Prince Arthas Menethil is the only son of King Terenas Menethil, King of Lordaeron. His problem, from the time when he was just a boy, was being hot-headed and impatient. But as a boy he made friends with Prince Varian Wrynn, whose father had been killed by someone he trusted.
As a boy, Arthas grew quickly, and he was trained alongside his mount, Invincible. But when he had to leave Invincible unridden for the first three years of his life in order to grow into a mount capable of carrying him in full armor, he felt cheated because Varian Wrynn's people would have been training him by now, and Varian told him this.
He tries to jump onto Invincible and is soundly chastised for possibly causing damage to his horse. However, he does get the training of Muradin Bronzebeard, King of the Dwarves, as well as the friendship of Jaina Proudmoore, a mage student traveling to the Mage city of Dalaran. During the trip, they sneak off to see a prison camp full of Orcs. They discover a deep liking for each other that is more than just friendship, but Arthas must leave.
Soon, he's hard at work, training to become a paladin, which he achieves. He also spends time with Jaina at Dalaran, and their liking quickly turns to love. He is a young, handsome Prince with his life before him. He is beloved by his men, and the people of his Kingdom, and he returns their love and devotion equally.
But then, everything turns. Invincible dies on an icy day when Arthas is riding him. The Kingdom is invaded by a dark mage, Kel'Thuzad, who Arthas kills, but with him comes a plague of undeath known as the Scourge. This mage's plan was to use the grain to turn the people of Lordaeron into Undead, and only Arthas stands a chance at preventing it.
Sadly, he cannot, for the people have already consumed the grain, and they will become the undead. Arthas can see no other solution but to destroy them and the town, but the other paladins disagree with this harsh solution, and it costs him the holy light he has served and used all of his life.
The brother of the Dwarven King thinks he has a solution, a sword known as Frostmourne, said to be especially powerful against the undead. As Arthas and his loyal band take the Dwarves to search for the sword, Arthas is driven to ever-greater desperation to turn back the tide of the undead... but can he drive them back when the touch of Frostmourne rips his soul from his body- making him the first of a new kind of Death Knight?
This book covers the life of Arthas, from when he was just a boy to the point at which he merged with the Lich King. And despite knowing exactly what becomes of Arthas (it's hard not to when the two colored pictures at the front of the book are of Arthas as a human and Arthas as a Death Knight), it was hard for me not to sympathize with him when it was all going down. He loved his people so much, but when it came down to them dying, he wanted to deny their bodies to the Scourge.
So instead of just killing them, he slaughters them, because he knows they will die anyway, and at least this way, the death is over quicker. And he burns the town and the infected grain to deny their bodies to the Scourge and get rid of the grain once and for all. It's this act that loses him his paladinhood- because he does it himself. Not happily, but he does it because they are his people.
After this, you could say he goes a bit mad, and once he's battened onto his plan to use Frostmourne against the undead Scourge, he doesn't want to be dissuaded from his plan at all. And that's when he loses it all- his soul, his life, and his mind. He's twisted to the cause of evil, and he doesn't look back. The ending of the book was painful for me to read because seeing this great person turning his back on what made him such a wonderful person in the first place made me very sad. To the point that he murders his father, destroys the elven people, and even worse.
Even if you never played World of Warcraft, or don't care about it, this is an excellent fantasy story akin to the fall of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. Arthas doesn't come off as any kind of paragon, but a flawed man led by his heart into a path that led to him falling to evil. I hardly know anything about WoW. I've seen some of the teaser videos, but this story sucked me in and simply would not let me be. I enjoyed it as just a fantasy story, but some people who might pick it up as just a fantasy should know that the story ends with Arthas becoming the Lich King. Not being defeated, but just settling in to being evil. That being said, should I say that I found the picture of Death Knight Arthas more interesting than Human Arthas? Highly recommended, even if you don't play WoW.