Overrated: Rothfuss & Martin

Let me state from the outset that I like both authors and greatly enjoyed their respective works. I’m also going to keep this fairly brief – I’m more interested in hearing others talk about why they find these two to be so great so I can respond in kind. (Some spoilers ahead for those unfamiliar with Martin)

But for the life of me, I cannot fathom why they have garnered such raving praise. It is, for the most part, entirely unwarranted. Let’s start with Rothfuss. He is the author, for those that don’t know, of the book ‘The Name of the Wind’ which is essentially about a legendary figure who lives and runs a bar in some abysmal nothing-town, in which he is naught but a tavern owner. A Chronicler arrives and convinces Kvothe to recount his tale and so we are swept into this “making of the legend” narrative.

It is written in first person, with interesting, fresh descriptions and a generally swift pace that occasionally lags. And it is has received ridiculous praise. I just don’t get why — the story itself isn’t original, and that’s fine, I for one have always been more interested in characters and yet, I feel like I’ve come across and read a thousand Kvothe’s and even the world, to some extent, has very little that is new or interesting. Even the magic system, the process of “naming” to gain power has been seen elsewhere, notably in David Eddings Belgariad series, and the prequel, Belgarath the Sorcerer.

The lesser magic in Rothfuss series, from memory something called “sympathy” (?) is also a process that’s been seen before although I can’t quite recall where as of this very second,  perhaps in the Tamir Triad by Lynn Flewelling. The where isn’t quite important, the fact is, it’s all been done before. Add to this the lyrical descriptions — which most seem to love — of Kvothe’s musical ability and lute playing and I shake my head, as nothing in any realm of the written word, can surpass Janny Wurts when it comes to heavenly descriptions of music, music magic, and bards. So even here, I find him coming a little short.

Don’t misunderstand me. I really enjoyed the book – it’s easy to read, highly entertaining and immersive to a great degree, it just doesn’t deserve the acclaim it has received, in my opinion. Personally, I think for most people it’s the style in which it’s written — first person — that forms a large portion of why they love the book, in their eyes it recasts some familiar ground in a fresh light which is great but that’s already happened for most readers thanks to the brilliance of Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy which remains the best written first-person adult fantasy series in existence and indeed, one of the best written fantasy series period.

But that’s enough of that, for now. Let’s turn our eyes to the greater weight of George. R. R. Martin’s popular but incomplete A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF) series. It’s been a while since I read this book – (I recently began a re-read) – but I remembered a fair bit of it, and the rest came along quickly enough. That I remembered anything at all is testament to some of the great writing therein, given I live and breathe epic fantasy and have done so for years now.

I didn’t get far in the series, initially, I don’t think but I can’t remember why. I decided to pick it up again for two reasons: the first being that HBO is making a pilot episode for a potential series based off of it and the second is because I continually keep coming across references to this as “the best ever”, such as in this list Best Fantasy Books.

It’s rated number one. I came across this list not too long ago and for the most part, I think the man has got it right, or as near to right as you can come, in terms of selection at least, but not in placement although there are some notable absences.

I think ‘A Game of Thrones’ and the series at large is really good. It’s great, even. The best? No. It’s quite an old style of writing, quite quaint in some ways. Compared to the style and form of fantasy that has been coming out in the past five years, compared to the current wave shall we say, it comes off as a little stilted. (Sorry to be repetitive about the aspects of old and new styles, but emphasis must be placed here especially in direct oppositions).

Having said that, there’s something to be said for the calm, measured pace of the older epics – and it bears mentioning here that Martin’s novels are not actually that old, first printed in 1996 or 98 I believe, but the style is nevertheless reminiscent of much older texts – that immerse you so thoroughly into their world that you can see not just every individual cobblestone, but feel them beneath your feet.

