I’m cheating. Luckily, I’m no judge(although I almost took the LSAT once…so I’m basically a judge right?!).
But a blog is what you want it to be, and today I want to focus on two very well-written and engaging books. Also let’s make it clear, you can read these books before the whole world knows about them. Get hip! Lin Manuel Miranda will be working as the Creative Producer on the movie/tv series adaptation of these books. Yea, that’s pretty cool.
Check it out below
This isn’t really a book review, so much as an examination of what’s really making these books work. I will not be “digging” into one book, per say, but rather commenting on a few qualities present in the two books, the first two books of the Kingkiller Chronicle, by Patrick Rothfuss.
This series will be a trilogy, although only two books have been published so far. It is epic fantasy, the first book The Name of the Wind, ringing in at 661 pages and A Wise Man’s Fear, a whopping 993. On the one hand, if you don’t like long books, or epic fantasy for that matter, then these might not be the books for you. On the other hand, if you enjoy lyrical prose, immersion into an interesting character and world, and a literary work of art, then I say, “Read on good sir or lady…Read on.”
Quick Synopsis of The Name of the Wind
“This is the riveting first-person narrative of Kvothe, a young man who grows to be one of the most notorious magicians his world has ever seen. From his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic…” –Reference: Penguin Books USA. The Name of the Wind
*Book also beautifully switches between first person and third person point of view (POV) throughout.*
Precise Language and Literary Prowess
I have always struggled with what us writers call “Purple prose”. It’s when a writer goes overboard with adjectives and descriptive language. Instead of describing something with very precise language; in a minimalistic and yet creative fashion, they try to accomplish too much. The language draws too much attention to itself and works against the plot of the story. Let’s try an example:
Ex: 1 “I approached the resolute oak tree, comforted by its reassuring presence in an unknown place. I sat at its base to wait for Jane.”
Ex: 2″As I approached the giant towering tree, I reached out and felt the firm, yet supple bark that was warm against my hand. Above, thousands of green leaves bounced like stars in the night and caught gusts of air like windswept hair in a tumultous storm. I leaned my sore back against the mud-brown wood, safe in the long shadows of a newfound friend.
Jane should be arriving soon.”
One is not necessarily worse then the other, but if the character’s reunion with Jane is what you want the reader to be focused on, then the long drawn out description in example 2 is not putting the reader in the desired frame of mind— the frame of mind of the character and what’s important to them.
Give the reader enough setting to put them in the scene. Don’t have them focus on a really cool tree, unless that is the point of the scene you are constructing.
Basically, focus on what you want the reader to focus on.
The key is precision of language, in which Patrick Rothfuss is a master.
Rothfuss begins A Wise Man’s fear with immersion as his ultimate goal. He uses precise language. Some may consider this purple prose, except for the fact that he writes this way intentionally. He wants us immersed in the story from page 1 and this is some of the best writing I have ever read…
“The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.
The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking. If there had been a wind it would have sighed trough the trees, set the inn’s sign creaking on its hooks, and brushed the silence down the road like trailing autumn leaves. If there had been a crowd, even a handful of men inside the inn, they would have filled the silence with coversation and laughter, the clatter and clamour one expects from a drinking house during the dark hours of the night. If there had been music…but no, of course there was no music. In fact there were none of these things, and so the silence remained.
Inside the Waystone a pair of men huddled at one corner of the bar. they drank with quiet determination, avoiding serious discussions of troubling news. In doing these they added a small, sullen silence to the larger, hollow one. It made an alloy of sorts, a counterpoint.
The third silence was not an easy thing to notice. If you listened for an hour, you might begin to feel it in the wooden floor underfoot and in the rough, splintering barrels behind the bar. It was in the weight of the black stone heart that held the heat of a long-dead fire. It was in the slow back and forth of a white linen cloth rubbing along the grain of the bar. and it was in the hands of the man who stood there, polishing a strech of mahogany that already gleamed in the lamplight.
The man had true-red hair, red as flame. His eyes were dark and distant, and he moved with the subtle certainty that comes from knowing many things.
The Waystone was his, just as the third silence was his. This was appropriate, as it was the greatest silence of the three, wrapping the other inside itself. It was deep and wide as autumn’s ending. It was heavy as a great river-smooth stone. It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.” — Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss
Gut Punch in Novel Form
I’ve heard it described on the Writing Excuses podcast that short stories should give you a singular effect, a proverbial punch in the stomach (Think Edgar Allan Poe). Each word in a short story should be working towards that effect, while a novel provides a different experience. Namely, a novel aims to create an immersive world that the reader can get lost in and explore, right alongside the POV character (Think Harry Potter).
That being said, Name of the Wind and A Wise Man’s Fear, are somehow able to achieve both, over a span of 600 or more pages. Perhaps this is why Rothfuss takes about 5 years to write and publish a book. You cannot help but walk away from his writing and feel that every word, sentence, scene, and chapter is meticulously constructed for a specific effect. Everything feels interconnected. In this way, he accomplishes both “gut-punch” and “immersion” in the same work of art.
All in all, these books are must reads if you enjoy fantasy. The first novel, The Name of the Wind was written in 2007 and was very favorably reviewed. It will soon be tv series or movie. I would not be surprised if these books are very popular fifty years from now, possible even regarded as classics.
I didn’t get to half of the things I wanted to say, but this will have to do for now.
P.S. The only real negative of the books I can think of was that at times I felt the books lost momentum and drive towards the main plot.
What do you think? Are there other novels that do a great job at immersing a reader or short stories that give a singular effect? Why do they “work”?