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The Runelords: The Sum of All Men
David Farland
Tor Books, 479 pages

The Runelords: The Sum of All Men
David Farland
David Farland decided to become a fantasy writer over 20 years ago. He tried his hand at doing a few novels, then decided to learn how to write by studying textbooks and doing some classes. Several pieces of work were published in the mainstream but he wanted to get back to fantasy. He started by doing the legwork necessary to build the world, to add in the magic system and to develop a sense of how he wanted the imagery/artwork to appear. That work has led to the development of a number of spin-off products available at The Runelords website.

Runelords Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Regina Lynn Preciado

David Farland's first fantasy novel could be the start of a classic trilogy. It could also become a never-ending succession of tomes like Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time.

In Farland's world, there exists a magic that allows one person to take a physical or mental quality from another. For example, a common man can grant his strength to his Runelord, living out his days as weak as a baby, while the Runelord becomes twice as strong. Noble children receive gifts from their subjects at birth: beauty, eyesight, brawn, wit or intelligence, hearing, and so on. In return, the Runelords use their talents to govern their people and defend them in times of danger. The givers of the gifts, called Dedicates, live in luxury, pampered by full-time attendants -- but without whatever qualities they bestowed upon their lords.

So a woman who gives her beauty to a newborn princess lives out her days as a dried-up hag. A man who bestows his flexibility on his king becomes forever creaky and stiff. A gift of sight leaves one blind; a gift of wit leaves one a drooling idiot.

In this first installment of the series, a renegade Runelord sets out to conquer his neighbouring kingdoms. Known as a Wolflord because of his propensity for taking endowments wherever he can find them -- wolf, eagle, human -- Raj Ahten becomes invincible, the embodiment of thousands upon thousands of Dedicates. He seeks to become something beyond human, to transcend the limits of the Dedicate-Runelord bond. And how can any resist him? He has so many endowments of charisma that he can often convince his enemies to surrender without even a fight.

But an even greater danger walks (or crawls) upon the land. It is a time of darkness, a time of sickness in the Earth itself. The humans' only hope for survival is the rebirth of the Earth King -- a legend almost forgotten, unknown even by the chosen heir.

Farland usually manages to blend his passages of exposition into the main narrative of the story, although I sometimes felt trapped in explanation. He seems to have invented aspects of the Runelord concept as he went along; some of those descriptions are unwieldy and distracting because they don't quite fit in with the world view he's developed.

But, it is the concept of the Runes that carries the story. Like The X-Files, Farland's novel asks whether the ends justify the means when the survival of the human race is at stake. And, like The X-Files, not everything is at it seems.

Does a lord have the right to demand endowments from his subjects if he needs those gifts in order to defend them against Raj Ahten and the Reavers? Is it wrong for a peasant to sell his sight, or his wit, or another talent in exchange for a lifetime of financial security for his family? Is it wrong for a Runelord to purchase endowments? Does taking an endowment from a beast make a Runelord something less -- or more -- than human?

This novel does have flashes of genius, such as when Gaborn's Days (a sort of human tape recorder who follows the nobility around to record their every deed) gets soused and reveals more than he should. How his observations play out proves that nothing is ever simple. And, that as Obi-Wan reminded Luke Skywalker, the truth depends greatly upon your point of view.

Despite the fascinating premises of the Dedicates and the Days, the characters lean toward blandness. Gaborn, the hero, is too ideal; things happen too easily for him. Princess Iome needs another dimension as well, although she numbers among the most realistic of the entire cast. Raj Ahten, despite his dastardly deeds and the fear he inspires in everyone, is just another fantasy villain out to conquer a world, complete with enough minions and henchmen to overrun a continent.

And the Reavers, which are supposed to pose the greatest threat to mankind and the very Earth itself, hardly appear at all. I am sure they become paramount in the next book, but I'm not afraid of them enough to believe the prophecies of doom.

Farland shows definite promise, and if he adds more depth to his characters and more tension to his plot, I'll read the rest of the series. I just fear that in these times of serial-based publishing, Tor will sacrifice quality for quantity, and invest more in the cover art than in developing the writer.

Copyright © 1998 by Regina Lynn Preciado

Regina Lynn Preciado writes and edits for a living. Her short-lived film career began with a role as an extra in The Empire Strikes Back: Special Edition and ended with another in The Return of the Jedi: Special Edition. She wants to be an astronaut when she grows up. Or maybe a train engineer. Want to know more?

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