The greatest thing about Martin’s work is that he combines the strengths of both styles – the world is grim and dark, as are the characters and each goes through some genuine pain; what’s more, he’s not afraid to lop off the heads of a heap of characters and yet, the manner in which he writes is still the same as that “high-fair-or soft” fantasy. Again, the dialogue is the difference; it’s not quite Shakespearean but its leaning toward that. It jars a little.

Mostly, you can say that were this to be an alternate version of a society based in the Middle Ages, Martin would come closest to accurately representing it, so far as we know it. But that’s not what fantasy is about. And mostly, I found myself squirming whenever a woman spoke. Stilted dialogue. I didn’t like it, but at least he was consistent. For a while anyway – I’ve re-read up until book 3, which is where I’ve stopped (for financial purposes) and this is where I stopped last time, I believe so I’m yet to go further. The consistency I just mentioned becomes a problem as the series goes on because, essentially, it fades. Certain elements change to a great degree and I can’t tell you how much that irritated me.

First, dialogue. I mentioned that it felt stilted and almost antiquated at times, but I praised the consistency – he stuck to his guns in what he imagined was an accurate portrayal of speech in a medieval-style setting. Good for him. That is, until, ‘fuck’ began to creep in all over the place. The first time I saw it, I was literally shocked (ha). It had no place in the world, in the dialogue, it didn’t feel organic and the moment (which escapes me right now) was nothing of consequence so it’s not as though this was a deliberate placement intended to shock you at the right time.

It was so jarring it took me right out of the story and for some reason I felt cheated, felt like he’d done something hypocritical — and he hadn’t, not really, it’s not as though he set out parameters he was going to follow at the outset, but it did take away one of the strengths of his writing — the (previously) unfailing consistency of his world-building. And I feel as though you shouldn’t change the game-plan mid-way, not like this, if it was something planned from the outset okay but it just felt slip-shod and had no purpose.

Initially, there’s almost no magic whatsoever – we have a glimpse in the opening chapter, a tiny idea of it, but almost nothing from then on for over a book. And I really enjoyed the character-based storytelling, the lack of magic was a strength. The chilling hints of creatures in the forest that were beginning to kill again, the way in which we’re introduced to the legends and disregard now held for those tales and the wonderful way the crumbling Wall is a metaphor for that — all of these things are fantastic and all of these things are ruined, are lessened slowly by the random magic creeping in. And the nature of the world is such that it’s set up to be something that once existed, but doesn’t any more and an example of this is in the skulls of dragons that adorn the king’s throne room — knowledge that such once existed, but certainty that it doesn’t any more.

Which is why the creatures, the hint of ye old things come back to life (with the advent of Winter) was particularly cool but the random elements of magic that grew and grew (in the red lady, the random criminal-mage-dude-who-came-from-fucking-nowhere-with-his-awesome-abilities-but-which-couldn’t-save-him-from-getting-caught-to-begin-with-and-thus-left-him-at-the-convenient-disposal-of-the-Stark-girl, in Brandon’s sight, the green mage, etc etc) and it got to the point, for me, where it became improbable that in a world with such a startling and refreshing lack of magic and in which the (once) existence of dragons was dealt with in the manner with which we deal with dinosaurs, that so much would suddenly begin to occur.

It was epitomised, for me, with the birth of three new dragons – that for me, signalised such a dramatic change from the first two books, it was almost as though he was writing two different series. And suddenly, there is no consistency to praise and in a series praised for its central tenet of realism, there is a random and completely different change in style as regards language and in the proliferation of sorcerous elements. It irritated me no end. I will say, on a parting note, that it can never be good for any series praised above all for the killing of characters.

In conclusion: both authors are quite good but they are by no means as great as they are made out to be. Certainly, in Martin’s case, not the best, though there’s a lot to admire. Although it must also be acknowledged that the “best” is always going to be something highly subjective.




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18 responses to “Overrated: Rothfuss & Martin

  1. You’re right. You’re too long winded. When I started my blog, the consensus of people in my organization was that I skirted along the edges on length. Seems 500 +/- a bit is about the optimum range.

