Author: Stephen King | Page Count: 212
'No one ever really pays for it in silver, he thought. The price of any evil – necessary or otherwise – comes due in flesh.'
Book One is your introduction to Roland Deschain, also known as Roland of Gilead, the titular gunslinger. Roland is a man obsessed. His obsession carries him across Midworld, the land of his birth. Midworld is a familiar amalgamation of our own recorded history and a romanticised version of the same. It's the type of fictional reality that fans of King's other works will feel right at home in.
Now would be a good time to say that this isn't a Horror novel. It's Fantasy merged with the old-fashioned Western, but it's still populated with the kind of well-defined characters that the author is so very good at. Love him or loathe him, you can't deny his strengths.
Later books in the series take too damn long to get to where they're going (some could do with at least 100 pages trimmed off the beginning), but this one is more focused. There's no unnecessary waffle. There are flashbacks to earlier times at opportune moments but they aren't whimsical, they offer a deeper insight into the present situation and help explain why Roland acts like he does. You may find him hard to connect with initially, but as his story deepens so too does his depth of character and his principles become less obtuse.
The book was written over a period of twelve years (when time allowed between other projects) and originally published as five short stories before being collected together. The progression in the writing is clear to see. If you compare the earliest part with the later parts, you'll see a huge difference in quality.
You should know before you even begin that the series, originally planned to reach approx 3000 pages in length, swelled to eight books that if collected together would be a whopping 4250 pages long.* Also, that's assuming King has finished with the series. I suspect he's got some more Dark Tower in him, so that figure could increase in the future. That's not to say it's unfinished. It did get an ending, but there are stories that could be told within the existing framework, as evidenced by the interquel, The Wind Through the Keyhole (2012).
3½ gateways out of 5
*That figure is obtained from my own copies, which are a mix of paperback and hardback. King revised the first book in 2003. The listing on amazon gives a 304 page count for it. That would add another 92 pages to the tally.