It's hard to review this book on its own, separate from the Regulators, but I believe it can be done. First the similarities though. King intended the books to be companions, and there are elements here introduced in other King books, like The Talisman and Black House, that suggest many of the characters in both Regulators and Desperation are indeed Twinners - people who are pretty much the same, but had small changes in their lives in parallel realities that resulted in some pretty profound differences in their personalities. (How much is nature and how much is nurture is an interesting side-question that I'm sure King leaves floating through these DT books on purpose.) On the whole, the characters in the Regulators seemed a little more wholesome to me than they did when they appeared in Desperation. Not that their Regulators selves were saints, King is the king of gray, round heroes that are far from perfect, but in Desperation, the seediness of the supporting cast stands in stark juxtaposition to the goodness of David (little Ralphie Carver in Regulators). On the whole, I found David to be a much more appealing hero than Seth Garin, but that's probably because we never really get to know Seth. We catch glimpses of him behind the veil of autism, but never truly get to see his reasoning, his thought processes, or his emotions. David is, as described by his companions in this truly desperate survival horror, amazing. You can't help feeling that he is indeed special and not just in the Biblical sense that he has powers. He is both amazingly caring and deeply thoughtful and tough as nails ("God is cruel"), and you can't help but admire him and find yourself comforted that he's your companion and guide in the hellish world King creates. Where the Regulators was surreal in a very literal sense, Desperation feels all too real. It's premise, and the first two hundred pages, or so, are all vividly believable cop gone crazy, Deliverance, horror. I've been through towns like Desperation, NV and who can't say that they haven't thought of just how crazy the people of such towns could be? Events unfold in a very different manner than they did in the Regulators as well, Tak is the same (though we learn more of his origins; reminiscent of the monster in It or the creatures the inhabit the blackness between worlds that Eddie and Roland spy as they go todash or travel between worlds) a malevolent evil that has no purpose, no long-term plans of world domination, just a desire to cause pain and suffering. The nature of the demon is different too. There's a sense of parasitism, but his method of operation, of causing terror and destruction is very different than in the Regulators.
It was good to read the books closely together, and I recommend it to people who are interested, as long as you're able to distance yourself and be willing to accept that these aren't going to be the same people. Other readers have suggested that the characters so loosely resemble their alternate egos they should have just been different people, in a different story, with maybe the same monster. I don't know if I agree. I liked the contrast of the characters between realities. I actually enjoyed reading broken Johnny more than I enjoyed reformed Johnny - it made his redemption all the more emotionally endearing. There's also very little pettiness in the characters here and there's a greater sense of epic in the struggle between good and evil with the introduction and presence of God/the White, in ways that seemed like The Stand. Other readers have complained about the outright religious nature of this book, a rarity in the King compendium, but I actually didn't mind it at all. God serves as a unifying force that ties the survivors together in their struggle against Tak. The absence of such a figure in the Regulators made it scary in the sense that it felt like a free-for-all at times, revealing how malicious, selfish and petty some people can be with their lives on the line. In Desperation, the characters, for the most part are heroic and selfless, and maybe I'm just a fan of cheesy wholesomeness, but I liked it more.
On it's own, Desperation is a very chilling tale. I think the mystery of what exactly caused Collie Entragian to flip out and go on a rampage is horrifying, and the interaction between Collie/Tak and his victims, specifically the dialogue as he harangues them, appearing logical and cold one moment and wildly hot the next before returning again, was some of the best dialogue King has written; or perhaps the word is most effective
dialogue King has written. The revelation of the mystery is more mundane, and I think ruins a bit of the terror built up in the earlier parts of the book. The book is definitely gory, but the fear in it comes from the sense of being watched. As you watch the horror show unfold, you can't help but feel like you've been sucked into the town of Desperation and that someone, or something, is watching you too. It's a hard feeling to shake. There's a great deal of time spent developing and revealing the weaknesses of all the character as well. King is not necessarily concerned with the fate of Desperation or even the struggle between God and Tak as he is with the redemption of each of the characters, and the crucial moments where they overcome their fears, their baggage and their disbelief are pretty profound. In a lot of ways, this book reminded me of Lost and I think this one was a huge influence on the show (smoke monster anyone?) as well as the Stand. The connections to the Tower mythos are definitely clear; references are made to the can-toi, a well of worlds that sounds suspiciously like the Tower itself, and demons between dimensions. As I read, I wondered how God fit in to that mythology. Is he just an agent of the White on a specific level of the Tower, or a greater force that transcends the Tower itself? Surely there is no mention of him other than the Man-Jesus in many of the Tower books and King makes it seem like the role of providence is played by nameless and formless fate in many of the more critical stories. Then again, I don't think I'd be satisfied with a concrete answer, and I appreciate the ambiguity and room for thought and speculation he's created in the Towerverse.
I feel like I'm blaspheming among King fans, but I liked this book more than the Regulators.