    After a couple months where I’ve been reading blogs like mad, I find that time constraints mean you can’t read long blogs much … if you want to work on your WIP.

    Socail media are time-slurpers.

    That said, I’ll follow your blog for a bit because I’m play with writing fantasy.

  2. Jack

    What I think you maybe haven’t realised here is that the birth of the dragons has a lot more to do with the re-emergence of magical elements across Westeros. But I do understand not enjoying the magic bits, I’m not sure I do particularly, per se. I preferred the very nearly historical setting without the need to resort to fantastical elements. It might be why I’ve enjoyed each book a little less as it goes on.

    Not sure I ever noticed the language thing, either, and I’ve re-read it three times. To me, it was never fancy or Shakespearesque, but grounded in more modern terms from the start. Not really certain when you got that from. The dialogue always struck me as quite hard and gritty.

    “I will say, on a parting note, that it can never be good for any series praised above all for the killing of characters. Be realistic, yes. But don’t go overboard.”

    I’m not sure who’s been saying that, but I don’t understand people’s complaints with the high level of killings. Simply put, there’s a big fucking war going on and people are dying. I don’t think he’s gone overboard. Sure, four or five POV characters have kicked the bucket, and others besides, but this is a pretty catastrophic civil war.

    Civil Wars kill a lot of people. I actually think it’s refreshing that people die in ASOIAF. Not that I would say it was a “good” thing, as such, but that I’m fed up of fantasy books where all the characters get away from dangerous situations all the time by deus ex machina or last-minute saves.

    I’m not that optimistic about the future of the series, especially as A Dance With Dragons is taking so long. The problem with the last book was it needed a better fucking editor. There were such long, boring sections and someone needed to cut a whole heap of shit out of it. And when I read his blog and he keeps saying “oh I’m on 10 million pages now” I just want to tell him to KEEP IT TIGHTER, BIAATCH.

    Or something. It’s his series, though.

  3. Hahaha, I get ya Jack. I do. My problem isn’t with the magic per se, I liked the chilling hints of otherworldly creatures coming back with the advent of Winter – because it made sense within the context of the world, what doesn’t make sense in a mostly historically-based setting that prides itself on realism is for so many different magical elements to suddenly come together. And we’re talking a very short period of time here.

    What I meant by the quote about killing characters has more to do with what’s being said by people – time and time again, even in that link I provided, people rave about his willingness to kill characters and little else. What I was saying is that’s not a good thing for only that to be mentioned repeatedly.

    As for the language, it definitely goes from strictly no swearing, to suddenly having ‘fuck’ in there, and it’s bizarrely inconsistent. I actually had a lot more to say about his series but I was trying to keep length in mind! Sorry Kay! 🙂

  4. I agree with Jack: I think you’ve missed the point of the way Martin uses magic in his series. It *was* a world barren of magic for a long time–and now that magic is coming back. The first book’s lack of magic gives you a good sense of how people think magic is something of myth and folklore, not something real or relevant. This is especially true when it comes to the threat from beyond the Wall: no one takes it seriously. Everyone is absorbed with petty feudal machinations and maneuvering, when the real danger looms on the horizon.

    I also don’t think the dialogue has any of the qualities you mentioned. It was apparent to me from the start that Martin’s dialogue was modern and easily parsed, not archaic and stilted. The use of the word “fuck” merely emphasized its separation from Old English, and I thought it was used tastefully and with properly shocking impact. In fact, it was refreshing to me to read a fantasy series where characters speak like this, rather than the typical soft-edged fantasy dialogue full of lyrical prattling or vapidly epic utterances.

