Ghost King by David Gemmell

Rating 7.5/10
I would definitely recommend Ghost King to fans of sword and sorcery novels

Ghost King is the first book in the Stones of Power series by David Gemmell, the author of the classic Drenai novels. Ghost King was first published in Great Britain by Century Hutchinson Ltd in 1988.

Rebellion and invasion have plunged Britannia into the Dark Ages. Chaos and terror stalk the land, the King slain by traitors, the great Sword of Power vanished beyond the Circle of Mist. Saxons, Angles, Jutes and Brigante tribesmen mass together to destroy the realm, aided by the powers of the Witch Queen and the Lord of the Undead. Against them stand a weakling boy, and an old mountain warrior. But the boy has the blood of kings, and the warrior is Culain, the legendary Lord of the Lance. And he alone knows the dread secret of the Witch Queen.

The events in Ghost King occur in the space of approximately thirty days but the history of the main characters covers thousands of years. A Ghost King start without pre-amble, character development is good, and plot progression and world building are done in the usual Gemmell way.

The chapters progresses nicely and you are, as a reader, always clear about what is going on. The main characters in Ghost King are Thuro (Arthur Pendragon), Culain (Lancelot) and Laitha (Gian Avur). The characters are given sufficient detail to give them life but Gemmell did not go into an enormous amount of detail. The author concentrated more on events and action and succeeded in creating a fast-paced, action-packed novel.

My favourite character was Prasamaccus; the crippled master huntsman has a wonderfully realistic outlook on life as only one who has suffered an unhappy life can deal with it.

Prasamaccus gazed around him. The landscape had changed; it was more rugged and open, the mountains stretching out into the distance beyond an immediate wooded valley. And it was bright… he looked up, and his heart sank. Two moons hung in the sky, one huge and silver-purple, the other small and white. The Brigante feared he knew what such phenomena might mean, and it was not good news. There was no sign of the warrior with the storm-cloud eyes.

From: Ghost King by David Gemmell

The relationship of most importance in Ghost King is that of Thuro, Laitha and Culain. Those with knowledge of Arthurian legend will recognise the re-telling of the story of Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot. Thuro begins the story as a weakling prince, poorly from birth. During the course of the book we follow him through his training to become a warrior and to his becoming the man Uther Pendragon. The story was told in third person narrative. This enabled Gemmell do switch between multiple characters and allowed the reader to view events through the eyes and thoughts of those that shaped them.

There were two main settings for Ghost King; the first is Britain during the Roman occupation. The second setting was of a place called simply “The Mist”. An otherworldly land of magic and monsters. My favourite moments in the book were when the young prince was being trained to become a warrior by Culain, a man whose history spans centuries.

David Gemmell obviously approached this book with relish. As the author himself mentioned in the book's foreward “Of the life of Uther Pendragon, little is known. This is not a history of the man, but a fantasy. In other words it is not the story as it was – but as it ought to have been.”

I enjoyed the book but have enjoyed other Gemmell books more. I felt that Ghost King lacked the character development and strong narrative of his Drenai novels.

I would definitely recommend Ghost King to fans of sword and sorcery novels. David Gemmell fans will enjoy this, although I would have to say that there are better Gemmell novels out there. The Stones of Power continues in the Last Sword of Power and I was sufficiently enamoured with the Ghost King to look forward to it. 

Ghost King is a fantasy novel and not intended as historically accurate. However the cities of Roman Britain, as named, did exist in the areas suggested, as did certain characters who appear in these pages.
Cunobelin was certainly a powerful warrior king, who earned the title Brittanorum Rex from the Roman writer Seutonius. Cunobelin reigned for forty years from his base at Camulodunum, possible giving rise to the Arthurian legends.
Paullinus was also a true man of history, and did defeat the Iceni of Boudicca during the ill-fated uprising. During the same period the Ninth Legion did indeed disappear. Some historian's claim they were ambushed and destroyed, others suggest a mutiny that the Romans covered up.
The manoeuvres of Roman military units are detailed as accurately as research and the needs of drama allow.
The language used is relatively modern, and undoubtedly there will be some students who find it jarring to read of arrows being 'fired', when of course the expression evolved after the introduction of matchlock muskets.
Similarly 'minutes' and 'seconds' appear ahead of their time.
Such arguments as may be offered can be overcome by pointing out that since the language being spoken is not English, but a bastardised form of Latin-Celtic, some licence in translation should be allowed.
Of the life of Uther Pendragon, little is known. This is not a history of the man, but a fantasy.
In other words it is not the story as it was – but as it ought to have been.

David A. Gemmell, Hastings, 1988

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