The Dark Tower III seems to be a culmination of a three-volume trilogy that established the setting of Mid-World. If The Gunslinger set the tone and The Drawing of the Three introduced the cast of players, the Wastelands ups the stakes and sets our threats in motion. The story begins with a fight against a monstrous bear and continues by opening up a portal that may be arguably the most unmanageable portal in fantasy. It never backs down, creating an environment where rape is mildly brushed over and young boys are seriously in a threat to be cut in half. It’s lovely material.

The real star of the story is the ever-famous crazy train- a snarky and self-absorbed ropbotic train that displays its fantastic skills of wordplay and addresses the main cast as the inferior beings it so vehemtnly believes in. Blaine the Mono is a blackhole in the narrative, turning everything full-stop and enclosing everything else in its presence. Blaine is the centerpiece, and elevates what would be a pretty good little fantasy story into an epic.

What I find unbearable is that the Blaine material dips into the next volume. What I appreciate about the Dark Tower series is that each volume has its own identity, for better or worse. When the Blaine material jumped into the fourth volume, Wizard and Glass, it separated the ending of easily the best aspect of the Wastelands and potentially the best part of the series to that point. To me, the lack of closure weakened the Wastelands as its own thematic book. With that said, The Wastelands is probably the most atmospheric of the series while still managing a neat little narrative.

Dark Tower III has almost the perfect rise in tension, culminating in an ending that feels earned and placing our cast into some absurd fantasy sequences. And you think this is as weird as it gets?