The Gunslinger – Stephen King: A Review

Date finished: June 12th 2016

Take one of the greatest horror authors of all time, Lord of the Rings and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. What do you get? Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. That’s a pretty unbeatable combination of things, and I’ve been meaning to get round to reading the series for years. The announcement of a movie adaptation of the first novel in the series The Gunslinger, motivated me to finally get round to picking up this much-lauded series.

I’ve read a bit of King’s work before: CarrieThe StandSkeleton Crew (a short story collection), and possibly some others that escape me right now. He’s undeniably a talented author, and you can guarantee you won’t be wasting your time with critically-praised work like this.

005The Gunslinger introduces the titular character, Roland, who is in pursuit of the Man in Black across a merciless desert. Along his way he encounters mutants, a sinister town of zealots, a young boy from New York called Jake, and many other dangers and the demons of his own past. And at the back of his mind there’s the looming Dark Tower towards which he is irresistibly drawn.

The Gunslinger began life as a series of vignettes in the 1980s, published as short stories in magazines. Eventually they were bound together in one volume, and since then King has tinkered with them to make them more cohesive. Nonetheless, elements of that disconnected past remain, and this somewhat interrupts the flow. In addition, though billed as an ‘epic’, The Gunslinger alone doesn’t quite live up to this description. It’s undeniably a good yarn – a worthy member of King’s canon – featuring some original and thrilling scenes. But the disparity of the parts is a hindrance.

Ironically, The Gunslinger is the first of seven novels, so there’s more separateness to come. That said, it’s unfair to judge the book as a standalone tale when there’s so much left to come, and as an introduction to the character, history and world of The Dark Tower series, it’s an intriguing start that promises greater things to come.

The Gunslinger is an enjoyable tale with a few faults, but ultimately it does leave me curious to read further into the world of Roland and The Dark Tower. If you’re looking for your next great fantasy series, this slim volume about an errant gunslinger in an unforgiving, ravaged world full of insidious characters and tantalising glimpses of a fantasy world of intriguing depth, is well worth a try. It may prove to draw you into your next great love.

6/10

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