Book Review of Runelords Book 1 – The Sum of All Men

picture of the cover for sum of all men
Amazon Link for The Sum of All Men

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.

Character

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.

Story

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.

Speed

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.

Content

The content of this book seemed appropriate for the marketed age group, earning it a Rook rating.

Age Recommendation: 12 and up
Language: none
Violence: Yes, themes of war and packed with battle action sequences that can be sometimes graphic.
Sex: Mentioned, alluded to, but not written.

Fun

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.

How to Survive the Wheel of Time

picture of the cover for crossroads of twilight
Amazon Link for Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan

In the blogging industry (is it an industry now?) you have to be careful what you name your blogs; you might give the wrong impression. So let me tell you right away: I just finished Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan and I loved it. This book has received a lot of flack for not delivering a nice, satisfactory, episodic ending. For many readers this can be a big turn-off. We read, we get invested in what’s going on, but we want to see some movement – some indication that the story is, indeed, going somewhere.

I feel your pain, readers. Thus the guide: How to Survive the Wheel of Time. It’s advice for the rest of us – those of us who love Jordan’s work; the world, the characters and scope, but sometimes have a hard time chewing it all. There’s a lot to take in. Two books after Rand took Callandor from the Stone of Tear, I got completely burnt out. I had been on a straight Jordan-reading binge for three or four months, and I just couldn’t take it any more.

At first, I felt guilty. I hadn’t really yet identified the problem. I still loved the story, the characters, everything… but I just couldn’t read anymore.

Then, I felt angry. I blamed Jordan for my burnout. If he would just simplify his descriptions, move things along! I am sad to admit that I kept this very short-sighted view for several years. I will never get an opportunity to shake his hand or thank him in person. On the up side, I have matured, and I get to enjoy the beautiful constant payoff of Robert Jordan’s storytelling splendor.

Here’s the thing; You don’t read the Wheel of Time to “move things along”. Robert Jordan is a genius, and one of his biggest talents lies in his characterization. When you read Mat, you’re thinking like Mat – it’s all dice and luck and confusing women. When you read Aviendha, you’re thinking like Aviendha – culture shock, water metaphors. When you’re reading Siuan Sanche, you’re cursing in metaphors of fishing nets and weather.

The Wheel of Time is an immersive experience. You aren’t on this road trip to put miles behind you, you’re along for the ride. The miles will pass as a secondary effect.

Sometimes finding time for a huge epic fantasy is difficult. Let me break down exactly how I went about it myself;

How to Survive the Wheel of Time

1. For the Long Haul – You’re not racing to the end of this book. I love a quick, thrilling tale, or a quick fun one (such as a good Harry Potter or Fablehaven Book). A lot of my favorite books almost feel like reading movies. My advice for other readers like me is to have other books that are satisfying this need, while the Wheel of Time serves as your ‘Long Haul’ book. You’ll get to the end when you get there.

2. For the Experience – The characters are fascinating, astounding, and fully-realized. When you throw away the need to race, and focus on the journey from moment to moment, you can really get into the heads of each viewpoint character. You feel what they feel, see the dilemma from their perspective as clear as day. It paints a clear picture of how people think, and over time, it creates a grand scope of what is going on in the world.

3. Audio and Visual – I both read and listen to any given Wheel of Time book I am on. This enables me to listen in the car or at the gym, while I read at night in order to wind down before bed. I can cover a lot more words when reading in person, but audio listening enables me to read when I would usually be unable to – such as while cleaning or doing laundry.

4. Trust Jordan – He knows what he’s doing, and he is NOT giving you the typical tropes, the knock-off polished cliche’ of the Hero’s Journey we’ve seen time and time again. This is the Wheel of Time. This is epic fantasy, emphasis on the Epic. Because of this, you need to trust Jordan. He’s given you plenty of reasons to. Remember the end of book 3? Remember the thrill of adrenaline, the satisfaction from the payoff? Trust that. Trust Jordan to pay it all off, and make it all worthwhile.

The Crossroads of Twilight was a great experience – I loved every minute of it. The best part is the lack of an “episodic ending” is not really a big deal for us. When you finish, you can simply move right on to Knife of Dreams without a hitch!

Warbreaker – My Favorite Sanderson Novel

cover of Warbreaker
Amazon Link for Warbreaker

I read this book audibly (Quite literally, I downloaded my copy from Audible.com) at the end of 2009. Drowned in the long shadow cast by Sanderson’s prowess, this book just doesn’t get enough attention.

