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Brian J. W. Lee is a writer. When he's not writing, he's plotting to plunge the world in a deep chasm of terror, darkness and screams. Sorry, did I get carried away?

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Brian Reviews #5: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

More than a week ago, I reviewed a movie. That movie was based on The Gunslinger by Stephen King. It was good enough, I'd like to say again, and so I feel that it would be poor form for me to neglect reviewing the source material of the movie, especially when it's from one of my favourite writers of all time.

Now, the way I've started reading the series is strange. I started with The Wind Through the Keyhole, before moving on to The Gunslinger. I just happened to see it in the bookshop, and knowing that I wanted to start on the series, and that the book was sold as one that's accessible to both first-time readers and veterans, I snapped it up immediately.

The Wind Through the Keyhole didn't disappoint, and neither did The Gunslinger.

Spoiler: The cover is a lie. The Gunslinger did not get to that tower in one book.


Another spoiler warning: There will be spoilers o'plenty. You have been warned!

It has been months since I read the book, but large tracts of the story are still with me, clear as day. Roland Deschain, the protagonist of the story, having a rough childhood while training as a gunslinger years before the events of the story. The town of Tull, before and after the man in black (and Roland) turns it into a ghost town. When Roland meets Jake Chambers, and sacrifices him in the mines to get to the man in black (didn't expect that one, did you?). That weird vision scene that Roland spent ten years in, learning about how insignificant his quest is compared to the scale of the universe.

As you can see, it's quite a bit of a handful. Where do I even start? I guess I'll go with the characters first. Surprisingly, I'm inclined to talk about the villain. The man in black. He's a breath of fresh air despite being written more than three decades ago. He doesn't need an army, doesn't even need brute force to achieve what he sets out to do. His magic isn't even the focal point of the story. It is how he would lay traps for the Gunslinger to fall into. It is how he truly is evil, in every sense of the word, without coming off as corny or cartoonish. True evil does what it wants and hurting people despite knowing well and full of the consequences. True evil relishes in the consequences, in fact, and Stephen King nailed it pretty well.

As for the hero (who's more of an anti-hero), is complex in his strengths and flaws. From his backstory as a boy all the way to when he sails to the next book, he never fails to impress me with how he could put aside his feelings to pursue his target: the man in black. This, in itself, is also his flaw - sacrificing friends to his cause without much pause. To be fair to him though, there usually aren't many choices for him to take - the man in black ensured that for at least one of those instances. He isn't just a gunslinger by any means, not in the tradition of westerns (based on how little I know on that subject). He is far more specialised than that. Part knight, part gunslinger, part wizard even, based on his ability to hypnotise, use technology and manipulate the more mystical part of the world. It's unheard of.

Personally, though, my only complaint is that the action sequences aren't as fleshed out as it could be. But they aren't bad, or even consistent in its mediocrity at all. I remember enjoying the scene where Roland fought his own mentor in a coming-of-age ceremony, and winning quite unexpectedly. The one-sided fight in Tull where he killed all 58 members of the town did the job, actually, just that I had expected more. Some parts were glossed over or skimmed over, with little more than a nod on how the gunslinger's target are shot, if even that.

But this slight oversight is more than made up for by the rich world of Mid-World, where technology is fading away, somehow replaced by fantasy-esque creatures, some of which I have no idea how they migrate from a fantasy world to Stephen King's multiverse. But they don't seem out-of-place, and instead adds to the mystery of it all, just like the man-in-black on his wagon, like a travelling magician... Who puts up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of a show for the town of Tull.

There's been a lot of reviews, and even a confession from Stephen King that the writing in this book is too fancy and bears less resemblance to his works during his later years, but I honestly found it all to be just fine. I consider it just a drift in style, and I like both the new and the old King all the same.

Read it. You'll never be disappointed. Now I'm just going to devour the rest of the series like I did with Harry Potter.

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