I started reading The Gunslinger in November 2013. I finished The Dark Tower last weekend (July 2014). While I've read other things while working on the series, I still feel like this:
This series is really almost impossible to explain to someone. If you want to label it with various genres then let's try: western, sci-fi, fantasy, adventure, and horror. Notice I said horror last, unlike what it would be with most Stephen King novels.
King created this intricate world and made it out to be his destiny. Or ka, if you will. While I have particular feelings about some massive deus ex machina happenings and general lack of keeping track of his own story line, I'm still impressed by this world that he created.
Here are my thoughts on each book. There will probably be spoilers. So if you want to read the series then proceed with slight caution.
This is my favorite one. It starts off strictly as a western, then all of a sudden there are people coming back from the dead and "Hey Jude." King really starts sneaking some big ideas into the story here. I say sneaking, he didn't have any plan for anything, but some things are subtly introduced in this. You can't help but be drawn in to this lonely gunslinger's story and want to know who The Man in Black is and if he's going to get to The Dark Tower first.
The Drawing of the Three
90% of this book did not amuse me. There was lots of violence, lots of annoying characters (okay well one), and some disturbing things. I liked the feel of the walking along the beach part, but the drug addict and psycho action I could have gone without. The action at the end made everything worth while, though. Bringing Detta and Odetta together as one was an unexpected but much appreciated move.
The Waste Lands
I think this was my second favorite. The ka-tet (I define it as a group whose souls are intertwined) truly comes together in this one. You really start to get to know these characters and it's great. It does end rather abruptly, however. Then it took King years to get to the next one. I can see how this book probably turned readers off back in the 90s, but it made me feel like we were just getting started.
Wizard and Glass
The worst part about the way the previous book ended is how bad this one is! It starts off promising. Ending the train ride from hell and then ending up in The Stand-Kansas had so much potential! Then Roland tells the longest story ever. I did not sign up for 100% pastoral fantasy world times. I almost gave up on this one. I guess the story is relevant, especially to give us an idea of the crap Roland went through. I was so over it. When storytime was over and we were taken back to Kansas, however, it was a little surreal. I guess surreal is a good way to describe this whole series.
Wolves of the Calla
Oh so much better. The ka-tet from The Waste Lands was back doing their ka-tet things! It took me awhile to get into this one just because the randomness of the Calla people's problem with the wolves seemed useless to the storyline. I quickly discovered I was mistaken. I could have gone without the excessive Salem's Lot storyline BUT I see the point it was making to show how Stephen King himself plays a role in this story.
Song of Susannah
This feels entirely like a "middle book." I don't mean that derogatorily, Empire Strikes Back was a middle movie (but so was The Two Towers so yeah take that as you will). It was a quick read because there was so much going on that I wanted to know about. The main thing I will associate this book with, however, is the irritation I felt at Stephen King while reading it.
That's right. I just quoted myself.
Needless to say I have gotten over most of my irritation with him, because it sort of makes sense. It's like he's god but not. I think they phrase it either in this one or the next that he's a messenger of Gan.
The Dark Tower
Aka. The Deus Ex Machina Tower. King realized he had all of these loose ends to tie up and tried to do it in 1,000-some pages. The deaths of Eddie and Jake felt like they were just because he wanted Roland to be the only one at the tower. The fact he had Susannah exit the story by going through a door is a good example of last minute thinking. Finding Patrick, another character from another book, in a basement and pretty much having him save Roland's ass at the tower is another example.
That being said, I generally like how the book ended. Roland is in a loop, constantly on this journey to the tower. We only saw this one trip because that's what King wrote. While an author writing himself into the story as severely as King did seems a little conceited, it kinda works. I'm sure all authors secretly wish their story was really happening somewhere. King just made it "true." There are other worlds than these.
On that note I recommend looking through The Dark Tower Concordance. It gives explanations of characters and places that made me feel slightly more like I knew what happened. I look forward to reading these again in a decade or so. Maybe I'll understand more of what's going on.
PS-As I have now finished Trey's series of choice, it's now his turn to finish mine (Harry Potter). It's been fun to watch him read it for the first time, but I'm also like "HAVE YOU FINISHED *INSERT BOOK TITLE HERE* YET? CAN WE WATCH THE MOVIE YET?" :)