The Ghost King by RA Salvatore (Transitions: Book 3)

Marking the 22nd Drizzt book, R. A. Salvatore's The Ghost King is unlike any of the books that have come before it. The Transitions trilogy, of which this book is the completion, was not much of a trilogy except for the theme of transition. The events of the three books do not connect to one another except for the characters, and the fact that major reshaping of the Forgotten Realms map occurs in each book. In The Orc King the orcs establish a permanent, above-ground settlement and an uneasy truce with Bruenor and the dwarves. In The Pirate King, a revolt in Luskan results in the destruction of the Hosttower and the establishment of a new era of being governed by pirates. The oddity of it is that neither of these books gave the impression of having been completed. They end on nebulous notes of uncertainty, and I thus, reasonably, assumed that these plot lines would be resolved in The Ghost King. They were not, though incorporating the orcs and the pirates of Luskan would have given the trilogy some overall cohesion.

The Ghost King, as incredible as it might sound, was not a good book. Everything felt forced, and most of the characters felt surreally inconsistent. The story picks up some years after the end of The Pirate King, and that pesky Crystal Shard is back once again. This time it has combined with some other evil and potent magics including an Dracolich (an undead dragon) to become something entirely new: the Spellplague. The Spellplague is assaulting all that is magic, eroding and killing the very Weave itself. The gods of the Forgotten Realms pantheon are gone or unable to communicate their parishioners; magic is misfiring, backfiring on its users; graves are bursting open and the undead rising forth to slaughter the living.

How could a premier fantasy novelist go wrong with such an intense and thrilling premise? This was my thought the entire time as I worked my way through it. Yet Salvatore dropped the ball on this one. His prose was turgid at best, his lyrical descriptions reading flat and lifeless on the page. The most memorable illustration of this was a moment when Salvatore described the killing blow delivered to an undead as the hero having “poked a hole” in its chest.

The lack of explanation was bizarre, and became one of the besetting sins of the book. We are not made clear about how the Chrystal Shard became the Spellplague, nor why the Weave is unravelling. No explanation is given for why the gods have vanished or gone silent. We are told the only hope for survival is with Cadderly at Spirit Soaring but we are simply given Salvatore's word for this. Cadderly, meantime, is the only person unaffected by the Spellplague, though why this is the case also lacks explanation. Further, the defeat and imprisonment of the Dracolich at the climax of the book, while dramatic enough, also lacks explanation. Jarlaxle returns in this book, but he is lacking his former mercenary character, becoming instead a pale shadow of Drizzt. Salvatore sometimes skips critical scenes where characters make decisions, rendering such decisions to us after the fact, often so that we can get to another battle.

The narrative takes on a rather fragmented feel as the reader is forced to catch up to the story when it jumps, or else accept otherwise bizarre events without explanation. Subplots go nowhere, literally nowhere; Cadderly and Danica's children, now teens, decide to go to the aid of one of the nearby towns, arrive in time to get driven into the caves and tunnels beneath the Snowflake Mountains, relentlessly pursued by the undead. Over the course of the book they press deeper and deeper into the caves, only to find themselves at  a dead end. So they decide they have to go back the way they came; so they fight all the way out to the town again, and then go back to Spirit Soaring. Not only does this subplot go nowhere, but the seemingly unbeatable undead that pursue them pose almost no challenge whatsoever when the dictates of the plot require it.

More than this, two principle characters of Drizzt's company are killed off in this book. If you haven't read it, I'm not going to say which ones. Nevertheless, their demise is poorly constructed and poorly executed; their deaths are unworthy of friends we have literally spent years reading about. The scenes were so flat I hardly felt a thing, beyond frustration at the way in which this comes about. Their spirits are escorted to the afterlife by Mielikki in a scene so cheesy and painful it left me cringing.

Aside from the interesting thematic point of the book, which is that magic falls and the only god left, Deneir, who is the god of reason and logic and thus represents the coming of a sort of Forgotten Realms enlightenment age, the book left me cold. I get no pleasure from saying it, but the book was unworthy of Salvatore; he has done so much better. I will not say I did not enjoy moments of it, because I did, but enjoyment and quality are, alas, two different things.

6/10 The Ghost King, as incredible as it might sound, was not a good book.

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2 positive reader review(s) for The Ghost King

1 positive reader review(s) in total for the Transitions series

The Ghost King reader reviews

from UK

In my opinion ghost king is one of the best in the series. it handled the transition between different magic systems very well.
10/10 ()

from Unitedstates

I was very impressed Salvatore hit the mark once again some have there opinion so what there boring dribble I thought after 29 books into the companions journeys only four of the friends were slain still focused and ready to do battle the dark endures 7 more books to go I love the entire collection hope it goes on.
10/10 ()

from Greece

I agree with the above critic!!! So flat and so unexpected - the deaths of 2 loved characters!!!! It left me with a strange feeling....!!! Although I am a great fan of Salvatore this ending left me with a sour taste.
7/10 ()

8.2/10 from 4 reviews

All RA Salvatore Reviews