This is part five (or 4.5, if you prefer) of my read-through of 'The Dark Tower'. Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here, Part 3 is here, Part 4 is here, Part 6 is here, Part 7 is here and Part 8 is here. Once again, here be spoilers.
I'd originally hoped to get this entry up to coincide with the release of Wind Through The Keyhole, but unfortunately life got in the way and I didn't manage to finish the book in time. Oh well. Still, I'm grateful to the folks at Hodder for sending me a review copy in advance of publication, even if I didn't get to use it in time. That said...
I really enjoyed this new addition to the Dark Tower series, even if it doesn't really add anything to the story. This new book takes the form of a story within a story within a story - that is, 'The Wind Through The Keyhole' is a story told by a younger Roland within the framework of 'The Skin-man', a story the older Roland tells to his ka-tet while they are waiting out a storm. All of the publicity for the book claimed that this could work perfectly well as a standalone novel - i.e. as a book for people who haven't read the other Dark Tower books.
Frankly, it isn't. I'm sure you could read it and enjoy it, but so much of the story would be lost on you that it wouldn't really make much sense, and I don't think new readers would necessarily read this and immediately want to go back to The Gunslinger and start the series on the back of having read Keyhole. The stories are entertaining, particularly the 'Wind Through The Keyhole' section, but they contain so many things that are specific to the Dark Tower series - references to ka, to the Path of the Beam, to the Tower itself - that I think the uninitiated would simply be confused. A large portion of the enjoyment I got out of it was knowing that the Covenant Man in the 'Wind Through The Keyhole' section was actually Flagg/The Man In Black - I enjoyed seeing how he had been active for so long, and in so much of the world, and that would be lost on people who haven't read the other books.
One thing that bothered me - and I think this is the reason I though the 'Wind' section was so much stronger than 'The Skin-man' - was that King chose to narrate the 'Skin-man' part of the book in the first person. To be quite blunt, I didn't think it worked. Roland's voice and character didn't come across anywhere near as well as though in the third-person narrative of the rest of the books. I also felt that it jarred with the style of the rest of the series - every time Roland talks of his past in length, such as in Wizard and Glass, we're shown it through third person. This is the first time in the series that we've been told a story in Roland's voice, and I didn't think it worked.
That said, I did really enjoy this as an addition to the series. It doesn't get the ka-tet any closer to the Tower - how could it, given that it has to take place between two other books? - but it fleshed out some of Roland's history and added some more depth to the world. Aslan as one of the Guardians of the Beam was a nice touch, and it paves the way somewhat for the meta-fictional elements that I know appear later in the series. The starkblast is an interesting invention, too, and King makes good use of it as a framing device for the stories he tells here.
So, it worked, but didn't work as intended (in my opinion). I'd love to see some more novellas like this set in the world of the Dark Tower, though - and as King has hinted that the original seven books only form the first part of the much longer story, I hope we'll see more of them.
Next stop, Wolves of The Calla - from what I remember, my favourite of the series. I'm looking forward to this one.