In the Gunslinger, Stephen King introduces the reader to one of his most enigmatic heroes, Roland of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting figure, a loner, on a spellbinding journey into good and evil, in a desolate world which frighteningly echoes our own.
In his first steps towards the powerful and mysterious Dark Tower, Roland encounters an alluring woman named Alice, begins a friendship with Jake, a kid from New York, and faces an agonsiing choice between damnation and salvation as he pursues the Man in Black.
Starting on this odyssey once again and treading the well worn, familiar paths of Roland’s world has been both a pleasure and an eye-opener. There is plenty of foretelling liberally scattered throughout this first book, and I forgot just how well it was written. Part western, part fantasy, and erring into sci-fi realms this fusion of genres and ideas are a stirring mix of unpredictability for the reader to experience.
The Gunslinger throws the adventurer into a strange, bleak world of obscure references to people and places, full of tantalising glimpses into a world passed and Roland’s own enigmatic history. On my first read through this technique made me both eager to understand, and infuriated at not having the answers to hand, but the intrepid reader’s efforts will be rewarded as the series unfolds..
Likewise Roland’s world is a familiar, yet alien place with an atmosphere of decay, but is full of detail and mystery. King manages to show so much whilst leaving even more open to question. This form of crumb dropping is an enticement for this reader to carry on, to seek understanding of the world, and the lives there, but it will most likely split readers according to their tolerance for curiosity.
Something that stood out for me with this book is the writing, having fewer characters to concern himself with, King can go about the business of being more verbose and exploring a new world with reckless abandon, which makes the book even more of a departure from so much of his usual fare.
As with any series opener, the ending must demand that the reader picks up the next book and this is done in a much more interesting way than the cliché cliffhanger, as you would expect from a writer of king’s talent. Without going into any spoilers, there is much to be said for the culmination of this instalment, Its epic imagery and wonder set up a myriad of intriguing possibilities for the following books .
The Gunslinger is an excellent start to the Dark Tower series and is my second favourite book in the series (of eight books), the most effective being The Waste Lands, but that is a story for another day. For King fans he also incorporates references from his other books which makes this work into something much more layered, but for first time fans who miss these, it doesn’t detract from the book as a whole and reading more widely of his work will sometimes unexpectedly bring you back to the tales told within The Dark Tower Quest.