Fantasy Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

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2.5/5 Stars

So I finally read The Name of the Wind after it had been sitting on my bookshelf for over a year. Actually, I’d picked it up, tried to get through the Prologue, and given up more than once. There was just something about that melodramatic, purple-prose-y introduction that turned me off. But eventually, a recommendation from my sister got me to power through and give it an honest go.

Now, I don’t want anyone to get all up in arms about this being a two star review; it’s probably actually a 2.5 as it was better than okay and I really did like the story. But this is another book that, for my tastes, could have used a heavy-handed editor. There is no doubt in my mind that Rothfuss is a talented writer. He has built an intriguing world, the mechanics of magic are well thought out, and his prose has moments of stunning clarity and true beauty in equal measures. But much of what I liked about this book was drown out by a lot of over-written, repetitive metaphors and a tendency to belabour ideas until I stopped caring about them.

I think The Name of the Wind is a five star book that is being smothered by itself. In my opinion, Rothfuss would not have needed to add anything to gain a five star review from me; it’s in there. He just needed to trim the fat a little more closely—okay, a lot more closely—for it to be visible. And I also recognize that this style of writing is exactly what some people love, and I do understand why so many people have given it 4-5 stars. I get bored reading Tolkien, too. So shoot me.

My biggest issue with the prose is that much of the imagery just doesn’t make sense. For example “The man had true-red hair, red as flame.” (Pg. 1, and elsewhere). Now, I don’t know about you, but I have pretty much never seen a red flame. A candle-flame is nearly white, with soft yellow and orange edges. Flame in a fireplace is mostly yellow and orange as well, with some white and blue. I’ve even seen green flame; try lighting a Cheeto on fire. But I’ve never seen a red flame. Am I crazy? Is there some magical red fire that I don’t know about? Please tell me I’m not the only one! And the image is used constantly throughout the text. This might seem like nit-picking. If it was the only image that seemed off to me, I’d probably let it slide. But The Name of the Wind is rife with them.

And the images that do make sense are often followed immediately by other, less ideal images. “[The cuts] gaped redly against the innkeeper’s fair skin, as if he had been slashed with a barber’s razor or a piece of broken glass.” (Pg. 40) Do we really need both? The image of broken glass, to me, is the more effective one. It evokes a violent, ragged wound. The barber’s razor would leave comparatively cleaner, more sanitary looking cut. Either way, the two images are at odds with one another. Which is it?

Similarly, “Kote’s voice cut like a saw through bone…He spoke so softly that Chronicler had to hold his breath to hear” (Pg. 45). I find these images contradictory. It’s distracting to have one thing described in multiple, contradictory ways. These two examples are not the worst, they are just the ones I happened across on a brief scan of the first few pages. I actually wish I’d made note of the imagery I liked and the imagery that didn’t work so that I could articulate this issue more clearly. But I didn’t. And I’m not going to re-read the thing just to prove a point. Other reviewers have gone to the trouble already, I’m sure.

Other things that bugged me: too many types of currency (can we at least have an index to reference, please?), unnecessary changes to days of the week (again, please proved a reference, because the names themselves are arbitrary and confusing), names of languages do not necessarily match their place of origin (again, this would be fine if there was an index, but there’s not and it’s confusing), the constant use of names in conversation (when two people are talking to each other, they don’t usually start every sentence with the other’s name… that’s just weird), the story within a story within a story format (sometimes it works great and I like the effort and detail Rothfuss has put into the mythology, but the main Chronicler/Kvothe bookending comes across as extremely contrived), the convenient plot resolutions (there is literally no conflict that doesn’t just magically resolve itself without direct input from Kvothe)… but not enough for me to dwell on. I can forgive the convenience of the plot because I found the rest of the world satisfyingly complex. I recognize that the Arabian Nights style narrative is just not to my personal taste. The other issues on their own wouldn’t bother me that much, but together they cry out for an editor.

There is one issue that is difficult for me to get past, however. And that is how everything is “the best.” Sure, Kvothe’s a Gary Sue, but that doesn’t really irk me. It’s a common enough problem that, if the rest of the book is up to snuff, I tend to just ignore this problem. But not only is Kvothe a Gary Sue, but it’s like everything he touches is the best of the best.

The Edema Ruh (the name of which will always remind me of the terrible swelling I had during pregnancy) are Gary Sue style performers. Everything they do is described as so completely without compare that I don’t believe in them. They don’t make mistakes. They know every song and story that ever existed. They are flawless and boring.
Kvothe’s mastery of the lute and his song-writing are so heartbreakingly beautiful that he stuns everyone wherever he goes. But this doesn’t leave any room for people who don’t like the lute, maybe, or who prefer a different style of music. No. He is just amazing and everyone who hears him recognizes it instantly. And every time I read one of the songs he’s written, I am heartbroken. Heartbrokenly underwhelmed.

