Hot on the heels of The Gunslinger (1988) comes the second volume of King's gargantuan alternate-universe omnibus. And not a moment too soon: readers who slogged, downcast, through the murky first installment will find here a brighter, friskier, much more involving read as Roland the Gunslinger takes his quest for the Dark Tower into our world and time. Last seen, Roland sat at the edge of a giant sea, knowing that to achieve the Dark Tower--the hub of creation--he'll need to collect three people: The Prisoner, The Lady of Shadows, and Death. How? By stepping through three doors that protrude from the endless coastline, thus walking into the minds of three citizens of 20th-century N.Y.C. Before Roland opens the first door, however, he's roamed by a "lobstrosity," a claw-snapping sea critter whose bite spins him into a near-fatal fever. So it's a weak and desperate Roland that steps into door #1 and into the heroin-addled mind of punk crook Eddie Dean--The Prisoner--about to be busted for carrying two pounds of coke through customs at Kennedy Airport. Since Roland needs to cohabit Eddie's body to find medicine for his fever, he talks the addict through customs and a subsequent confrontation with Eddie's vicious mob-boss--and then, penicillin in hand, drags the addict back into Gunslinger-world, where the two bond as Roland heals while Eddie withdraws. Up pops door #2: The Lady of Shadows turns out to be a crippled, beautiful, Jekyll-and-Hyde black woman; Eddie falls in love with Jekyll but crazed, murderous Hyde nearly kills both Eddie and Roland before the Gunslinger merges the two personalities into a third, Susannah. Behind door #3, Roland finds Death--who turns out to be a psycho killer, and then, in a typical King turn of poetic justice, Roland himself. Prime King, very suspenseful and often quite tunny during Roland's stranger-in-a-strange-land forays into Gotham, with psychologically dense characters, reams of virtuoso horror writing, and little of the sophomoric portentousness of the early volume (which King began in college; this volume was penned recently). In an afterword, King previews volumes 3 and 4: an epic in the making, and, if the quality of this one sustains, a series to be savored as it grows.