Laurell K. Hamilton, Death of a Darklord (TSR, 1995)
Laurell K. Hamilton's Ravenloft novel, Death of a Darklord, has achieved an almost mythic status in Hamilton fandom (which is legion, of course), mostly because it's next to impossible to find. At least, I assume that's the reason it fetches outrageous prices on ebay and required librarians to dig into storage cabinets in back rooms to come up with a copy for me to borrow (it took them nigh on a year to locate even a single copy out of circulation but still owned by the system-- it's no longer in circulation because so many copes walked away, never to return). It's not because the book stands head and shoulders, stylistically, narratively, or any other way over any of the other Ravenloft novels.
Of all the lines of fiction put out by TSR (now Wizards of the Coast) in the eighties and nineties, only the original run of Dragonlance-- the first ten or twenty novels set in the Dragonlance world-- rivalled the quality of the Ravenloft books. This was, of course, because TSR didn't go to the stock authors for these. They recruited names-- Hamilton, Gene DeWeese, Tanya Huff, Elaine Bergstrom, P. N. Elrod, Chet Williamson, etc. Sure, like everything else TSR, they were formulaic; after all, if you wanted a TSR contract, you played by their rules. But it's possible to do all sorts of things within formula, and good writers adapt. Williamson's novel, Mordenheim, is a standout in this regard. Hamilton's, however, is not.
Some of the blame for the novel's predictability and lack of pace in its first half don't have at least something to do with a moronic copywriter, who left all the first half's suspense for dead after writing a couple of sentences. Yet, still, when one picks up a book by an author whose name is rapidly approaching the state where you have to put "hallowed" before it, you start expecting something roughly akin to what you'd get from an Elrod, a Williamson, etc., rather than a tale which sticks quite closely to formula.
None of this is to say that the book isn't readable; it's just more reminiscent of the later Dragonlance novels, on the continuum of quality, than the earlier ones. Still, if you're a Hamilton fan, or a Ravenloft collector, you'll probably find the outrageous prices this goes for worth paying. Don't let me stop you. ***