Book One of The Runelords
Do you ever start reviewing books in your head before you’ve even finished them?
Me at 100 pages: Great premise but poorly executed
Me at 200 pages: Ok, finally some characterisation, story getting better, maybe not a bad read after all.
Me at 300 pages: Are we there yet? No. 300 pages more to go…
Sometimes a premise can be so big, it takes over the book. And the premise of “The Sum of All Men” is a brutal magic system, whereby a “Runelord” with some blood metal and incantations can take an endowment from a willing subject. The endowment can be many things; brawn, glamour, smell, sight, metabolism, wit. Endowments that are taken leave the giver (the dedicate) a cripple and double the skill of the taker. So, a Runelord with an endowment of sight will be able to see twice as far, but his dedicate will be blind.
At first, this makes every described character seem like they just stepped out of a role-playing game; he had the brawn of eight men, and the metabolism of four, the glamour of six and the sight of three.
It also leads to a lot of interesting scenarios and questions which Farland delights in exploring. The link between dedicate and Runelord is for life – if a dedicate dies, the Runelord loses his endowment, which leads to Lords keeping strongholds full of invalids more safely protected than gold. If a lord with dedicates becomes a dedicate himself, he becomes a vector, all his endowments pouring into the new lord. Metabolism, the endowment which controls speed, causes a person to age rapidly. And how would gravity and inertia effect a person who can run at over 100 miles per hour? If you gather enough endowments, can you become invincible?
As you can see, it is well thought out and fascinating, but really takes over the story as much as it has just taken over this review.
There is a lot to like about this book; the fight scenes are amazing, especially towards the end and the plot moves from action to action, yet I still could not quite get into it. For one, there was the issue of the giving of endowments. “Baddie” or “Goodie”, endowments are taken the same way, and lead to the same effect; a castle full of slaves. Farland seemed determined throughout the novel to convince the reader there was good ways and bad ways to take endowments. “Good” Runelords didn’t buy endowments from the needy, only took from those willing to give, and kept their dedicates in comfort. “Bad” Runelords forced dedicates to give endowments through blackmail and kept them in chains and cells. This distinction seems dubious at best.
(And notice that the premise is taking over the review again).
There are lots of otherworldly elements to this novel; the fireweavers and water wizards who are almost non-human, frowth giants, nomen, and the reavers, terrifying insectiod creatures who are beginning to encroach upon man’s land. I almost felt at times that this was science fiction, dressed as fantasy.
But really, my issue with this novel is really only one. I don’t care. I don’t care enough about the characters. This is a plot-driven story, and the characters are in the back seat. Prince Gaborn Val Orden, the hero, lacks any endearing qualities. He is young, handsome, tries to have a moral compass, but that is about it. All his power comes from external sources. His love interest, Iome, serves no real purpose in the novel, other than to “feel sad”, which she does for most of the book. Even the invincible Raj Ahten, the ultimate baddie, who is gathering thousands and thousands of dedicates, is somehow cardboard (and for a guy with a thousand endowments of wit, doesn’t seem very smart). Perhaps this is the “big premise” issue again, as it’s hard to cheer for a guy who is practically immortal.
Read if you like the premise, but be prepared to care very little for the characters.
I’m giving this novel 6 out of 10 well-endowed dragons