Review: Wolves of the Calla

Wolves of the Calla Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review is of both the book and the audiobook. A book series that releases a new book every year or two creates sufficient anxiety while awaiting the new volume. But a series that has taken over twenty years to finish can be downright torturous. The Dark Tower series started in 1982 with The Gunslinger and since then, four other novels have continued the saga of Roland of Gilead and his troupe of fellow gunslingers as they venture forth to the mysterious Dark Tower. Wolves of the Calla is the fifth in this seven book series.

Wolves of the Calla finds Roland, Jake, Eddie, Susannah, and their pet, Oy, arriving at Calla Bryn Sturgis, a rural community in the borderlands of a parallel universe. They are quickly recruited and accept a mission to protect the children from the group known as the Wolves of Thunderclap Mountain. These “wolves” sweep through the town every generation taking half of the children. The gunslingers must figure out how to defeat this horde of sixty laser-sword wielding warriors. Of course, this is not their only challenge. While training the townspeople to fight, they must also prevent the Sombra Corporation from acquiring a plot of land in New York City, 1977. If the Sombra Corporation gains control of the land, they will destroy a crucial piece of the puzzle regarding the Dark Tower. In addition, mistrust and betrayal breeds within Roland and the gunslingers that could tear their group apart and relinquish any chance of making it to the Dark Tower.

As a preempt to listening to Wolves of the Calla, one might consider re-reading most, if not all of Stephen King’s prior works—and innumerous other literary works. One might even contemplate skimming through E.D. Hirsch’s Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, to assist in a fuller appreciation of King’s new book. The depth of his interconnected worlds is rivaled only by the universe created by Isaac Asimov in his Foundation and Robot series. His uncountable cross-references both with his prior Dark Tower books and other works is astounding, fascinating, and frustrating at the same time. One understands many of the references but wants to go back and catch up on all the other references he’s not sure about. Attempting to dive into Wolves of the Calla without first tackling its predecessors will leave the listener lost and confused with only a vague understanding of what the book is about. The introduction gives brief summations of the prior four books but they only really work as slight refreshers for those who have kept up to date with the series. And even still, you might consider listening again to last book if not all four, if you have not heard them in quite a while.

Picking up the mantle dawned by Frank Muller as narrator for the Dark Tower series; George Guidall does not hesitate or disappoint audiences in his narration. While Guidall’s voice isn’t as gravelly as Frank Muller, he adds a light rasp, making the audiobook a smooth transition from Muller to Guidall. At the same time, Guidall maintains his own unique style and doesn’t display any hints of copying Muller. Guidall delivers an impressive performance even without comparison or consideration of other narrators of prior Stephen King books. Guidall’s amazing ability to narrate such a wide range of characters with such accuracy and believability and maintain the suspense of the story only further illustrates why he was chosen to narrate this audiobook.

One of King's many admirable talents is his use of slang. He finds the most appropriate slang for the era, location, and person. While the listener may not be familiar with the terms, he can easily understand and value the relation between the slang and the user. This smoothness is only further capitulated by Guidall's ability to read them so naturally.

Towards the end of the book, one wonders how many cultural references Stephen King can squeeze in and is it too many? Considering the breadth and expanse of this series, the references can often be quite amusing and even appropriate while not delineating from the quality of the tale.

The very touching note read by Stephen King at the end was rewarding almost as much as the book. Stephen positively comments on audiobooks and pays tribute to Frank Muller as his “inner voice” when writing. He also mentions the WaveDancer Foundation, a charity to assist in the welfare, health, and recovery of disabled artists. This note by the author can also be found in the text version.

Stephen King’s Dark Tower series will further propel the fantasy genre nearly as much as The Lord of the Rings established it. He blends the real and unreal with simple ease and has created a universe that is deep and compelling. As Stephen King mentions, he hears a voice whenever he is writing and maybe we should thank that voice (and of course George Guidall’s voice) for providing us with an unabridged story that is just as easy to listen to, as it is to read.

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