the web since 1998. Contributions to Books Monthly are welcome but I regret there is no payment as no money is made from this site. Short stories, longer stories (which could be serialised), feature articles and book reviews are particularly welcome. Use the "contact me" link in the menu above to get in touch. Publishers wishing to submit books for review should also contact me via email in the first instance, and I will supply a delivery address. I generally close the magazine to new reviews on the 20th of each month. Books received after that date will be carried over to the next month, although I may include them for information purposes only. Books Monthly is copyright © Paul Norman. Articles, stories and reviews submitted by other people remain their own copyright. All artwork including book covers included in Books Monthly is copyright © the various publishers and artists. Where possible, permission is sought from artists to include their work on the site.