Monday, November 9, 2015

Audiobook Review: The Dark Tower - The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Book Rating: 2 ½ out of 5 Stars

Audiobook Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 Stars

Bottom Line: This book seems very unapproachable, but perhaps may not be best suited for an audio adaptation.

The Gunslinger is the first book in Stephen King's fantasy series The Dark Tower.  It takes on the guise of a Western with the titular character (we find out that his real name is Roland) following the "man in black" whom he has chased after
for many years.  His pursuit of this man is the first of several steps in his eventual quest to reach the Dark Tower.  The book takes place in a familiar Western desert setting, and the Gunslinger character plays very much off of the Clint Eastwood archetype.  But we find out that the land he is traveling in could be a purgatory-like plane of reality or a post-apocalyptic Earth.  Along the way he encounters several people and supernatural forces that try to stop him, but he remains diligent in his pursuit of the man in black.

I have not read much of Stephen King's works over the years because I am not a big fan of horror (and because his books are loooong), but this entry has long been on my to read list of books because of its fantasy leanings and the fact that the Dark Tower series has been hailed as one of his greatest accomplishments.  Plus, The Gunslinger incorporates a lot of the trappings of a Western and I have always had a soft spot for a good tale in that genre.  So I thought for certain that I would love this book, but actually found myself struggling with it throughout.

In retrospect, I'm thinking this may not have been the best novel to encounter in audiobook format.  It is rife with imagery and allusions and it is a pretty dense read.  This is one of those that you probably need to reread some passages several times which doesn't fit in well with a morning commute listen.  I think I may have enjoyed this better sitting down and reading the actual book, but then looking over other reviews across several sites it appears that I'm not the only one who found it somewhat unapproachable.  Apparently the series gets better as it goes along, so I will plan on getting to the second book at some point.  But it's not a high priority at the moment as the first seemed to meander and digress and never really tell a good story, though maybe that's in part because it was pieced together from five short stories.

As far as the audiobook adaptation, I can't find any faults with George Guidall's reading.  His gruff voice fits perfectly with the Western setting as if he were reciting the tale while sitting around the campfire.  His narration definitely helps make the book more enjoyable, but unfortunately does not cut through the mire enough to improve its clarity.  It appears that he narrates several more books in the Dark Tower series (though not the second), so that will definitely be a plus if I decide to continue with these books.  But if I do so, it will be more on the reputation of the series and not on my experience with the first book.

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