The Ghost King by R.A. Salvatore, wraps up the "Transitions" series of the authorís Forgotten Realms novels, and what a transition it is. The entire series has spanned thirteen years (five years between books one and two, eight years between book two and this one), and major changes have taken place in the Forgotten Realms universe. Since I think many Realms books take place in different times and places, it's not necessarily true that these events will have great ramifications for the future of the book line, but they quite possibly could. Unfortunately, THE GHOST KING is a sadly lackluster conclusion. Considering the major character transitions Salvatore gives us, that's too bad.
Reflect back to the first Drizzt Do'Urden trilogy and Salvatore's first book, The Crystal Shard. The remnants of that shard are being put back together. The dragon whose fiery breath destroyed the shard gets killed and becomes one of the most feared monsters in all the Realms: a Dracolich. The liches who became part of the shard, along with the mind-flayer Yharaskrik, wish to take over the world, but the dragon is hell-bent on revenge, using masses of undead creatures that it can control.
Meanwhile, Drizzt's wife, Cattie-Brie, learning the ways of magic, is struck down when the Weave of the Realms' magic begins malfunctioning all over the world. The dark elf Jarlaxle, upon whom the dragon also wants revenge, knows that only one place offers possible safety: the massive library of the druid Cadderly, a third subject of the dragon's vengeful fantasies. But Jarlaxle needs Drizzt to get him in there. Will they be able to figure out what is going on and defeat the dragon before they are all killed?
From Salvatore's dedication at the beginning of the book, itís apparent that the writing of this book was very important to him; he had to return to some of the dark places in his life again. It does therefore pain me to say that this is probably the least of the three books in the ďTransitionsĒ series. Despite prevalent themes of sacrifice, tenacity against incredible odds, and moving forward with your life in the face of horrible and emotional pain and suffering, they're wrapped up like the meat in a sandwich where the bread is nothing but fighting between the heroes in the novel and the massive army of undead creatures which are moving to destroy either the town of Carradoon or Cadderly's library. I appreciate action in a novel as much as anybody, but there has to be more to it. There is more to The Ghost King than just fighting, but the interludes are so short that it doesn't always seem that way.
Those too-brief interludes do make for good reading, though. Cattie-Brie relives some of her most vivid memories of Drizzt as he watches her do so, unable to interfere and not knowing whether she's in true pain or not. Cadderly's children come of age, leading the refugees from Carradoon through the mountains as the undead hordes continue to follow them. Jarlaxle's dwarf companion Athrogateís rhymes get even better, when they join up with Drizzt, Bruenor, and the dwarf Pwent, and Pwent begins copying him). The several very good bits scattered throughout the narrative are unfortunately masked by the constant fighting.
Nonetheless, Salvatore once again shows that he's the master of this kind of thing (it's a neck-and-neck contest between Salvatore and Michael A. Stackpole). The beautifully choreographed fighting scenes are not only gripping but easy to follow as well. Had that not been the case, I honestly don't think I would have made it through the book. Between the undead and the Crawlers from the spirit realm, there are a lot of creatures for our heroes to kill, and they do a pretty good job of it.
And despite all the fighting, Salvatore still manages to make his characters interesting, whether through dialogue within the action or the quiet parts in between. Drizzt has always been a good character, but Bruenor, Jarlaxle, Cadderly - and pretty much everybody else - is well done, too. The only ones I didn't care for as much were the villains. The fight for supremacy within the mind of the dracolich, with the mind-flayer, the dragon, and the shard's consciousness, simply isn't that interesting. These sections do their part by explaining the villains desires, but that's about it.
The entire "Transitions" series seems to have been written for Salvatore's long-time fans, to both move the series forward as well as to revel in the past a bit. Situations and characters are revisited, major changes in familiar and loved characters occur. There is so much history in these books, and this series refers to most of it. Cadderly is from another Salvatore series, "The Cleric Quintent," though it's his appearance in some Drizzt novels regarding the crystal shard that makes him important in this book. Salvatore makes sure you don't need to know the history; most of the references are explained well enough that you won't be confused, but I did feel as though I was missing something half the time. On the other hand, itís made me want to go read the other books, so maybe that's a plus for him.
All in all, The Ghost King isnít a bad book, just not as interesting as it could be. If you don't like action in your books, stay well away from this one. You'll have to get through a lot of fighting to dig up the good themes and characterization hidden here. It will be interesting to see whether this is Salvatore's last hurrah in the Forgotten Realms or if he's going to come back and do anything more with them. There are dead characters as well as characters whose lives have been shattered, but he leaves everybody in a place where they can live out their lives (or afterlives) in our imaginations and memories, never to have another story told about them. It would be kind of fitting if this were his last book.