    And I don’t think it’s accurate to say that the series is “historically based.” It incorporates certain elements from the Middle Ages, as does most sword-and-sorcery fantasy, but as this is not historical fiction, there is no rule saying that Martin can’t play as fast and loose with magic as he likes. You even admitted yourself that Martin adheres to his own logic: his world is dominated by decades-long seasons, and now that Winter is returning, and with it, the dark arts of magic, the world is in the throes of tumultuous change. He set this premise up in the first book and then proceeded to deliver on it as promised. I’m not sure how you could find this inconsistent, unless you had some erroneous expectations from the series.

    Obviously, I greatly enjoy Martin’s work. But I too find it silly when people elevate it to the ranks of classic fantasy. It’s a great series, but I think a lot of what causes the hyperbolic praise is that there just isn’t that much great fantasy published in the last few decades. In comparison to someone like, say, the awful Terry Goodkind–or any number of other terrible fantasy writers and series–Martin’s work, which is well-plotted, bloody, fast-paced, and chock-full of gritty realism, looks pristine.

    I think there is room to criticize Martin (for example: the Robert Jordan-like tendency to drastically expand the PoV to minor characters, diminishing the power and focus of the main cast), but unfortunately I think you’re shooting blanks here.

  5. That’s fair enough, that magic is coming back, I gathered as much — personally, I felt it was too much, too quickly and it jarred for me. The otherworldly creatures coming back with Winter is understandable but the random religion for the Lord of Light suddenly popping up? With extremely proficient magical practitioners in a world where there was supposedly no magic?

    I didn’t mean to say it was based in history, just that more than any other fantasy series it seemed to adhere to the most strict interpretation of fantasy-as-medieval.

    As for language — you couldn’t be more wrong when you say it was refreshing as opposed to “soft-edged fantasy dialogue full of lyrical prattling or vapidly epic utterances.”

    The reason I said his language is stilted is because fantasy in the past few years has been filled with a much more modern vernacular — the thing is, with series like Abercrombie’s, Bakker’s, and even Erikson, it’s hard and fast and the parameters of speech are set up immediately – you know how people speak, and it remains consistent throughout. If people do use ‘fuck’ in this world then make sure they’re doing it from the outset; people comfortable with it tend to use it a lot anyway.

    Martin doesn’t do that. And it *is* inconsistent and random. In terms of modern speech, he is outmatched by others in the past few years. In terms of grit, he is outmatched. In terms of realism even, he is outmatched. Most people that love and praise his work, seem to only compare it to really old epics and nothing current.

    The writing just isn’t as good as people say it is. It’s been a while since I last read it, and I haven’t got to the 4th book yet, but I simply don’t think that he is in anyway even close to being the best.

  6. You know, again, I just have to say that I think it’s a really good series and the things I mentioned are the biggest issues I have with it personally. I’ve spoken a lot about the ‘new wave’ that’s populating fantasy — see my other posts for more info — but perhaps not enough credit is given to Martin as one of the first to take the gritty road.

    I am looking at this from the perspective of having read all the current works first, then having gone back to check out his work and it doesn’t quite match up in some ways but if this post is any indication, Martin was one of the first to try it and so it’s no wonder that it’s a flawed example of the most popular style in fantasy today.

    I would dearly love to go back and find exactly where and when it began but I’m sure that would be impossible; it’s something that has appeared in singular elements (grit, humour, graphic violence, modern attitudes/speech, realism) for a long time but never as one until the 90s.

    So yes, props to him on that.

  7. Personally, I didn’t find Rothfuss all that impressive. First, the sort of story structure he’s used has been falling out of favor lately, and with good reason.

    Second, his characters are ridiculous. Kvothe is the poster child of Marty Stu’s, and there’s nothing to balance all of his “good” traits. Lame. It’s especially galling since I so love musician heroes. But for Kvothe, that’s just another thing to make him awesome. There was good groundwork in having the dad killed for his music, but Kvothe’s musical development builds on it not at all.

