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Sons of the Oak (Runelords) by David Farland
Cover Artist: Darrell K. Sweet
Review by Drew Bittner
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0765301776
Date: 14 November, 2006 List Price $27.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

In Sons of the Oak, time has passed since the Reavers nearly destroyed human civilization. The Earth King's victory has created a golden age; children are born healthier and stronger, crops grow in great abundance and the weather is never severe or cruel. But all golden ages must end, and this one passes with Gaborn's own passing.

Prematurely aged as a side-effect of an accelerated metabolism, Gaborn's final act is to warn those he has chosen for the Earth-- including his own family-- about a rising danger he has foreseen. Fallion and his brother Jaz are warned to flee as fast as they can, as far as they can. "The ends of the Earth are not far enough," Fallion hears... just before he and his retinue are attacked by hellish beasts bred in the wombs of captured village girls. One of these girls, Rhianna, is rescued and the unnatural spawn are cut from her belly; she is compelled to join the fugitive royals as they seek to depart their kingdom of Mystarria.

As they make plans to escape, they are hunted by Asgaroth, the slave of a demonic creature named Shadoath. Shadoath's timeless enemy, the torchbearer, has found a new incarnation-- and she means to end their battles once and for all. The danger, she knows, is that this time, the torchbearer has its best chance of winning the war forever; the torchbearer may be able to re-forge the One True Rune and bring the shattered worlds back together. If so, Shadoath's chances of ruling the universe will be gone forever.

Needless to say, she's motivated.

Fallion's mother, Iome, also suffers from the accelerated aging that killed Gaborn. Like her husband, she accepted the metabolic "endowments" of many willing subjects, knowing that she would inevitably die of old age in her twenties. She tries to impart a few final lessons and her love to the boys, then gives them into the care of Borenson, Gaborn's loyal bodyguard and soldier, and his wife Myrrima. Together, they will flee as far as they can.

Matters go awry when, aboard a disreputable merchant ship, Rhianna is forced to kill a sadistic sailor, but ends up betrayed by others in the crew. Meanwhile, Fallion gains insights into his special nature from Smoker, an old sailor with powers over fire-- much like his father's old enemy, Raj Ahten. He also contemplates the nature of loci, those elemental creatures that possess human beings. Can Fallion learn to trust a power that seems made for evil purposes? There seems to be a discovery just at the edge of his awareness, but events keep him from making a fateful connection.

Fallion, Jaz and Rhianna fall into the hands of Shadoath's agents; Fallion and Jaz are starved and near to breaking before Fallion is rescued, with help from Valya, Shadoath's daughter. A later effort recovers Jaz, only to find that he's surrendered to Shadoath, body and soul. Meanwhile, Rhianna is condemned to a terrible existence, her consciousness trapped in the body of a monstrous sea ape.

Believing Rhianna dead, Fallion, Jaz and Valya go into hiding in the wastelands beyond Inkarra, the land "at the edge of the world." There, years pass and Fallion hones his knack for leadership, as he rises to command a team of teenagers who ride flying beasts called graaks. Yet even there, word of this remarkable teenager spreads... and Shadoath hears. She musters a vast armada of pirate ships and sets out to capture Fallion. She soon learns, however, that the son of the Earth King has a few surprises of his own.

David Farland continues his Runelords saga with this next generation. Many of the previous ensemble are gone, removed from the stage, and now their children rise to confront an even greater challenge. Fallion is a youth thrust into responsibility far before his time, and he learns the heartbreak that comes with being the leader; likewise, his brother Jaz discovers his own inner strength the hard way, having to relearn faith in himself and his family.

If there's a weak point in the story, it would be in the enemies. Shadoath and Asgaroth are evil incarnate, but Fallion's escalating powers as a fire-wielder make him seem more than a match for them-- particularly when he learns that his fire can scorch (and even kill) supposedly unkillable loci. Farland may have to up the ante more than a little to make the opposition a true threat to Fallion.

Still, that's a minor quibble. The action moves well and the plot sustains the wonder of discovery and the melancholy of loss in equal measure. Fans of the Runelords saga will be eager for this new installment, but readers of high quality epic fantasy will likewise be well rewarded for the time they spend here.

Highly recommended.

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