The Runelords

A wise king does not garner all wit, instead he also allows his cunselors to be wise.

I last read the first few books of the Runelords probably more than a decade ago. I forgot how good these books are.

In a nutshell, the core plot isn’t that different from a lot of epic fantasy. Standard medieval Europe, swords and calvary. Big bad emperor from another land coming in to take over the world (for a good reason of course)–and the good guys have to stop him. It does actually hint at a much deeper story to come in the future books, of elemental forces, alien enemies massing, and the world about to end. But that’s mostly all for later books.

What really shines for me is the magic system. There are actually two, one is a pretty standard earth/air/fire/water elemental magic system, although even that has some interesting twists. I particularly like how different each of the four powers feel. Earth wardens that change coloring as they grow in power as if living through the seasons. Fire mages that when killed release a terrifying elemental spirit bent on destruction. It’s pretty cool.

But the other, oh the other really shines. At the core, it is possible to use essentially an expensive branding iron to place matching runes on two people so that one ‘attribute’ (be it strength, speed, beauty, wit, or senses such as sight or hearing) is transferred from one person to another. Take enough of these and you become a far more deadly and dangerous person–essentially amping up the difference between common soldiers and knights/lords.

In Khuram it is said that a man with a single knife can kill two thousand men in a single night.

But there is one major limitation: One, the person giving the attribute only gives it while they live–and they no longer have that attribute. So if you give strength, you can barely even move. If you give sight, you cannot see. If you give metabolism/speed, you fall into a coma. So there are entire keeps full of ‘Dedicates’ that support the knights and lords that have to be cared for and protected, lest they lose their power.

There are other wrinkles that even in this first book they go into (you can only give a single attribute once in your life; attributes are transitive, so you can Vector a bunch of them through one person; what happens if you make a loop?) but it’s really a fascinating story.

Two things I don’t hugely love are the chosen one aspect running throughout the book–I generally avoid these, although there are some interesting wrinkles to it at least–and how quickly people keep falling in love. It happens twice in the first chunk of the book… It does save some time, but eesh.

Anyways, worth a read. If you like audiobooks, I quite enjoyed listening to this one as well. Give it a try!