Runebinder by Alex R Kahler was released in North America on November 14, 2017, and it promised to be a “Dark, fascinating, and intense–Kahler has created a new hero and world you’ll want to lose yourself in.” Set is a post-apocalyptic world riddled with magic, monsters, and mysterious cults, Runebinder is certainly full of promise – the question is, will it deliver?
When magic returned to the world, it could have saved humanity, but greed and thirst for power caused mankind’s downfall instead. Now once-human monsters called Howls prowl abandoned streets, their hunger guided by corrupt necromancers and the all-powerful Kin. Only Hunters have the power to fight back in the unending war, using the same magic that ended civilization in the first place. But they are losing. Tenn is a Hunter, resigned to fight even though hope is nearly lost. When he is singled out by a seductive Kin named Tomás and the enigmatic Hunter Jarrett, Tenn realizes he’s become a pawn in a bigger game. One that could turn the tides of war. But if his mutinous magic and wayward heart get in the way, his power might not be used in favor of mankind. If Tenn fails to play his part, it could cost him his friends, his life…and the entire world.
I received this book as a Christmas gift, and I went into reading Runebinder by Alex R Kahler somewhat hesitantly – but I wanted to love it because its diversereally, I wasn’t sure how to feel about the mixture of a post-apocalypse world and magic. It almost seemed like a hybrid between High Fantasy and Low (or Contemporary) Fantasy – maybe something along the lines of Dystopian Fantasy? Is that a thing? Is it a thing now? Anyways, I won’t hesitate to come out and say it – I really wasn’t a fan of this book. I never really got into it, I found the characters to be very bland and uninspired, and the magic system to be confused and under-developed.
First up – a discussion of the world building and magic system, and the development of these two critical pieces of the story – or realistically, the lack of any sort of development at all. Kahler appears to assume that the reader knows what’s going on – which, based on the fact that Runebinder takes place in an unfamiliar, dystopian fantasy world, the reader does not. I started losing interest because I was confused (due to the lack of any sort of background development, other than the random info-dump here and there) and I could not develop any connection to the story as a result. There were a lot of magical tidbits of information, sects of people, and world building info that was needed to make this work, and Kahler just didn’t provide enough information to the reader, leaving me confused and frustrated.
Next up is discussion regarding the characters – specifically Tenn, as he is the main protagonist of this bland and cliche tale. Right away, I knew I wasn’t going to like Tenn. He was bland, he was whiny, and most importantly, he had no personality of his own. He kind of just went along with what everyone else told him to do, or did for him, with minimal complaint and/or opposition, giving in far too quickly at times when a little bit of rebellion would have been appreciated.
In regards to the story, this books (asides from the diverse representation, which I’ll get to in a moment), was as I said, quite bland and cliche, relying heavily upon some very stereotypical and over used YA Fantasy tropes. For example, the “unclear and ambiguous prophecy trope” that leads to a young person (who is also the protagonist) being inexplicably chosen through no merit of their own to accomplish some ill-defined task in order to bring about a partial resolution. Or, my other personal favourite “the love-triangle trope”, wherein the protagonist finds themselves caught up with more than one potential love interest, unable to choose between the two. There’s also the whole trope a shadow agency run by mysterious adults controlling the lief of the protagonist, among other things. Essentially, what I am getting at here is that the story written in Runebinder is unoriginal and dull, not to mention poorly paced and juvenile.
I will, however, give credit where credit is due when it come to the representation of diverse groups within Runebinder – especially the LGBTQ2+ community. Kahler managed to write this book in such a way that the reader can just assume that the character is not heterosexual unless told otherwise. The presence of LGBTQ2+ characters was normalized and written in such a way where it feels natural – the reader never felt as though LGBTQ2+ characters were simply a toss-in. Rather, they were seemlessly intertwined into the story, into a world where diverse sexuality is accepted.
Overall, Runebinder by Alex R Kahler was certainly not for me – as I said, the story written in Runebinder is unoriginal and dull, not to mention poorly paced and juvenile. The characters, especially Tenn, were shallow and superficial, and I really did not care for them at all. The only saving grace Runebinder had going for it was that Kahler’s representation of diverse groups within Runebinder – especially the LGBTQ2+ community was exceptionally well done (2/5).