"What does the fish think when he is jerked up by the mouth through the silver limits of existence and into a new universe where the air drowns him....?"
Described in its structure, The Gunslinger does not leap out. Its tension builds so slowly - and releases so suddenly - that I didn't notice my emotions until they were already present. Disappointment? Anger? Depression? How could he do that? How could I expect him to do anything else?
The eponymous gunslinger walks a bleak, bleached out world, pursuing "the man in black". The world is slowly painted in vaguely, intentionally bastardized, Biblical overtones - the first clue this is not a pure work of fantasy. It's a shadow of the 1970's world in which the book was written but is still connected, albeit tenuously, with our reality. What that reality is, how it came to be that way, is unclear even to those who walk it.
Enough clues are revealed along the way to form a picture about the gunslinger and the man he pursues but the reader is left with more questions than answers - and the thinnest sort of conjecture to bridge them together. If it hooks you, you'll want to immediately pick up the next book in the Dark Tower series, something I was glad I had already.
It's not a perfect read, the ending almost suffers from too much exposition, but it's my favorite sort of book: a genre-bending tale with fantastical elements (and characters) whose events nevertheless feel distinctly grounded in its version of reality. Time slows, speeds up, and is otherwise pliable. Characters speak in disjointed dialect, could feel at home in a stereotypical Western, but the timeline is millenia in the future. I think.
Rating: Four Stars