Similarly, Kvothe’s description of the love of his life is so over the top perfect (in Kvothe’s mind) that she is immediately disappointing when we meet her. And the problem is that what one person finds attractive may or may not jive with what another person finds attractive. We don’t all have the same taste in men/women, or music, or wine. There is no such thing as “the best,” nothing is perfect to everyone. It is self-defeating to describe anything so simplistically. These characters couldn’t live up to their own hype. No one could. And it’s not that Rothfuss isn’t up to the task, it’s that no one is. There is no perfect description of anything that will satisfy every reader. So don’t even try. Seriously.

Anyway, enough of the negatives. I want to get back to what I like about this book. Rothfuss has done a great thing in building this world. It may not be the most unique fantasy world ever created. And it doesn’t need to be. It is whole and believable. The magic works without becoming a convenient plot device (one of the few easy outs that isn’t taken advantage of, interestingly), the world mythology is rich and complex and integral to the story (this is a huge, impressive achievement), the characters are varied and interesting, the story is multifaceted and engaging. There are a lot of good things going on with this novel. Sadly, I really do feel like it’s a 5 star book hiding in a 2.5 star body.

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The Timekeepers War– Final Edit Complete! (again)

Well, I’m sure some of you were starting to think it wasn’t going to happen (myself included)… but I finally completed the final edit of my novel, The Timekeepers’ War! Again.

Editing is really the hardest part of writing a book, I swear. I’d heard that before and I never believed it. But that’s because what I thought was editing was really proofreading. And the two are very, very different beasts. After I finished my behemoth of a first novel (it came in at 503 pages, and almost 147,000 words…) I gave copies to a few trusted people to read for consistency, grammar, spelling, and readability. They came back with lots of little changes. I went through TKW three or four times with suggestions from various people, making what changes I deemed necessary, and TA-DA! Final edit complete (pt. 1)

I was feeling pretty good about myself, as a first time author. I’d gotten some really great feedback from my beta readers, along with some constructive criticism that I was able to apply to make my novel the best that I could make it. I sent it out with quiet confidence to agents and publishers alike. And waited… and waited…

And then the rejections started to roll in. I did receive some interest though, which was encouraging. I had requests for the next 10 pages, the next 30 pages, the next 50 pages, and even a couple of requests for the whole novel. I must be doing something right, I thought. They want to see more! They must like it! But nothing panned out. Eventually, each of those requests for more ended in yet another rejection. I was heartbroken!

Two good things came of this process. One: I received some really great feedback from a small publisher who highlighted my strengths and went to the trouble of explaining exactly why The Timkeepers’ War wasn’t working for him. And suddenly, all those vague rejections started to make sense. I had a great story idea, I had likeable characters, I had an intriguing setting. But I needed to seriously work on my pacing if I wanted to sell this as a commercial novel. But I didn’t really know how to go about fixing that issue. I read a lot of long-winded fantasy and sci-fi, and I enjoy them. Pacing isn’t something I knew how to do, it isn’t something I look for in a book. It isn’t my style. But as a first time writer, you have to be able to market your work to a wider audience. And agents and publishers like to see action, they like pacy, they like movement, they like all these things I didn’t know how to deliver (and in many ways, felt I shouldn’t have to). But that brings us to good thing number Two:

I decided to hire a professional editor. One who specialized in SF and worked in the publishing industry. And it wasn’t cheap. But it was totally worth it. My editor echoed some of the feedback that I had already had regarding my strengths as a writer.  And he really, really drove home the point about my weaknesses. It was hard to read at times, but I had decided when I hired him that I would listen and learn from what he had to say. So I had to suck it up. And that can be very hard to do when you read “Boring! Get on with it!” and “I’m losing interest here” and “I’ve forgotten what this story is about now” and “I really want to throw this book at the wall!” written in the margins of your baby. Okay, so that last one never happened, but I that’s how I interpreted it.

But when I started going through some of the changes that he made, I got it. Slowly it dawned on me that my readers don’t need to know everything I know about my world and my characters. I’d spent so long envisioning them, and building a world to hold them, that I found my self rattling off inane details about everyone and everything in my novel. As the person building the world, these details were necessary to me. They helped me to visualize my world and my characters, and kept my environment consistent and believable. But what we need as writers is not the same as what our audience needs as readers. Lesson learned. I started cutting like a crazy person.

At first, this was difficult. But I saved all of those little scraps of imagery, unnecessary scenes and characters, and I told myself “They’ll still be here for me when I need them.” And as kept cutting, and rewriting, the process became cathartic. Sometimes less really is more, and I finally was able to see what this meant in relation to my own work. The middle of my book required extensive rewriting to deal with info dumps. I rewrote about 200 pages of text just to get the pace moving again after I had killed it dead and beaten it’s corpse like the proverbial horse.

And it didn’t always go smoothly. There were good days and bad days. Good months and bad months, really. The hardest part of editing like this is the urge to give up and move on to something new. I was so disheartened some days to be still working on the same book when I have so many ideas for my next projects. I have new projects started, waiting for me, calling out my name! I had thought The Timekeepers’ War was done, I had cut the strings and moved on. I felt stuck.

