- The Ghost King: Transitions, Book III
- Wizards of the Coast, 342 pp.
Big Endings, New Beginnings
The Weave—the basic fabric of magic throughout Faerûn—is unraveling. Casting even the most basic of spells has become a dangerous venture thanks to this inexplicable “spell plague.” Fireballs detonate prematurely. Healing spells harm. Protection spells fail. Even priestly magic is no longer reliable. Magic has become a deadly, unpredictable force. Nothing is safe from the chaos being unleashed by the Weave’s failing.
Just ask Cattie-Brie, who is laid low by a random burst of magic lightning as she meditated on the very spell plague that felled her. Throughout the bulk of the book, she remains mentally trapped in a nightmare realm from which she can’t awaken.
R. A. Salvatore’s a master at interweaving multiple storylines and The Ghost King is no exception. As Drizzt Do’Urden rushes his wife, Cattie-Brie, to the dwarven kingdom of her father for healing, the dark elf Jarlaxle is assaulted mentally by a deceased foe who has somehow risen to get his vengeance.
“I will find you, drow,” the voice repeats inside the drow mercenary’s head.
Enemies for so long, Drizzt and Jarlaxle’s paths connect as they realize the only course of action is to seek out Cadderly Bonaduce, the priest-hero of Salvatore’s The Cleric Quintet series. A worshipper of Deneir, the lord of all glyphs and images, Cadderly constructed a massive magical library, Spirit Soaring, that’s become a storehouse for maps, literature, and magical texts. This bastion of information has recently drawn dozens of the most talented users of magic who all seek answers to the eroding order of the world. When no one else has answers, Cadderly the Questioner might.
The overarching story is the reemergence of Crenshinibon, the malevolent crystal shard that’s served as the main antagonist for several previous Drizzt books. In this story, it’s back again after having been destroyed by dragonfire by the red dragon Hephaestus in Servant of the Shard. The seven liches who helped create this power-hungry, sentient artifact are now released and Hephaestus—the creature psionically inside Jarlaxle’s head—has become a dracolich. But connected to him now in a hideous triumvirate of power was Yharaskrik, a long-dead mind flayer, and Crenshibinon’s magical essence. It’s a very tenuous alliance those three share, but the power they wield as the self-proclaimed Ghost King is tremendous. They’re able to tear open rifts into Shadowfell and send hordes of dark creatures through to plague Faerûn. The spirits of the now-freed liches, too, wield enough necromantic power to overtake towns and raise armies, which they do with great delight.
A constant in many fantasy books is the idea that good always prevails. Heroes live to fight another day. Evil is always vanquished. This book continues to give the sense that perhaps that’s no longer possible for the heroes of Salvatore’s tales. As evidence, consider the bleak tone of one of Drizzt’s trademark philosophical meditations:
When I look at Cattie-brie, I know that she is beyond my ability to help. We all dream about being the hero, about finding the solution, about winning the moment and saving the day. And we all harbor, to some degree, the notion that our will can overcome, that determination and strength of mind can push us to great ends—and indeed they can.
To a point.
Death is the ultimate barrier, and when faced with impending death, personally or for someone you love, a mortal being will encounter, most of all, ultimate humility.
In general, the pace of this book is quite quick and the action frenetic. But the book does get a little slow when Cadderly’s three children are driven from the Carradoon by an undead horde and they seek refuge inside mountain caves. They seem to be spelunking in the darkness with Pikel, the strange dwarven druid, for a long, long time until they fortuitously meet up with Ivan Bouldershoulder and Danica, Cadderly’s monk wife, just in time to head back to Spirit Soaring for the ultimate showdown between the Ghost King, its minions, and the remaining forces of good.
Whether you’re a longtime fan of the world’s most famous dark elf or a newcomer to R. A. Salvatore, this wild mix of action and large cast of characters is surprisingly easy to plunge into. But be warned: fans of Drizzt Do’urden and his friends from Mithral Hall need to be prepared. The series title, “Transitions,” is indeed referencing large changes to the series, and not just the broken Weave. As most know, the world of Faerûn is based on the Dungeons & Dragons world, which has recently made a radical shift to a distinctly different 4th edition. Wizards of the Coast, the owner of D&D and the publisher of Salvatore, has mandated changes to have these books be more in line with the new game and 4th edition Forgotten Realms setting. So don’t blame Salvatore. At least not completely. Read the extended Author’s Note at the beginning to get a sense of what writing this book cost the author.
A fast-paced, heartrending book, The Ghost King is a must-read for any fans of the Drizzt Do’Urden stories and a welcome read for general fantasy enthusiasts. While The Pirate King has a tighter plot and better action scenes, it’s this book that people will long remember. Read it to find out why.
Ryan G. Van Cleave was the 2007-2008 Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington at George Washington University. He has taught creative writing and literature at Clemson University, Eckerd College, Florida State University, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as at prisons, community centers, and urban at-risk youth facilities.
He lives in Sarasota, FL where he works as a freelance writer, editor, consultant, ghostwriter, and script doctor. He serves as Director of CandR Press, a non-profit literary organization based in Chattanooga, TN.