Roland the Gunslinger is chasing the man in black across a desert landscape. The desert is vast and empty - King does a great job of describing the bleak terrain and the shambling souls who still inhabit it. He conveys a sense of a world that is ending, all life sucked out of it. The man in black is a sorcerer, and he sets a few traps for Roland. It becomes clear that this story is not set on our world, there a demons, devil grass and the other usual suspects from a Stephen King story. (I don't mean to imply that the story seems like a King retread, instead, it seems epic.) A gunslinger in this world is more than a gunslinger in ours - Roland's shooting skills are magical. A series of flashbacks give us some of Roland's history - (it is in one of these flashbacks, well into the story before we are told that the gunslinger has the name Roland.) but of course, the flashbacks raise new questions - did Roland really kill his mother? What was the treachery of Marten, the wizard who betrays Roland's father? Why is Roland the last of the gunslingers - where has their civilization gone?
There really aren't too many characters in the main thread of the gunslinger, it is just Roland and Jake and the desolate terrain that they face: desert, mountains, a lightless endless underground tunnel. (There are more characters in the flashbacks to Roland's youth.) This means that the characters are somewhat remote.
When I think back to the book, I realize King didn't answer any questions. But this isn't maddening, only intriguing - lots more to come! The man in black may have answers, but Roland and the reader only get hints. I presume all of the questions will be answered in the future volumes (which get a whole lot thicker - this paperback was just over 300 pages, but I see that the just released volume 7 = 864 pages, while volume 6 checked in at 432, and volume 5 at over 700. This is a great start to the series, I'm looking forward to the Drawing of the Three.