    I think Martin, on the other hand, deserves more credit than you give him. Is he perfect? No. But his characterization is much better than most of the fantasy writers working the epic arena right now. His approach to magic is different from most other authors as well, and I see it as a high point of his work. I’m not sure who you think is writing all this “gritty”, “edgy” fantasy, but I’ve not seen them. There are in fact very few epic fantasy authors who do good “grit” in their stories. I also think his willingness to kill perspective characters is a plus, but it’s not the only thing he’s got going for him.

  8. Have you read Abercrombie or Bakker or Erikson? They do it brilliantly. Scott Lynch is another but his work doesn’t revolve around grit, definitely great, current fantasy though. Even edgy to a degree. There are a few others I’m not thinking of right now.

    King deserves a mention here for his Dark Tower series as well, but I can’t speak very much for him since I only just began a re-read of it, and I gave up on it to begin with.

    I didn’t find anything new or interesting about his magic to be honest, I’ve pretty much seen it all in some fashion or other — not quite collected all together as he has, but none of it was new, fairly diverse though.

    I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve credit, I think I’ve said it’s a very good series on a number of occasions now, I just don’t rate it as the best. And it’s because most people do, that I think ‘overrated’ is appropriate as a tag. Of course, when that tag is ‘the best ever’ even falling short is still a great accomplishment haha.

  9. Well, yes, Bakker does a good job. Erikson as well. I’ve not finished any of Abercrombies work, but if I remember rightly, I was none too impressed by what I have read. Oh, it’s several bars above most of the fantasy out there right now, but so is Martin.

    Also, Martin’s work came before Bakker’s. Not Erikson’s perhaps, but well before Bakker.

    Lynch has his days, but I the only mentioned author I rate him higher than is Rothfuss. He’s not so much gritty as grey, and the two are very different measures of a book.

    To be honest, I don’t rate anyone as the “best”. Martin, Bakker, and Erikson are all in my top tier, but none is rated as higher than the others.

    Which reminds me, two other authors to bring into the conversation are Harry Turtledove and Tad Williams. Turtledove’s Darkness was coming out about the same time as the other mentioned series. William’s Shadowmarch is much newer, but also falls into a similar category of gritty epic fantasy. In some ways, it is quite reminiscent of Erikson.

  10. Jack

    Omar, you give Abercrombie too much credit. I’ve read two of his books, now, and he’s nothing on GRRM at all. Gritty, yes, exciting, yes, but he’s not writing anything new. I’ve seen it before in Gemmell and others. Glokta’s a fascinating character, but a lot of the rest of the cast are classic fantasy stereotypes.

  11. Overall, perhaps, but I’m talking within the context of the new wave v the old and in particular about grit — his work isn’t stereotypical at all, not in character or setting, his whole deal is recasting the familiar with a modern lens, with a degree of realism and darkness that is not seen often at all, certainly never in Gemmell’s work, who you know I love. He dealt with typical characters in a kind of ‘pure’ heroic fantasy.

    Gemmell is one of Abercrombie’s heroes, so I’m not surprised you saw some similarities. I’ve said it enough times already, lol, I will say it once more – ASOIAF just didn’t sit well with me and bear in mind that I went in expecting something amazing, which might have affected my overall judgement — but it’s not as quick, as dark, as effective as the newer stuff and it’s written in a much older style that I found to be stilted in some respects.

    Of course there were other niggling things but, yeah, I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree. XD

  12. Jack

    His work isn’t stereotypical at all? Please.

    He has northern barbarians in a cold setting, he has southern religious zealots in a desert setting, he has the standard European “Union” (Holy Roman Empire) in the middle, which is stereotypically full of lazy monarchs, a crap aristocracy, overconfident professional army and rich merchants.

    He also has a wizard who leads a quest to find a magical item.

    Now he puts some good things into this typical mix, what with Glokta and the Inquisition, and some of his characters are great, but others are terrible (Ferro? She’s crap).

    His degree of realism/darkness is good, for sure, but it’s in a normal fantasy world, which isn’t that well put together.

