cover image The Runelords

The Runelords

David Farland. Tor Books, $25.95 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86653-2

The intriguing hook behind Farland's first novel--and launch of a new fantasy series--is a complex magical technology whereby abilities such as wit, brawn and stamina are transferable from person to person. Most royalty and high-level soldiers take or pay for some endowments, often from those in lower strata of society, but the Wolf Lord Raj Ahten intends to add, by whatever means necessary, whole kingdoms'-full of abilities to himself, becoming the Sum of All Men. His opponent, Runelord and prince Gaborn Val Orden, matures during the novel, falling in love with Princess Iome Sylvarresta, whose kingdom is overrun by Raj Ahten. Aided by the herbalist and wizard Binnesman, Gaborn makes a mysterious vow, becoming the Erden Geboren, or Earthborn, heir to a different magic. An apocalypse may be approaching, in which Gaborn's elemental kingship provides the only hope. The magic is basic to Farland's story, not just painted on, and it and the society in which it plays out are rigorously and imaginatively elaborated. The author's characters, however, are less vivid and original. And with Raj Ahten triumphant for most of the book, and with such grim sources of even the heroes' power, readers looking for uplifting entertainment, or even for particularly convincing fantasy, may be disappointed with Farland's first novel, despite its many fine qualities. (July)