Rothfuss VS Sanderson: Author Death Match / by Josh Guess

...Okay, not really.

I've waxed poetic about Patrick Rothfuss many times on here, which may or may not be a good thing for me as an indie writer. After all, maybe I should be tooting my own horn a little more to drum up sales (which are still very slow) but I just can't help myself. Rothfuss is amazing.

However, I've been lax in talking about my other favorite author, which is the talented and lovely Brandon Sanderson. I say lovely not because of his physical features, which are perfectly nice, but because he's a Mormon. Yes, that's my reason. Stereotypes can be positive ones, and I've yet to meet a member of his faith that isn't an absolutely wonderful person.

Fair warning:
Spoilers Ahead.

If you haven't read anything by either of these men, then I suggest closing out the browser page and crying soulfully in a corner for a few minutes. Then, get back online, go to Amazon, buy my newest book, Beautiful, then buy Patrick Rothfuss' first book, The Name of the Wind, THEN go buy Sanderson's first book (which is a standalone title), Elantris. Spend the next few days/weeks enjoying all of them. Thank me when you're done.

On to the meat of this post, then. I'll be talking about the works of both men, as well as my own, in the context of the Craft of writing, and the joys of reading.


My wife introduced me to both of these guys. I read The Name of the Wind right after she did, and I was blown away. Rothfuss has a way of making the characters he writes seem real and vibrant in a way no author I've ever read before has managed. The story is a simple one in premise, a retired legendary hero telling the true story of his life. The execution is far more complex and powerful, and every word of the book and its sequel, The Wise Man's Fear, is laid purposefully with every other to create a tapestry of story. The books are simultaneously poetic and crafted with moving prose, yet down to earth and easy to relate to.

Pat has a way of making every scene and line count. It's engrossing to an embarrassing degree--I've read WMF at least four times since it came out in March, and TNOTW more times than I can count since it came out years ago. Pat's worldbuilding is solid and interesting, but Kvothe, the main character, overshadows the carefully designed cultures woven through the books. That's fine with me, since those cultures are viewed through the lens of Kvothe's own experience. These books are the best thing I've read in a long, long time, and not just in the Epic Fantasy category.

But let's not forget Mr. Sanderson, either. My wife bugged me forever to read his Mistborn trilogy, and ironically I started with the standalone Elantris. Which I read in two days. Then the entire Mistborn trilogy. Then The Way of Kings. Then Warbreaker.

All in about a week and a half. I read fast when I have good books in hand, and these are freaking amazing.

Here's a thing about reading in general (and which helped me gain perspective as a writer) that reading Brandon's works taught me: you don't have to like even a majority of a book to LOVE the book. That's why I'm posting about both of these authors here: they exemplify that truth to me.

I'll explain:

There is only one scene between both of Rothfuss' books I don't really care for. The rest, to me, is so consistently good and interesting that I hang on every word every time I read them. The same isn't true for Sanderson. That isn't to say I think he's an inferior writer to Pat, only that certain parts of his style just don't appeal to me as much.

Take Brandon's work on The Wheel of Time, for example. I've read both of his WOT books several times each, and like the volumes written by Robert Jordan before them, there are large chunks that just don't survive a second reading. I skip them. I think a lot of people do. You can only read about Rand wanting to feel human again, or how hard his emotions have become, or how sad he is, so many times before your brain rebels and threatens to go on strike if you keep at it. That may be a Jordan thing, though, and Brandon is doing his best to meet the expectations of the readers.

So...Elantris has some parts that I have to slog through on a re-read. Really dry stuff not directly related to the main story that's far more vivid and interesting. Sounds super-critical, I know, but it really isn't intended to be. See, Brandon is an amazing writer. He's got great technical skills, an imagination that's almost scary, and worldbuilding skills that are huge and follow a complex logic I can't even grasp.

Rothfuss and Sanderson are two amazing writers who, in my mind, are at an equal level of talent and skill. Patrick focuses on telling an epic story in a personal way, colored by the voice of the main character. Brandon paints huge, sweeping vistas of imagery, creates new systems of magic for every series, and builds cultures with practiced ease. More, he ties all of his main series of books together with an overarching cosmology that connects each world together into a universe-scale epic.

