A while back I was volunteering at the Bottom Shelf and a woman came up to me and said, “Would you happen to have any of the Mistborn books?”
I said, “The what?”
She explained that it was a fantasy series that was really, really good and her son wanted to read the next in the series. She then described a bit of the premise, which I didn’t really understand, but she was so enthusiastic that it caught my interest anyhow.
So out loud I then answered her that we didn’t have those books in the store, but in my head I was wondering why the heck I never even hear about cool book series (serieses? What’s the plural of series? Is series plural already or is it like deer, where it can be singular or plural?) until like the last installment is ready to come out or even until the series has been around for so long that they’re making a tv show out of it.
I decided then and there that things have got to change.
The lady had told me the author of the series was Brandon Sanderson, so I did a little research and discovered that, besides being an author, he also taught in the English department at BYU. My first thought was “Can there any good thing come out of Provo?” Speaking of fantasy, I mean. But I kept my ears peeled. My eyes, too. But there wasn’t a single Brandon Sanderson novel available in our library, and the request list was a long one, with many people before me. Well, I would have to wait.
A month or so later, I read that Brandon Sanderson was going to be in San Diego at a book signing for the third (and, as far as I know, the last) installment of the Mistborn series. I decided to go get me a signed book. When I got to the bookstore, after only getting lost once, I discovered that Sanderson was in company with another fantasy author, David Farland, who would be signing his latest publication.
Well! I thought happily. Two authors for the gas price of one.
David Farland, I learned from overhearing someone talking in the bookstore, is not only the author of the Runelords series. He is also Dave Wolverton, who has written scifi. I had actually read some scifi by Dave Wolverton, not knowing (because I’m a fantasy ignoramus) that it was the same author. I was a little disappointed: if I’d known, I’d have brought along my two Dave Wolverton books to be signed.
But it was an enjoyable event anyway. Both authors read a bit from their latest releases, answered some questions, and signed books. When it was my turn, I found both authors to be funny and friendly and approachable, and Sanderson wasn’t even affronted when I told him I hadn’t read anything by him, yet. They both told me about their websites and how I could get the older books in the series. I asked if I could take a picture, and David Farland said yes very graciously and posed nicely, and my hand was shaking so his picture came out blurry. Rats.
In the last few weeks, I’ve still been looking, without success, for Mistborn books. I commiserate with that lady who wandered into the Bottom Shelf. I did, however, have access to the first Runelords book, entitled (of all things) The Runelords.
You can’t judge a book by its cover, the saying goes. And when I saw the cover of The Runelords, I had to ask myself why the two mortal-looking characters were dressed like they’d just stepped out of a 1940s MGM medieval epic. It kind of turned me off, because it made me think of the kind of “What ho, my lord!” dialogue that irritates me about a lot of what I’ve heard termed “medievaloid” fantasy. In fact, Farland’s characters do use the term “milord”, which was annoying, but I was able to get past it. Fortunately, the book itself was such a mixture of intrigue and creepiness and adventure and love that I was able to ignore the strange artwork. (It does become clear, near the end of the book, what’s going on in the picture, but the costumes they’re wearing are totally a fabrication of the artist’s imagination.)
When I say the book is creepy, I mean I found myself really creeped out by the idea of giving “endowments” of power to other people. For instance, people volunteered their wit, their sense of smell or touch or sight, their stamina, their grace, etc, to the nobles and their warriors so that the leaders could be successful in fighting their enemies. At first, I thought it was kind of silly, some of the things they gave. But it became increasingly apparent that many of these traits were intertwined or interdependent – like you needed extra stamina to deal with the increased brawn, and you needed more grace than usual to deal with the additional metabolism – and it was interesting to see the whole rune culture unfold. I told Ian about it, and he decided that our cats have been involved in swapping endowments: Skipper has seven endowments of fur, and Piper has given away an endowment of wit. I don't know which category it is (grace? metabolism?), but all three cats have donated something there. I don't know how else to explain their diminished capacity to properly digest food.
Anyway, I really enjoyed reading The Runelords because it was well written, it was exciting, it had a few strong sympathetic characters (one of them female) that I could root for, and it had a nice love story that was very well balanced – not too much, not too little. It also had a very creepy villain. Ew. Raj Ahten, in my opinion, is way creepier than Darken Rahl in Wizard’s First Rule. I think they were both creepier than Sauron in LOTR, though neither was as powerful nor as evil. Although that may be because we really don’t get to see much of Sauron. But anyway….
I also really liked the philosophy the main characters espoused – the good ones, that is. Where Wizard’s First Rule tells us that people are stupid and that all living things thrive by murder (or whatever it was) and that we must live our own lives, The Runelords tells us that “Few men, even among the wise, understand the great power one can gain from service” and “We are all intertwined. Man, plant, earth, sky, fire, water. We are not many things, but one thing.” And then there was this conversation between Gaborn the Runelord and Binnesman the Earth Wizard:
“Is happiness everything?” Gaborn asked.
“Yes, ultimately I believe it is,” Binnesman said. “It should be the goal of your existence, to live life in peace and joy.”
He didn’t add any nonsense about succeeding at your goal of peace and joy by murdering other creatures.
So, I heartily recommend The Runelords. It’s the kind of book I wanted to read all the time, even at night, in bed, with a flashlight so as not to disturb my bedfellow. We were both happy, he in his slumbers and I with my book.