is that rare book that will remind you why you started reading fantasy in the first place. Much of the setting--and even some of the story--is conventional fantasy fare, but David Farland, aside from being a masterful storyteller, has built his world around a complex and thought-provoking social system involving the exchange of "endowments." Attributes such as stamina, grace, and wit are a currency: a vassal may help his lord by endowing him with all of his strength, for instance, and in turn the vassal comes under the lord's care as his "dedicate," too weak to even walk. A Runelord might have hundreds of such endowments, giving him superhuman senses and abilities, but he then must care for the hundreds that he has deprived of strength, or beauty, or sight.
Runelords excels because this novel idea is not mere window dressing--Farland uses it to explore fundamental questions of life and morality. The story's hero, the young Runelord Gaborn, struggles to define his role in this "shameful economy" while keeping his commitments to himself, to his people, to the woman he loves, and to the earth itself. We end up asking ourselves the same questions: Should you choose your friends based on insight or virtue? Is it better to be just or good? Competent fantasy lets you escape to adventure in faraway lands, but exceptional fantasy makes sure you have something to think about when you get back. Runelords accomplishes the latter. --Paul Hughes