Stephen King, The Dark Tower: Gunslinger Review

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sandemp's review of Stephen King, The Dark Tower: Gunslinger


“Before I start the review properly, I'm going to let...”

Written on: 20/12/2005 by sandemp (5 reviews written)

Good Points
I was hooked from the first sentence

Bad Points
Not self contained

General Comments
Before I start the review properly, I'm going to let you in on the (not so) secret fact, that I am a huge fan of the works of Stephen King, and have read almost everything he has ever written (including some non-fiction). After reading that statement, you might be surprised that until this month I had never managed to read any of the books in the Dark Tower series. But it's true, I'm not really sure why I hadn't, I suppose part of it is that I like my books to be as self-contained as possible, and another part was that the series isn't actually complete as yet. However, the main reason was that I was very reluctant to pay the asking price of £6.99 for this, the first, relatively short book in the series. After finding this book and the second on a second-hand market stall for the princely price of 50p each, I finally took the plunge, and in a way I'm only sorry that I hadn't taken the plunge any earlier.

Onto the review, and what better place to start than with the opening sentence, which has to be one of the best King has ever written...

"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."

...Such a simple statement, but one that immediately left me hooked and wanting the answers to some questions...

"Who is the man in black? Why is he fleeing? And while we're at it, who is the gunslinger, and why is he following the man in black?"

As the book progresses these questions are answered (well some of them), while yet more are asked, as we follow one man as he begins his search for "The Dark Tower", why he's searching for the Dark Tower, or indeed what The Dark Tower actually is, are questions that are never answered (in this book at least).

Now I'm going to try to give as little as possible away about either the plot or characters here, as I found not having a clue about what was happening at the start of the book enhanced the reading experience, so I'm not going to tell you who either the Man in Black or Gunslinger actually are, or why one is following the other. What I'm going to focus on is the actual writing style so here goes...

Although I found The Gunslinger to be very readable, and enjoyed the use of flash backs to discover more about the main characters (and the answers to some of the questions the first sentence left me with), I wasn't surprised to find that the book had been written over a large number of years. I found the earlier sections of the book, to be fresher and somehow more naive than the final sections, and during the very first section it felt as if King really wasn't sure where the story was going. While reading, it really did feel as if King himself was searching for the very same answers that I, the reader was, and I found this very refreshing. To be honest I'm not even sure whether King even knew whether the story was set in our world (in a post apocalyptic state), or just in one that was just very similar to ours. There are many references to our culture, and yet, it's never quite our culture, there were times when I was actually quite confused, but never fear, there are some answers as the book draws to a close.

One thing that differs considerably in this book to many other of King's works is the length and amount of "waffle". At only 206 pages, it's considerably shorter than most of his novels, and shorter even than some of his longer short stories. This not only means that it is a quick read, but also that there is less unnecessary over-description (there is still enough description for your mouth to feel dry as you follow the protagonists across the desert). So if you baulked at the 1000 odd pages of The Stand, then maybe this is the King for you.

Now how to discuss the characters, without giving anything away...

Most of the characters I met throughout the book are only there to enhance the story, and have no real life of their own. The focus is really on one character, and he is well-drawn, if not particularly likable. Through flash-backs to his childhood, and even the weeks before, I found out why he is the way he is, and learned a little about the world in which he grew up, but I never really got to know him inside-out (so to speak), not that this was a bad thing, as it just added to the sense of mystery.

Surprisingly, for King, this is not a horror novel, I would put it more into the fantasy genre, albeit one with a slightly western slant. As the book continued, I began to get a sense that King had almost decided the direction he was going to take, there were a few scenes that felt a little forced, and I was disappointed that at one point he veered away from what had been a purely fantasy piece into the realms of horror, but I guess he couldn't help himself, horror is what he's best known for. This is, however, an adult book, not due to any difficulty the younger reader might have, but due to some of the subject matter. Sex is mentioned, not graphically (or in a Mills & Boon type way, it's more matter of fact), but it is there, as is violent death; so if you don't like reading about such things, then steer clear.

So far I have been pretty complimentary about this book, but I'm now going to be the opposite and tell you what I didn't like. Which was that it is not self-contained, I understand that it is merely the first part of an epic, but I do prefer to have all the answers when I've finished the last page. There are fantasy epics around that succeed in this respect, with each novel comprising of a self-contained chapter in the series, and with no need to read the succeeding books. But this isn't one of them, and I really don't like the fact that if I want my questions answered I'm going to have to read the next in the series (and probably the ones after that).

Right, so the questions are...

Did I enjoy this book? Yes, it was a fairly easy read, and once hooked, I finished it over the course of a couple of evenings, I really did want to find out the answers to the questions posed.

Is it worth the price? Well it's definitely worth the 50p I paid for it, but I wouldn't go as far as to say it's worth the £6.99 RRP.

Am I recommending it? Again yes, but to the King fans out there, don't expect any vampires or real monsters, as this is more like The Stand than 'Salem's Lot or IT. I would also say that it should also appeal to anybody who enjoys fantasy novels, such as those of Brooks or Tolkien.

---Technical Bits---

ISBN: 0340829753

Publisher: New English Library

No. Pages: 304 (this is a slightly different copy to mine with more pages)

Price: £6.39 from Amazon (UK)

Apparently there are links between The Dark Tower series and many other King novels, personally I didn't see any in this book, but I may be wrong.

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Hj De Villiers's Response to sandemp's Review

Written on: 22/12/2005

Although the book is well written, you will soon be disappointed when you read the next two books in the series, the "winning" formula of the mystery man soon gets boring. He never gets to his destination and the other carracters in the story are bland. The author's attemt at a pshycological thriller is in my opinion a failure.

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