I have read all of Sanderson’s published works, and still this is my personal favorite. Sanderson is often noted for his first novel Elantris, his trilogy Mistborn, and his work on the The Wheel of Time. His new series, the Stormlight Archive, which begins with The Way of Kings has been met with critical acclaim and a lot of hype built around the knowledge that there are 9 more novels to come.

I read the Way of Kings and loved it, as well. Where Warbreaker is my favorite stand-alone, the Stormlight Archive is well on it’s way to becoming my favorite series. In fact, I love all of Sanderson’s books equally, but Warbreaker has something that speaks to me.

Warbreaker was released for free online as Sanderson wrote the story, in rough draft format. For those who may want to sample his work, it is still available, and it is still free.

The story begins with Syrie, the free-spirited daughter of a king who cannot bring himself to honor his treaty agreement to send his eldest daughter, Vivenna, to marry his enemy’s God-King. Syrie is sent in Vivenna’s place. Unsure and Unprepared, Syrie decides to take this task seriously, even if it is the first time she has done so. She is to provide an heir to the God-King’s throne, but how can she when she is not allowed to even talk to her husband?

Vivenna takes to the city of Hallandren immediately, intending to rescue her sister from a fate that should have been her own. Awarded with a gift of breath that would match a noble’s, and a pocket full of gold, she begins to organize a revolt that would serve as the perfect distraction.

Lightsong, God of Courage, doesn’t even believe in himself. Not that he needs to, in order to enjoy the comforts of a god’s life. However, changes in the court have caught his attention – something isn’t right. Why does that bother him so much? What can he do about it? Would knowledge of his mortal life shed any light on the subject?

I’m a sucker for the really good stand-alone Novel, and this one stands alone as the best, in my opinion. I’ve re-read it twice and the ending gets me a little choked up every time.

If you’re out of cash and hard-pressed for a good read, check out Brandon Sanderson’s website for the free copy. And if you end up loving it like I did, consider picking up a copy for your own future re-reads, loans to friends, and maybe to get it signed next time he comes by on tour.

Themes in Fablehaven Book 5 – Keys to the Demon Prison

Picture of the Cover
Amazon Page for Fablehaven: Keys to the Demon Prison

There seems to be a generation of Harry Potter fans who are looking for the fun, adventure, and growth that we experienced in that series. When cop-outs like Percy Jackson came out, we snatched them up in order to quench our thirst for more. What we got from these wanna-be stories is a sense of fun and adventure, but a lack of something deeper.

Don’t get me wrong. I both read and enjoyed the Percy Jackson books. They were adventurous and a whole lot of fun. However, I think most people would agree with my assessment that held up to Harry Potter, it was missing something.

Fablehaven is no cop-out. It’s a fantastic story that bows to no cliche’s without stretching them. It is a story about kids thrown into a world of magic, kids that still have families. (I know right? For awhile there we began to think that kids HAD to be orphans in order to have adventures.)  It has the fun. It has the family-friendly appropriateness for all ages. It has the depth of character and theme. One of the strongest themes of the series is in the different types of heroism displayed by the two main characters.

Kendra vs. Seth

Kendra appeals to the sense that purity wins. She has her stuff together, she thinks things through, and she follows the rules (unless it would be more prudent not to). Throughout the series, this attribute, combined with her pure intentions, have won the day several times over.

Seth, on the other hand, is headstrong, rambunctious, and a little bit of a troublemaker – a man after my heart. In another world, he might have been named Calvin. Seth is consistently breaking rules, with the best of intentions, and making a mess of things. His mistakes needlessly throw others into danger, and though Seth does care, he doesn’t ever seem to gain his sister’s cool head.

Both are heroes. We have the pure hero, and the one who screwed up and has to fix it. Thematically, we have two lessons; first, that it is better not to screw up in the first place and second, that if you’ve already screwed up, you can learn from this by doing what you can to make it better.

But theme isn’t the only thing the book has going for it. With a world full of fairies, demons, Eternals, powerful artifacts and satyrs who are addicted to TV and junk food… well, to quote a certain Star Trek character,

“You don’t have to take my word for it”

Go pick one up for yourself. Or better yet, for us students, borrow from a friend – this is a series worth discussing with buddies.

Bartimaeus Returns in The Ring of Solomon

cover for ring of solomon
Amazon Page for Bartimaeus: The Ring of Solomon

Since I mentioned it on my Literature Lineup, I thought I might as well jot down a few notes. Six years ago, hungry for a good read after Harry Potter, I was scanning the Middle-Grade section when I saw the cover for The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1) It looked magical, shiny and oh-so-blue.

