Sons of the Oak by David Farland

Sons of the Oak by David FarlandI read the first four books of David Farland’s Runelords series years ago and enjoyed them a lot. I remember finding them exciting and full of fun action scenes and memorable characters, if not the smoothest of prose.

Here’s the problem. David Farland writes like a first-time novelist in some ways and like a veteran writing ninja in others. His word choices and awkward sentences feel so contrived and amateur that they are occasionally worthy of a cringe and usually elicit a wince or two.

It’s the parts that he does well that save the whole thing. His world-building, for one, is top-notch. His magic system is fascinating with some very real and painful consequences. The Runelords are people who, with the help of certain runes, can take endowments from others giving them extra strength, speed and endurance as well as sight, smell and hearing or beauty. The downside is that that same quality is removed from the person who gave the endowment so Runelords are forced to maintain secret keeps of invalids who have given up their stamina or strength or health to their lord. The other consequence is that the only way to beat a Runelord is to kill his or her dedicates — murder rooms full of helpless victims. As you can imagine endowments give a person great power but come at a high moral cost. There are also other forms of magic that require the constant vigilance and control of an elemental of either Earth, Fire, Water or Air. A wizard that has control of his element is truly powerful, but when he loses control the destruction is intense.

The characters are all believable and likable — though they felt somewhat mature for their ages most of the time, I suppose you could argue that they were maturing fast because of their traumatic circumstances. The problem with the characters is that Farland is so uneven in his use of them. This might be just me but characters that I really liked were the ones that got killed, usually without a second glance. I understand that death in real life rarely contains allegorical meaning and feels satisfying to those left behind but in fiction I believe it should (unless, of course, you’re going for utter realism, which is fine but it feels out of place in the light-hearted voice of David Farland).

My other complaint about this book, and probably my biggest one, is that it feels like a fantasy retelling of Ender’s Game. There’s no battle school but Fallion is only eleven years old at the beginning and he fights demons, battles evil Runelords and learns the ways of a fire wizard all with a cold and calculating demeanor that felt very reminiscent of a certain world saving science fiction hero.

The writing quality bothered me more than I expected it to. I found myself rereading sentences on nearly every page in order to parse what the author was trying to say. It felt like it badly needed the hand of a good editor. On the other hand, I still finished it and am almost convinced to read the next book in the series.

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