The Runelords Series

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The Runelords: The Sum of All Men by David Farland  

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Ok, I admit it Ė I picked up this book because I liked the picture on the front cover! Fortunately, I was rewarded with a well written, but very dark, fantasy novel.

Prince Gaborn is a young Runelord about to ask for the hand of Princess Iome, heir to the throne of a neighboring kingdom. While enroute to his betrothal, Gaborn uncovers a plot that appears to be a danger to his bride-to-be and her father, King Sylvarresta. Raj Ahten, a power hungry Runelord from the south, has sapped the strength of tens of thousands of ordinary men to enable him to lead his conquering hordes to victory over the northern kingdoms. Using the excuse of uniting mankind against the Reavers, evil beings who feast on human flesh, he wages his "holy war" to unite mankind under his banner.

However, the Reavers pose a much greater threat to humanity. They are causing the very earth extreme pain. For the earth to be saved, a new Earth King must be crowned to renew menís faith in the land and combat the evil that is being raised by the Reavers.

This is not your run of the mill sword and sorcery novel. It interjects some very fresh (and dark) ideas into a familiar medieval setting of kings, castles and heroic knights. The source of a Runelordís power are "endowments" taken from other human beings (dedicates). Through a magical process, a dedicate can endow a Runelord with their own abilities (such as wit, grace, brawn, stamina, etc.). Therefore, a Runelord endowed with the wit of one dedicate becomes twice as smart as a normal man. Unfortunately, the dedicate becomes a bumbling idiot unable to recognize his family or care for himself. Granting of endowments always affects the dedicate in an adverse manner. On the surface, itís hard to believe anyone would agree to be a dedicate, but Farland crafts a world in which this practice becomes believable. I still found it creepy, but it makes for an engrossing story.

Gaborn, the hero, is a likable young man who has a lot to learn. He is honest and caring, but is not a natural-born leader of men. But the author employs the tried and true plot line of throwing a young man into a situation beyond his experience to test his true mettle and let him rise to the occasion. Although this basic plot is a staple of most fantasy novels, Farland carries it off well and holds the readerís interest with lots of battles and other action. Iíll definitely be reading the sequel.

A note about the author: David Farland is a pen name for Dave Wolverton, an established author. Iíve only read one of Daveís other books, The Courtship of Princess Leia, which I enjoyed. Iím not sure why Wolverton felt the need to write this under a pen name Ė perhaps sales of his other books were lackluster. But no matter what his motivation was, The Runelords is a book that any author would take pride in.

Reviewed by Alan

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Brotherhood of the Wolf by David Farland

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Brotherhood of the Wolf is an excellent installment in the Runelords series. Continuing just a few days after the action in The Runelords, in this volume we begin to see the awful threat to mankind posed by the Reavers. Although mentioned frequently in the first volume, the Reavers did not seem that menacing. After reading Brotherhood, the Reavers are easily the most potent threat to mankind (and the most fascinating) that I have come across since the Urviles in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.

In the previous volume, Gaborn, the Earth King, drove off Raj Ahtan, ruler of the southern kingdom of Indophal. However, Ahtan was not defeated, merely inconvenienced. He still seeks to become the "sum of all men," an invincible warrior, by taking on thousands and thousands of endowments from his subjects. But now he seethes at his defeat at the hand of the Earth King. To lure Gaborn into battle, Ahtan strikes at the very heart of Gabornís homeland with a huge army headed by his Invincibles. The Invincibles are mighty warriors who have taken many endowments of brawn, stamina and metabolism from other men. Ahtanís army appears unstoppable.

But this is the least of Gabornís worries. Huge armies of Reavers, deadly monsters the size of elephants, are issuing forth from the earth and sweeping mankind aside. The very earth screams in pain and only the Earth King has the power to defend the earth from its assailants. Gaborn knows that he should not waste manpower fighting Raj Ahtan when mankindís real enemies are the Reavers. But can Gaborn afford to ignore the potential destruction of his homeland in order to save mankind? And how will Gaborn rally the kingdoms of the North when each ruler seems ready to betray another at the least provocation? Many such horrible decisions face an Earth King!

This volume covers a lot of old ground at the start. It repeats much of the information from The Runelords regarding forcibles and the taking of endowments from men to build superhuman fighters. However, once past this, the book picks up speed rapidly as the menacing Reavers ravage the countryside. The Reavers are an interesting creation by Farland and invoke a real sense of terror in the reader. They are the most memorable creatures I have come across in a long time. It is difficult to envision mankind stopping them and it will be interesting to see if we can in future volumes.

We gain a great deal of insight into Gabornís inner struggles with his newly found powers in the installment. Charged with saving the seeds of mankind, Gaborn needs to decide whom he will choose to save. This proves to be a difficult task. Should he only save those who can help him defeat the Reavers? Should he try to save all mankind or only those people who are honest and good hearted? He slowly realizes it will be impossible to save all mankind, but this makes the decisions regarding whom to save even more difficult. But the book does not focus solely on Gabornís dilemmas. The other supporting characters are given equal treatment and good character development is spread throughout the book. This keeps the book interesting between the engrossing battle sequences.

Farland has a great series going here. I have read that it is going to be five books. Certainly, there are enough loose ends in this book to generate another three novels. The loose ends donít detract from this story (which is self-contained), but rather pique the readerís curiosity and ensure that the publisher will hear the jingle of cash registers when the next volume in the series is released. Iíve already got my money in hand!

Reviewed by Alan

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