As I said in my review of On My Way to Paradise, I don’t know how I missed Dave Wolverton back in the late 1990s, but I’m sure it had something to do with starting college, doing more homework and reading fewer novels, and, probably, girls.
Whatever it was that distracted me at the time, I’ve found Wolverton, or Dave Farland as he goes by for his fantasy novels (and which name I’ll use from here on out since this is a fantasy novel), and I feel like I’ve discovered some kind of not-so-hidden local restaurant that, for whatever reason, no one ever told me had amazing sandwiches. And everyday, right about the same time, I can’t help but want to trek back over to try a new sandwich.
Farland is just like that. I read On My Way to Paradise, and loved it, but I couldn’t help but ask: was it a one-hit wonder? Since it had been a while since I’d read any epic fantasy, I decided to pick up The Sum of All Men. I finished the late-Robert Jordan‘s Wheel of Time series back in January, and I hadn’t touched the genre since. Books in epic fantasy tend to be door stoppers, and it takes some commitment to pick up a new series (just ask George R.R. Martin fans who have endure not only long periods of time between installments in his Song of Fire and Ice series, but the very real possibility that the good guys just won’t win in the end…or even in the middle, for that matter. But I digress). After putting it off to finish one thing and another, I finally dug in, started reading, and soon found myself lost between the pages.
A lot of reviewers and readers will note that The Sum of All Men breaks new ground, manages to come up with a magic system that is fresh and original, and it’s true. However, this isn’t what I liked so much about The Sum of All Men, though it’s clearly a clever system of magic. On the contrary, for me the magic system, something of a “shameful economy,” as I think one of the characters calls it, creates conflicts and conundrums for Farland’s protagonists while empowering their enemies. No, it isn’t the magic that I find so interesting, though clever it may be, nor the fantastical creatures, bloody battles, or imaginative world. It’s all very fascinating and contributory to a great tale, but clever ideas are a dime a dozen in fantasy.
Rather, what I like is Farland’s writing and the way his characters resonate with me. Because although set in a land that has more in common with medieval Europe and crusade era Arabia, the characters face quandaries and decisions and complex relationships that are human and natural and believable. They act like real people, not pawns of a writer’s pen, and whether it is the power of the story, the deft and gentle use of symbolism, or the interweaving of myth, Joseph Campbell-style, by the time I had finished The Sum of All Men I felt as much for the characters as I might for people I really know.
I even sympathized with the apparent villain. Yes, he was “the bad guy,” but it wasn’t so black and white why he was the villain. Not unlike On My Way to Paradise, it was in the grey and difficult to see decisions that made the characters live on the page.
Ok, I know. It’s silly to care about the fictional, ink on paper people that fill a novel. And there are a lot of good books out there that can make readers feel, so to speak. But what is good reading but a way to understand and see through the eyes of another for a while? It doesn’t matter whether it’s on a ship hurtling through space between the planets, a farmer trying to eek out a subsistence on a Depression era farm, or a bevy of sisters trying to catch the eye of the newly wealthy, and very handsome, Mr. Darcy: when a book can make you feel, believe in the imaginary characters, it’s worth the time and it’s worth finding more of it.
Farland is, for me, a newly discovered secret, and I can’t wait to share the secret with others, not to mention read more. I’ve got his Nightingale, one of his more recent books, waiting next to the bed, and I’ve just put in an order from Amazon for Brotherhood of the Wolf , sequel to The Sum of All Men, and I can’t wait to start both.