I read that Stephen King considers The Dark Tower series to be his magnum opus and The Gunslinger is quite an enjoyable start to a series that, word has it, gets a bit wordy toward the end.
After putting The Stand down at around 300 pages last year I really can't believe I entered King's mind again so soon. I hated almost all of the characters in The Stand and had a terrible time moving forward. Luckily, The Gunslinger is only 300 quick pages, instead of the massive 1100 or so in The Stand. Not to mention, a couple of blogs and SFFWorld forum members have been talking up the series, so here I am.
First, I have to say I love the cover art. It not only speaks of the story, but automatically gets you in the right mood for The Gunslinger. This tale is ominous and vast, it's desolate and post-apocalyptic and the cover says it all.
Told in five parts that were originally published separately in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, this is the tale of the last gunslinger pursuing "the man in black" through a parallel world that echoes our own world in many ways. Some of those being old, run-down gas pumps, train tracks and memories of singing "Hey Jude".
At first it was difficult to see what the gunslinger's motivations were in tracking the man in black and they aren't really made clear until we have a few flash-backs to the gunslinger's earlier travels and his youth. This made moving forward through the novel a bit labored, but the last 50 or so pages are definitely worth it as we're given more and more glimpses into the gunslinger's life.
Each new place in the gunslinger's travels, we find people desperately clinging to life in any way they can. Each time, the gunslinger finds subtle traps which have been put in place by the man in black to keep the gunslinger at bay.
Although slow at times and almost as confusing as Erikson's Malazan series (but more linear), The Gunslinger has some great moments that stick with you. The overall tone of the novel is very dark and ominous and I think King is one of the only authors I can excuse for not having a map, which would only detract.
When Should You Read This?
Read The Gunslinger when you're ready to start a huge series and I mean "huge" in terms of page count and world. While The Gunslinger could probably be read as a stand-alone (if you ignore the last couple pages), it is definitely a springboard to the rest of the series with several unresolved and newly created elements coming in at the very end.
3.5 out of 5 Stars (really liked it)