I started procrastinating. I started to fear finishing it, actually. I was afraid that I would go through all of this, only to find that my novel was still nonpunishable. That I would be a failure at the one thing I really wanted to do. That I would let down everyone who had believed in me and supported me up to this point. Even thinking about my novel started to make me feel anxious and depressed.

Luckily those people who believed in and supported me, continued to do so. I was ready to throw in the towel on more than on occasion. But after a serious kick in the ass from my partner and biggest supporter, I realized that the only way I was going to fail all of these people, and fail myself, is if I stopped trying. I was going to quit because I was afraid to fail. That didn’t make sense. That didn’t even leave me a sliver of a chance to succeed. I’m no gambler, but those are some shitty odds. So I made myself do it.

And as I plowed through I realized that it’s a better novel now than it ever was. And what I considered my best before is sorely lacking compared to my best today. I have become a better writer for this process. And every time I have to do this in the future, I’m going to come out ahead. This is what it’s all about. Blood, sweat, and tears, no lie. Lots and lots of tears. It’s no cakewalk… no wonder so few people make it in the publishing game. Will I be one of them? Only time will tell. But I’ve learned so much in the process that, if nothing else, I can say that my attempt wasn’t a failure.

So the final result? I cut over 20,000 words from original text. I’m down to 127,191 words, down over 50 pages of info dense text. And I feel like a new person with a new and better book. I’m read to start all over again.

I will be looking for beta readers for this round, if anyone is interested in helping. Please send me a message.

Thanks for reading!

Holy Crap! An Update!–Further adventures in editing…

Okay. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m sorry I haven’t been updating very frequently. The waiting game is tough, and it’s hard to keep thinking of positive things to tell myself (and my readers) when I’m wallowing in a pit of despair.

However–!

–I have news: I’ve just gotten back the results of my professional edit. And I’m posting here instead of hiding under my bed, so it must not have been too bad. Here’s the good news: 1) He said I’m “better than most new writers [he] works with” 2) He liked my characters, and thought I had a good story* 3) The edits were helpful in so many ways that I didn’t even expect and I’m thrilled that I decided to do this even though it cost me real money (thanks Dad!)

*a good story that is hiding inside a web of verbosity.

So, long story short: He liked my book, but it needs to go on a diet. I knew that already but I didn’t really know where to start. The trouble with editing your own work is that every word is already justified in  your mind. Even once you’ve set the thing aside for months, in the back of your little brain you know why you put stuff in there.You unconsciously justify scenes and images that should have been deleted long ago, because you’re stubborn. You are. Trust me.

My trouble is–one of them, anyways–that I often confuse details that are necessary to me when I’m writing the story, with details that are necessary to a person who is reading the story. World building is tricky business. Too often, potentially good tales (esp. in SF and Fantasy) fall flat because the world is inconsistent, or unbelievable, or just not “present” enough. I know that. I tried really hard not to be that writer. I succeeded… and then some. Which is not necessarily a good thing.

Building a rich, detailed environment for your SF novel to flourish in requires more than a little noggin scratching and weird doodles in the margins of your rough draft notebook. You should be able to answer any question about your world that someone might think to ask. Test yourself, have someone ask you random questions and see if you can answer them. It’s tough!

But… just because you know every nook, cranny and dirty secret of your world doesn’t mean you have to show it all to your reader. Right now, my novel is basically just wandering around in a trench coat waiting to expose itself to the first person who looks its way. Its a total perv. I kind of suspected this, but now that it’s be pointed out by someone who knows his stuff, I can actually see it for myself. It’s embarrassing, but kind of awesome too.

I’m much happier having to trim the fat than I would be if I’d been told that my characters were unsympathetic losers, or that my story was pointless, or that my world-building sucked. Those are much tougher challenges to overcome (and really, if that had been the feedback I would be seriously considering what I was doing trying to be a writer). But all of the elements of my story are there. My novel is there, it’s finished. I just need to carve away the excess and expose it in all its glory (back to the trench coat again).

Seriously, though. If you don’t have access to writing workshops in your area (there are some online, but this can be just as expensive as editing) I highly recommend taking the plunge and getting a professional to edit your novel. I used John Jarrold, an editor in the UK, whose website I stumbled upon purely by accident when I was researching SF agents. He’s great, and comes with my highest recommendations. He’s helped me to solve problems I knew about, but didn’t know how to fix, and how to fix problems I didn’t know I had. He made a suggestion about reordering my chapters that solves some major pacing issues I had at the beginning of my novel, as well as addressing issues I had with POV and time line confusion.

In one sentence, he’s helped me to rewrite the first six chapters of my book. I’ve always felt that the beginning was the weakest part of my novel, and now I think it’s got potential again. I’ve just finished editing the first 35 pages, and I’m pretty excited to finish the rest.

I’ll keep you updated with the rest of the editing process. But I think I’m off to a good start. I’m also going to post my new and improved chapter one, so you can tell me what you think…