Overall Rating: 3 stars (Liked It!)
Genre – Epic Fantasy, Adult
David Farland kicks off his Runelords Series with the Sum of All Men, in a world where personal attributes can be given, bought, or stolen. Runelords are men who receive endowments from their subjects, such as endowments of strength, metabolism, or wit. These endowments are permanent and leave the devotee lacking – where he might have once been a strong man, he now becomes too weak to get out of bed. Where he might have once been intelligent or wise, he is now a slobbering dotard.
Most Runelords take these endowments only when volunteered, and they do so with a great measure of responsibility to use the gifts wisely in the defense of their nation. Others, called “Wolf Lords”, take endowments wherever they can – forcing endowments of smell or strength from animals or coercing endowments from conquered subjects.
This book can be taken one bite at a time or in long sittings as you prefer. The plot is always moving, and the characters stay interesting throughout.
The characters had me at “Endowment”. While they were all written well, the villain was most impressive. Raj Ahten is a wonderful play on the atypical “I’m going to conquer the world” bad guy. He is believable and fascinating, you can really see where he comes from, which makes him even scarier. The book clearly shows how his choices lead in contrast with Gaborn – the young Runelord prince. Gaborn and Iome’s love story is interesting, most especially because both characters are fully developed throughout the story and play off each other so well. The story of Gaborn’s father as well as the trusty knight Borinson are touching and powerful, but I can’t say much more without giving spoilers.
The magical element of the fantasy world was entwined into everything, and was fascinating to follow. I couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to give or to take an endowment, which became much more than mere wish-fulfillment; magic in this world meant sacrifice. Someone had to suffer in order to grant an endowment to another. This led to some heavy choices to be made on everyone’s part.
The book is 700 pages, but kept me moving along. Even while reading during the semester’s work load, I was able to make steady progress. While the world is vividly imagined and immersive, it didn’t take long to fall right in. The pacing of the book was good for both short and long reading sessions.
The content of this book seemed appropriate for the marketed age group, earning it a Rook rating.
Age Recommendation: 12 and up
Violence: Yes, themes of war and packed with battle action sequences that can be sometimes graphic.
Sex: Mentioned, alluded to, but not written.
The magic system alone was so cool it could speak for Fun-Factor all by itself. In addition, Fantasy tropes are played with in ways that are fun and interesting, and despite the book’s length I was able to consume it at a fair pace. The book was captivating and didn’t waste time with heavy descriptions. The book was fresh epic fantasy, staying away from the Tolkien Traditions of elves and dwarves and yet delivering that same epic-fantasy scope.
Critique – The start of the romance between Gaborn and Iome seems hard to believe, but grows well throughout the book so that by the end, their feelings for each other seem warranted. Also, the philosophical side of the book can be kind of heavy. This is always a risk when authors tackle something deep, and may be called “preachy” by some.