    To be honest what pisses me off most is his attempts to combine a Napoleonic/18th-century command structure of an army onto a medieval militia mixed with some professional troops. He’s essentially tried to put together different historical concepts and it hasn’t worked too well. If he had better explanations/reasons, I might have bought it, but having a General and his staff wearing colourful uniforms was a bit of a push, especially in his overall world setting.

  13. Tron

    You say George Martin and Patrick Rothfuss are overrated, but then you proclaim Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy as the best fantasy book written in existence? Dude, her first book, which is the only one I read is the poster child for overrated-ness. There is no greater mystery in the fantasy world than why anyone even knows Hobb’s name if her writing is anything to judge by, so you’ll excuse me if I don’t find your article ridiculously ironic.

    P.S. I am not a fan of George Martin’s ASOIAF books but I really like his short story work.

    • Don’t be silly, I said it was the best written “first person” adult fantasy series written and that was within the context of first person fantasy books, as regards Rothfuss’ stuff. It’s one of the top works out there, in my opinion, but it’s not the best, no.

      As for those elements used Jack, pretty much one and all were deliberately done as a send-up of the typical conventions in heroic fantasy and if you couldn’t see that…well, it’s a shame, I really think it’s great that it works both satirically and on its own right, by giving those archetypes a savage, realistic edge. Nice to see some different opinions though 🙂

  14. It’s a matter of taste, of course, but I feel people are too quick to jump on the ‘must be original’ bandwagon when it comes to fantasy. People underestimate just how many grew up on D&D and Tolkien; how much we loved that specific type of adventure, and how we want more of it. I don’t see many authors doing the type of fantasy I want to see, which is more of what Tolkien did, not less.

    I think you overrate the ‘modern’ style of fantasy writing. I am one who much prefers the older style of giving loads of detail and world-building. People complain that Tolkien overdid it, but I feel the opposite. I am tired of the ‘make every word count’ school. It’s becoming a cliche itself.

  15. I know it’s been a while since you wrote this post, but I thought I would point out one thing about magic in fantasy novels. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Golden Bough? If you look into it (if you haven’t already), you’ll see how influential it’s been in fantasy and science fiction. Particularly Frazer’s work on magic systems. Rothfuss’s sympathy magic comes directly from this folklore, I would argue, and not from other fantasy novels. I don’t know all of Rothfuss’s history, but I glean from his blog and from Name of the Wind itself that he took a lot of college courses on the things that appear in his book. He writes about them from that perspective, and I think that’s one of the interesting additions to Kvothe’s world–the accounts of instrument making, the metallurgy (or is it glass? I can’t remember now, it’s been awhile), and whatever else (can’t remember now). The accounts make me want to learn how to make things from raw materials. I know other writers do this, like Robert Jordan, and they also make me want to become a blacksmith or whatever. But Rothfuss was particularly adept at this.

    I realize there are many good fantasy writers, but for me, I was a hard case to win over. I’d been on a fantasy hiatus for about 8 years before I picked up Name of the Wind (college, you see). He won me over. And while I feel like he ripped off the magic of the folk (Golden Bough, sympathy magic), he did it well.

    The name thing is also very old and has nothing to do with fantasy authors (Le Guin, who used it in Earthsea, was an anthropologist–her father was a big name in the academic circles of folklore). It existed before they began using it. See Genesis in the Old Testament. Ha ha. No, I’m kidding, I’m sure you realized that.

    If you want unique magic systems, maybe read Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series if you haven’t already or the standalone Elantris. I think Warbreaker also has a unique take on magic.

    Link to excerpt on Homeopathic and Contagious magic:

  16. lxc

    I agree with Atsiko – Martin is a good story teller with solid writing skills. Whatever flaws he might have, his characters are more complex and believable than about 98% of what you find in fantasy, and he created a world fascinating enough to keep most fantasy readers still interested in the next book despite the long delays.

