Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

Fantasy Review: ‘The Gunslinger’ by Stephen King

Rating:  2.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis courtesy of GoodReads

Set in a world of extraordinary circumstances, filled with stunning visual imagery and unforgettable characters, The Dark Tower series is King’s most visionary feat of storytelling, a magical mix of science fiction, fantasy, and horror that may well be his crowning achievement.

In The Gunslinger (originally published in 1982), King introduces his most enigmatic hero, Roland Deschain of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting, solitary figure at first, on a mysterious quest through a desolate world that eerily mirrors our own. Pursuing the man in black, an evil being who can bring the dead back to life, Roland is a good man who seems to leave nothing but death in his wake.

Review

Even having finished this a little over six weeks ago, I still can’t decide how I feel about The Gunslinger.  Despite really not being sure if I even liked reading it, I still think that I’ll read the next in the series.  Granted, I probably won’t read it right away and I’m not likely to pay any actual money for it but I might borrow a copy of the library if I happen across one.

More often than not, articles about Stephen King or reviews of King’s books lavish praise upon his storytelling abilities.  Oddly, I think that’s part of what lets this book down.  Every now and then (and I do mean only every now and then!), there’s a glimpse of where the story is going so it’s clear that there’s a plan for the overarching story.  This book is just a small part of a huge, winding tale and, while I’m sure that story is brilliant, I just didn’t feel that I saw enough of it.

What I saw more than enough of was Roland.  Roland walking, Roland thinking about walking, Roland eating, Roland thinking about eating, Roland talking to Jake, Roland thinking about…you get the idea.  The book is a mere 238 pages long – in the land of fantasy series, that is small fry.  I’ve read many an epic fantasy series where the author  thinks nothing of introducing a character, leaving them to go their own way for many hundreds of pages before re-introducing them with barely a reminder about where you saw them last.  Readers of The Gunslinger aren’t trusted in the memory stakes, however. In the first few chapters, Roland, is moseying through a town called Tull.  There he meets a complex lady called Allie and spends maybe fifty pages getting to know her.  Just a little less than a quarter of the book is spent with Allie but for some reason every time she is mentioned later, she is referred to as “Allie, the woman in Tull”.  Which I know, Roland, because since you left her, you haven’t done anything but WALK!  

Since the premise of this opening novel is Roland being a “haunting solitary figure” starting out on a quest through a “desolate world”, I wasn’t expecting a cast of thousands or gun-toting on every corner but there’s very little…charm.  If I’m starting out on a journey that’s going to last for seven books, I want to *care*.  I want to find at least one character that I can cheer for, sympathise with or cry over.  Here, I found one character who I wanted to kick or SHAKE to get some life into (I’m looking at YOU, Roland), one I wanted just to stand still for five minutes so that we could all stop chasing him (Man in Black, come on down) and only one who I felt intrigued by (hugs for you, Jake, hugs for you)…

On the plus side, I’m quite intrigued by the way King is playing with time.  Early on, I was frustrated because the setting and tone of the book both screamed old-style western but for some reason Hey Jude by The Beatles was a well-known ditty.  It was almost impossible to work out whether the story is a distorted version of the past or a desolate version of the future or something else entirely.  It’s the peeks into the potential of future instalments that will bring me back to this series, rather than a sense of having enjoyed this one.
Overall:  As an isolated reading experience, The Gunslinger wasn’t the best.  In spite of that, the final few pages did make me feel as though there was hope for the series yet.  Expect a plethora of unanswered questions, a hefty dose of surrealism and a little bit of gore (this is Stephen King, after all) and you shouldn’t find yourself too disappointed.

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Date finished:  03 November 2012
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Borrowed from my local library
Genre:  Fantasy fiction
Published (edition I read): by Hodder & Stoughton Limited in 2012