This is, allegedly, book 4.5 in the Dark Tower series, an epic seven book fantasy series by King that took over thirty years to write, and which contained 4.5 good books before this one was released. Unfortunately, it still only has 4.5 good books. Not because this book isn't good! Because it isn't really a part of the series.
First, brief justification -- the first four books in the Dark Tower series are among my favorite books. The fifth book is somewhat good and also somewhat deeply weird, and moves the series in a disappointing direction -- the direction that lead to a short, forgettable sixth book and a devastatingly disappointing and terrible seventh book which nonsensically betrays the fundamental conceits of the series time and time again. It's a wreck.
I'm very interested to hear your opinions on these books, Readers, whether assenting or dissenting. Please comment with your own impressions.
Mild structural but not plot spoilers for The Wind In The Keyhole follow.
Anyway, The Wind In The Keyhole is like a matryoshka doll -- it's three stories, one inside another inside another. There are three, and this is the tricky bit, because the first is Our Heroes from the Dark Tower books, pausing in their travels to wait out a storm. While they wait, Roland, the Gunslinger, the ur-Eastwood Grey Morality Questing Knight figure, tells a story about his childhood. Within that story, his younger self tells someone else a story containing a storm like the one the Dark Tower Heroes are waiting out.
Yeah. The whole connection to the Dark Tower series is nothing but a framing device. This is as infuriating and pointless as it sounds.
Now, King has done this before -- half of the fourth book in the series was a story about Young Roland, taking place just before the Young Roland story in this book. But there, things actually happened. Character development and narrative motion occurred both in the past and the present. In this book, by contrast, the present is nothing but an aside.
The Young Roland story is competent, but uninspiring. It gives us more flesh on the worldbuilding, some detail on a few more characters, a quaint location; some dialect so ridiculously twee and quaint (though not, I note, implausible) that it broke my suspension of disbelief... it resonates with the themes of the series, and its actual string of events are workmanlike. It's a mediocre tale, or a brilliant piece of fan-fiction that just happens to be written by the original author. I would read it again but not pay to won it.
The innermost story, almost a fairy-tale but set in the same world as the Dark Tower series is much better. It may, perhaps, be set in the world of Stephen King's dark fantasy for children The Eyes of the Dragon, a fantastic book which is... how do I put it? It's on the same planet as the Dark Tower stories, within the same universe, but tone and genre make it feel different. Same here. It's a dark, atmospheric, cynical and hopeful bildungsroman, with some interesting twists, some odd bits of Fail that will be familiar to habitual King readers and are no more or less egregious, and two or three background characters which are fascinating, vivid, compelling, and worth the price of admission for the entire novel, at least for me. My only complaint (apart from the Fail) was Chekhov's Dragon, which was placed clearly upon the mantlepiece in the first act but failed to breathe fire in the third.
Oh Steve. You're so very hit and miss as an author. But I keep reading, because every now and then you hit one out of the park.