1/8/2010. Contributed by Phil Jones
pub: Orbit. 614 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-560-6.
check out website: www.orbitbooks.net
David Farland is the pen name of David Wolverton, the name he tends to use for his Science Fiction novels. First written in 1998, 'Sum Of All Men' is the first in 'The Runelords' series, of which I've reviewed some of the later books in the series. So, we're here to re-visit the start of the series and try to work out what all the fuss was about and was the series as good at the start as it was toward the end.
For those of you who haven't read any of 'The Runelords' series, it is pretty much 100% wholesome fantasy. The first book initially follows Prince Gaborn Val Orden of Mystarria, a young Runelord. Travelling the kingdom of Heredon toward Castle Sylvarresta, he wishes to try to win the hand of the Iome, King Jas Laren Sylvarresta's daughter. The king is a good friend and ally of Gaborn's father and their marriage would be beneficial both politically and strategically. He keeps a low profilem not making his identity known to the local populous. This enables him to get a feel for the kingdom, its people and rulers.
He begins to hear rumours of an approaching invasion by Raj Ahten, a most powerful Runelord. They take on endowments which increase their abilities, be it with strength, stamina, wit, speech or even beauty. There is a cost. A person needs to give up the ability to the Runelord, these are known as dedicates. For someone like King Jas Laren Sylvarresta, his delicates are given the best and looked after in special quarters as they are often only a mere shadow of their former selves. They choose to give up their abilities to benefit their ruler knowing that they will be well looked after. For a Runelord like Raj Ahten, he just takes endowments as he pleases, caring little for dedicates. Raj Ahten is on the rampage and had invaded and captured most of the southern kingdoms and now has his eye on the north. With a huge amount of endowments for all intensive purposes he seems unstoppable, almost a one-man army in himself.
Gaborn rushes to Castle Sylvarresta to warn them and comes across Raj Ahtens army. Dodging Frowth Giants, huge dogs and scouts he arrives at the castle to warn them just before Raj Ahten arrives with his army. The thought of Hostenfest, a holiday honouring the Earth King which Gaborn was originally going to the castle for was far from everyone's minds. There is little violence as Raj just uses his glamour and power of speech to convince Sylvarresta's men to just let him in. Gaborn knows that if captured he will be no doubt killed by Raj. While seeking to escape, Gaborn encounters the earth king rising from the ground in a magical herb garden and recruits him as the Earth's protector, a covenant in exchange for new powers.
Things do not go well and the city is ravaged by Raj Athten who takes hundreds of endowments from the people including the princess who loses her beauty and the king his intelligence. Gaborn manages to get both the princess and the king from Sylvarresta swearing to protect them both. His love for Iome never wanes although she is no longer beautiful, he now seeks a way to thwart Raj Ahten's advance.
There is a lot to like with this book. Farland never panders to his readers and is not scared to shake things up and let good characters fall fowl of terrible deeds and acts. The magic system is slick and works incredibly well, feeling very much like power-ups or improving abilities found in both board and computer game based RPGs. Some of the book can be plagued by an over-zealous need to tell us about the intricacies of the culture or history. This does add more depth but does at times feel like information dumps. There are however, some juicy morels that hint of what is to come scattered throughout the book.
There are overtones of religious references, but they don't feel overbearing or forced. There is little mention of Reavers, which are in fact the real threat to the Earth becoming more significant as the series progresses. Some of the main characters at times can feel a bit flat and idealistic. With elements slotting in a little bit too conveniently for Gaborn, sometimes it feels as though his work is almost done for him.
There is contrast to this Borenson, established early on as Gaborn's bodyguard, is an interesting character. The political side is interesting, too, and there are plenty of moral problems and issues presented to the characters. The fact of hundreds of innocents being slain by the good guys for one.
This is an enjoyable book with both the familiar fantasy elements and a few new ones like Days, devout recorders of noblemen and Runelords lives who, we believe are impartial to what they observe. If you've never read any of 'The Runelords' series and you enjoy fantasy then take a look.
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