Think 'The Dark Tower' by Stephen King, but WAY bigger, and you're close.

The Way of Kings, Brandon's latest novel (not counting The Wheel of Time, which aren't *technically* his novels) is what has brought on this deluge of words from me. I've been re-reading it for the fifth or sixth time, and there are so many elements I love about it I could almost write a book of my own. The characters are interesting, and better than any others he's ever written. His prose is cleaner and more stylized than his other books. The magic systems aren't as pronounced (at least so far in the series) as with his other books, which I really like. (MAJOR SPOILER!) In fact, the thing I like best about TWOK is watching the main character, Kaladin, learn how to access and control his Surgebinding (which is a cool freaking name) powers even as he deals with the horrors of being a slave.

TWOK manages to tell a story on an epic scale previously untouched while making you care about and sympathize with the characters. One literary device that has always pissed me off (and insulted me as a reader) is the idea that the bad guy is just the bad guy and has no more than that one dimension. Sadeas, asshat that he is throughout the book, is believable, and the best sort of antagonist--one who acts for what he sees as good and moral reasons.

There are SO many small touches that make TWOK good, that make me feel something, that it's become one of my all-time favorite books. I love how the mythology of it helps connect all of Brandon's books together, and how perfectly balanced the realistic depictions of the characters' lives are against the universe-shaking struggle going on behind the scenes.

And to my point--there are sections of the book I skip when I re-read it. Some characters that only appear in the interlude sections aren't important or interesting to me now that I know what their purpose was or how their section went. On re-reads, they just don't resonate the way they did on the first go round. Even some portions of Shallan's story are skippable, and definitely some of the more purely political scenes involving Dalinar. I get why they're there (to advance the political elements of the plot, which are important but sometimes boring) but again, I don't need to read them a second time.

Boy, that sounds really critical. It is, I guess, but I LOVE this book despite all that. The vast majority of it is spectacular, and I learned by reading it several times that it's possible to treasure the whole thing without loving every part of it. Sanderson and Rothfuss don't need my approval, after all. They've got piles of acclaim, sales, and money that prove their talents.

I think, though, that what I'm saying is important for several reasons. One is that even while I dislike the dryer elements of Brandon's books, overall I adore his style and will buy everything he writes because of that. I think he's amazing, and I would never give him a bad review. That's because I (unlike many people who review books on Amazon) recognize the inherent truth of being a reader: he didn't write this book for me.

Part of what makes Patrick and Brandon SUCH good writers is that they have written the stories they want to tell. I read a review of Wise Man's Fear right after it came out that was 1/5 stars and highly negative. The entire thing was a rant about how pissed the reader was that the story didn't go in the direction she wanted. Nothing about the style or prose of the book. She pointed out how much she loved the first one, but could barely get through WMF because the story didn't unfold the way she expected it to.

That's the difference. I respect the hell out of both of these guys. Pat's books appeal to me in every way, Brandon's almost as much but not quite. That says nothing about him as an author, only that my preferences as a reader aren't quite in sync with him. And that's fine! Really!

As a writer, I'm thrilled to have made this realization. It's a bitch trying to overcome bad reviews and hearing people complain about parts of your work. Knowing that I won't and can't please everyone is tough, but now it's easier to deal with.

I can handle people who don't enjoy my work. I think Pat and Brandon are seasoned enough to have managed that years ago. If I can write something that appeals to many, who may not like some parts but love the whole, I will be satisfied. Because I, like my two author heroes, write what I want. What I enjoy. I tell a story that excites me and appeals to me, and that's the best way to create.

Ok. Done now. None of this came out precisely the way I wanted, but it's a quarter to six in the morning. For those of you that scrolled down here because this was too long to read, let me sum up:

Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson. Both are amazing authors, nice guys, and deserve all the praise they get and more. One appeals to me a bit more, because of ME, not them. Readers should be more aware before they post hateful shit about books that took years to write, gallons of sweat, and many sleepless nights trying to get it just right.

Now, go buy their books (and mine, if you wanna) and enjoy them.