I picked it up and read the first paragraph, and from that moment I was hooked. Bartimaeus is, to this day, my very favorite first-person host. If I were to get a chance to hang out with one fictional character, it would be him; so long as he was under strict orders not to eat me. I ate through the book and the second in the Trilogy, and eagerly awaited the release of the third.

The Bartimaeus Trilogy is, to this day, at the top of my favorites list in regards to Middle-Grade Fantasy. The Ring of Solomon is, as far as I can tell, a single book released for readers who love Bartimaeus. Readers like me.

And it didn’t disappoint. I got all the same things I loved about the other books – magic, adventure, pithy remarks, and reflections on the affect power has on those who hold it. It restores “Self-sacrifice” as the definition of heroism, as opposed to “kicking butt” (though there is a lot of that, too).

This book is good enough to stand up on it’s own, without need for the Bartimaeus Trilogy. However, as is to be expected, the Trilogy has a lot more to feed one’s appetite, explores the themes more deeply, and delivers a stronger payoff. With the same amount of skill and finesse displayed in all four books, the trilogy is obviously going to be stronger, since it has more to work with.

And so, in short, if you haven’t read Bartimaeus yet – start with the Amulet of Samarkand. If you love the trilogy and just want more Bartimaeus, pick up The Ring of Solomon to find yourself whisked away on a magic carpet. (Which is actually a regular carpet held up by a particularly potent djinni. Make sure to get your incantations correct…)

Critical Reading – Impressions on Terry Goodkind


I just finished Stone of Tears, the second book in the Sword of Truth series.

What Goodkind did right:

Goodkind accomplished the first and most important thing any author MUST accomplish in order to sell their books; he made me care. Kahlan, just as she was in book 1, is an incredible character, and is still my favorite by far after reading the second. I wonder at Goodkind’s genius in simplicity when it comes to her. In Kahlan, Goodkind added color to his world and his magic system, with the Confessor’s magic. Through her magic and station, he gave us a powerful heroin, and also someone we deeply sympathize with since she is unable to truly love and marry.

Which brings me to a Spoiler Warning. If you haven’t read the first book and you might, continue NO LONGER.

The conflicts in this book have more to do with the fact that Kahlan had finally found joy in Richard’s love, but that they are separated again. I found myself aching for her to live through these awful scenarios not just from normal care for a character, but because I did not want to have to grasp the idea of this wonderful heroin never being able to enjoy time married to Richard.

What bad could anyone possibly say about Richard? His fool-hardiness adds to the adventure, and his stubborn desire to sustain the right at whatever cost makes us cast our lot in with his. He is the perfect archetype for the Hero’s Journey, and we love him for it.

Warren, Sister Verna, Chase, Zedd, Saldean, all of them wonderful characters in simplicity. Each of them fulfills an archetype, but then becomes a much deeper character as well. Even Gratch can get your heart fluttering, in moments.

What I didn’t like so much:

As a reader, I was quite disturbed by Goodkind’s frequent use of sexual tension and conflict. At every turn, our males seemed to be conflicted with seduction, our females with rape. As an adult fantasy novel many have the right to argue that it added to the story’s depth, and gave our characters more realistic conflicts – but seriously now, Kahlan was almost raped and killed 5 or so times throughout this single book. Dark magic rituals were performed using graphic sexual descriptions. Richard dealt with several instances of casual offers while being seperated from Kahlan. While yes, these instances added to conflict, made dark magic seem quite dark and disturbing indeed, and made Richard out to be quite noble in the end – it did not fit my taste.

I have read adult fantasy where adult situations (such as a couple’s first night together after marriage) are carried out tastefully in that they still respect the privacy of the characters. For a great example of this, see Brandon Sanderson’s novels. A perfect mix of adult fiction that does not ignore these facts of life, but does not abuse them either.

As an author, I can look at this and simply say – he was doing it his way, and I’ll do it mine. He’s still an incredible author. He’s adept at storytelling, making me care about his characters, and what I think I respect him for most is his story-rich magic systems, which are tied to real emotions and values in life.

The only other complaint I have is another example of a preference of taste. 979 pages are about 5-6 hundred too many. Now, there are a lot of Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind fans out there that might have my head for that one. To that I simply shrug and point; “preference”, “taste”. I like shorter books.

A good example of why, is last night I reached the three-quarter point of the book which ALWAYS makes me want to forget everything else in life and not put down the book until I’ve reached it’s finish. Reading well into the morning, I told myself “No, you cannot fall asleep just yet, there’s only 150 pages to go! … wait… did you hear yourself Sam? 150 pages! Get some sleep, man!”