    Rothfuss just… baffles me. I sincerely cannot understand why people have anything good to say about him. Name of the Wind was boring, riddled with internal inconsistencies, and has some of the worst writing I’ve ever come across. Marty Stu, indeed. But really the most confusing thing is how many people rave about his prose style – I mean, it’s just so, so awful. All those adverbs and vague metaphors – uh. The whole book reads like a “what not to do” of creative fiction – and not in a good, rule-breaking genius kind of way. In a “I don’t know how to write” kind of way.

    I can accept that some people found it entertaining anyway – there are plenty of poorly written books I’ve enjoyed reading – but please people, don’t confuse guilty pleasure with great writing – or even mediocre writing. You can actually analyze what he’s done and see that the plot construction is sloppy and the prose makes every single mistake of amateur writing I can think of. Martin is a pro by comparison. They don’t even belong in the same blog post.

    I think a lot of people bought NOTW because, like me, they read all these positive reviews. But the release of the second book will tell the truth – I won’t be reading, and I imagine a lot of other people won’t either.

  17. Max

    Sorry to rekindle what seemed an old discussion but I just happened to stumble upon it and could not help writing a comment.

    First of all I would like to say that everyone is entitled to their own opinion BUT certain things can be seen more or less objectively. There are certain aspects of writing or story telling that simply cannot be denied. So that being said let’s go step by step.

    First of all let’s take a look at someauthors that you compare to Martin and Rothfuss: Robin Hobb, as already have been mentioned, she is a poster child for over-rated author in general not only first person fantasy. It is true that she is a decent story-teller and has pretty descriptive writing style BUT… All of her plots are on the surface an attentive reader can predict the development of the plot by the middle of the first book for the rest of the series. In other words she is as predictable as a Latin soap opera. You can usually tell when Hobb herself runs out of steam within the series. It usually happens by the end of second book and after that it simply is a drag to read. Very similar to Stendhal as far as pacing go.
    Next stop Erikson. I don’t want to dwell too much on him so I’ll be short. His writing lacks cohesiveness. He is so concentrated on his plot on larger scale that the characters become second rate citizens. Also his descriptions and flow of the story are so scares and disjoint that most of the time it’s up for the reader to piece things together into a comprehensive narrative or fill in the scenery to their own liking.
    Now to Bakker. It seems to me he is an only well placed contender among all the authors you have mentioned in your discussion. He has a well-paced style that uses so called “grid” with the main anti-hero. The history of his world and plot are very well thought through and consistent. Some people have complained that he cloned much of it after Tolkien but I personally see no problem with that (and I’ll touch up on it a bit later when discussing Rothfuss and Martin). His work “Prince of Nothing” seems a reaction to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings sort of a grim alternative to the battle of Good and Evil. However I find his naming scheme pretentious and his overall juxtapositions too Dungeons and Dragons – only heroes matter, while everyone else is a mindless member of an ant farm at best. He might have as well saved up all the carnage and have one-on-one duels between main characters. All in all not bad but far from great.
    I will skip over Abercrombie for now as I have not yet made my mind about him. His writing is very postmodern for the lack of better adjective. I find it fascinating but I’m curious to see more of his works.
    Finally let’s talk about Martin and Rothfuss.
    Both of those authors set highly dynamic worlds, they are living and breathing and most importantly believable worlds unlike most of hardboard cutouts or character-centric worlds of Hobb and Bakker.
    Let’s begin with Rothfuss. I think you are misled by all the hype over his works to think he is considered one of the best fantasy writers. He is the next best thing which is a lot different. Comparing his first book to the Wise Man’s Fear you can’t help but notice a lot of maturing in his style. The descriptions and elegies do much more to development of the plot as well as revealing of the world he. He is undeniably an amazing story teller. It is true that he borrows a cartload from folklore but then again who does not? Even Tolkien simply reworked Norse Sagas specifically Nibelungenlied with some elements of Biblical Genesis and Celtic folklore. But I ask you this: why should anyone reinvent the bicycle? Just because there is a new race of water-breathing flying stones that use Morse code to communicate doesn’t make the book fresh or inventive. May I remind you that, for example, Tolkien who many refer to as a source of fantasy races didn’t invent them at all. Trolls, goblins, gnomes, elves and such existed long before the Lord of the Rings cycle in folklore and where used by other authors as well in their books. Nuff said. Rothfuss in my opinion has a gift to take tales whether from Arabian nights or European Folklore and make them his own. He basically takes their topic and reinvents them using his own ingenuity. Let me use two outside metaphors to clarify my point. If you have eaten a boiled potato that does not necessarily mean that every dish that uses potatoes; whether its mushed potatoes, or baked potatoes, or potato casserole; will taste exactly the same as boiled potato. Another example is the genre of Symphony. You don’t scold Mozart or Brahms for writing in the genre that has been arguable overdone, using the same sonata form within first movement, using the same 12 tone scale that everyone used, using the same number of themes in exposition. It’s how they do it that matters and Rothfuss undoubtedly is superb at using the tools of the genre. The amount of stories that he weaves in is arguably enough to supply five trilogies. My only concern is that he might run out of steam and his first work is going to be his best and only. It is not to say there is no room for improvement. For example, in his first book the lyrical elegies concerning Denna are less than appropriate in advancing the plot and are a total drag. Only by the middle of the second book they become in any sense relevant to the storyline.
    Another strong point of his writing is that he is a true scholar. He makes magic into science, a comprehensible set of rules with goals and consequences, which is extremely refreshing among all of the “Dungeon and Dragon”-fire-ball-out-of-clear-blue-sky nonsense that all of the fantasy books are filled with. It has been done before? So what? he simply uses it as a tool. The logical set of rules is used to show the vast gap between the true event and its interpretation by the common folk in a tale.
    He also has a very keen understanding of music as an art. And as a person who has studied the subject extensively let me tell you he has a very clear grasp not only on musician’s mentality but the historical and poetic settings of the time period he is writing about. It is not to say that there are no faux pas or slight inconsistencies with the language or genres but as a whole he is better versed in music and its relation to other genres of art than anything I’ve read including Janny Wurts. While she has a very good concept of musician’s mind Rothfuss not only explores the inner world he knows mechanics of music as an art form.

