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It’s not that often that something you remember fondly from 25 years ago is even better the second time around. I read "Ghost King" back in the early 90s, and I remember enjoying it, but I didn’t remember much of the plot except that it was a unique riiff on the characters of Camelot and also involved the Lost Legio IX of the Roman Imperial Army.
Many years and many Gemmell books later, this now strikes me as one of my all-time favorite author’s best books. The first of an epic-fantasy duology that melds vaguely Arthurian characters with the Gemmell-conceived Sipstrassi Stones of Power, it is full of page-turning adventure peppered with surprises. Gemmell’s quirk of giving the same character multiple identities in ways that make the plot twist in interesting and well-conceived ways is brilliantly used here.
In looking at reviews of "Ghost King" on Goodreads and Amazon, I noticed several people felt it was "rushed" and didn’t fully flesh out the characters. One reader noted that the leading character’s transition from frail, scholarly wimp to heroic swordsman happened unbelievably fast. (In fact, there is a throwaway line spoken by Maedlyn the Enchanter -- guess who that is in standard mythology -- that at least partly justifies the transformation.) I don’t agree with either assessment, perhaps because I read Gemmell’s epic fantasy novels long before experiencing the multi-volumes and millipages of the Martin/Sanderson era epics (and I like both those authors, especially Sanderson).
In the days before computers made word processing a relative snap, authors wrote less prolifically and often (IMHO) more carefully. If you are too young to have experienced the joy of retyping your handwritten draft of a 20-page history paper, you may not be able to fully appreciate this. Gemmell, who started as a newspaper journalist (me too) and bar bouncer (me never), undoubtedly typed his first manuscripts himself, and probably on a manual typewriter. The result in this case is a tight, well plotted novel told with maximum characterization and action, minimum embellishment, and maximum impact.
"Ghost King" stands alone, but the epilog (epilogs are another Gemmell trademark) sets up the sequel, "Last Sword of Power." Indeed, the ringing last sentence of the book pretty much leads right into the next one (but without cliff hangers). The Sipstrassi Stories continue after "Last Sword," but they jump a couple of millennia forward to the postapocolyptic world of Jon Shannow, the Jerusalem Man ("Wolf in Shadow" et al.). I was a little surprised to learn that "Wolf," which I reviewed on Audible recently, was actually written before "Ghost King." I guess Gemmell decided the Sipstrassi needed a backstory.
Christian Rodska narrates the Sipstrassi series, and does so brilliantly.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
A very good narration of a good book
I am very much looking forward to reading the rest of the series over the coming months
This chap is exactly the guy to read these books as was the chap on Legend