David Farland is one of those authors which I kept hearing about in different places, mostly good things, but which never seemed to be getting a lot of honest attention - you probably know the type. To be honest what really drew me to pay attention to his work was that I learned of his workshop for SFF writers and who a few of his alumni were. Let’s just say the list includes a certain Brandon Sanderson. So I decided to take a look at what he had published and I found The Runelords, seven novels already out but with only good things said of them. Seven books seemed a bit ambitious, that is a lot to catch up on after all, but I said what the hell, I read fast so why not, and went ahead and picked up the first in the series, The Sum of All Men. This is exactly the type of book I think of when I think of classic fantasy - slightly campy, but good all the same, and resembling something between David Eddings and Robert Jordan, that’s exactly what The Sum of All Men is and I’m glad for it.
It is the eve of Hostenfest and effigies of the Earth King fill the streets. In this festive season, the young Runelord, Prince Gaborn Val Orden, has come seeking the alliance of marriage that will safeguard his people’s future.
Far to the south - but not far enough - Raj Ahten, the Wolf Lord of Indhopal, moves through the land, his army destroying anything and anyone in his path. From the conquered he takes prizes, stealing their strength, their endurance, their wisdom, their most potent attributes. The Wolf Lord seems destined to bring all of humanity under his rule. Unless, after 2,000 years, the Earth King should rise again...
I picked up The Sum of All Men without too many expectations. I could probably have taken a wild shot at what the story would be like and gotten it essentially right, but still I didn’t want to go into this book with any preconceptions of what it would be like. What it turned out to be was a fine read, the kind I often miss; simple, yet powerful, storylines that don’t ask unnecessary questions (though there are some questions) and characters that you can idealize, look up to and relate to all the same. I’m talking about the old style kind of fantasy, without all the grittiness and ambiguity just the Good struggling against the Evil and not because they have some deep, personal motivation to do so, but because they just have to. Don’t get me wrong I love all the morally-ambiguous stuff, but variety’s good, you know? And I think The Sum of All Men represents the type of fantasy most of us fell in love with in the first place.
Prince Gaborn is the hero of our story and from the beginning we know he’s going to be up to some pretty epic things. Before that though, Farland distracts us with his crafty worldbuilding, going through the motions of explaining the magic system - which is neat - and the world structure. It may sound like boring stuff, but all the while the threat of evil gets closer and closer to our heroes and Farland injects a good enough pace to the story that there are close to no down times. In fact, this is one of The Sum of All Men’s greatest strengths: unlike other fantasies of this type (think Jordan’s The Eye of the World) it doesn’t spend a bunch of time idly wandering about the farm while the farm boy prepares for some real action. First of all it can’t because its hero isn’t a farm boy, but then it also brings on the true action quite quickly too.
On the other hand, Farland’s desire to throw action the reader’s way so quickly leads to a confused plot in which Gaborn spends a proportionally significant amount of his time crossing the Kingdom of Heredon (main setting) back and forth until it almost seems - and this is a strange thing to say when talking about a fantasy book - unrealistic. I came to wonder how fast the damn horses in this world were (granted their magic is supposed to supply them greater strength and stamina) or how small the kingdom was. Never mind though, that is getting a bit too specific, I think.
I won’t say that I absolutely loved it, but amidst reading all these fresh new releases The Sum of All Men really filled an empty niche in my desires, that of the good ol’ fantasy epic. I wouldn’t want to be reading too many of these books back to back anymore as I used to and I do with new releases, but I think that everyone once in a while it can be very beneficial. I strongly encourage you, if you’re an ardent fan of fantasy or a lover of this sort of epic, to go and read this book. It’s not the newest but it’s a very solid read which I’m positive a lot of you will enjoy. I’ll be continuing The Runelords series. The next book is Brotherhood of the Wolf, and you can expect to see my thoughts on that in the coming future.
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Reading Age: 13 and up
David Farland's Website: http://www.davidfarland.net/
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