    I know this post is a bit long winded but I hope I didn’t lose your attention or imposed myself too much on your time 🙂

    And finally Martin. The only comparison I can come up with to detailed descriptions, depth of the multiple character development and plot intricacies of Martin’s books is Tolstoy’s War and Peace. His language in my opinion is a perfect mix of archaic and modern vernacular. He uses it subtly as a tool to exaggerate the geographic locations, social status or simply mood of a specific character. It is not very often that I find a similar control of the language in any genre of literature. Martin is no Nabokov by any means but he is certainly leans towards that direction of the word artistry. I would like also to point to the use of word “fuck”. No well-educated person shines away from it but instead uses it to stress a certain point or behavior. You complain that it is inconsistent with the rest of vernacular, however if the word is introduced too soon and used too often it loses its fucking spice all together:). Think about his descriptions of Daenerys’ conquest. It uses descriptions that are more mystical, absolute and vague. By doing this he unfolds the inner world of Daenerys which is filled with dreamlike, bewildered state of her mind as a consequence of successive shocks that she experiences early on.
    Another attribute of Martin’s world is the lack of obvious magics. That is not to say there is no magic all together but he also spaces very carefully the magical events so they are more a part of the world that he created rather than a driving force in it. His books are about people who laugh, cry, hate, fuck, rape, betray, comfort. No one character is the main character, no character is safe from death or grief. It is like real life with vast shades of grey instead of black and white cut outs. That’s what makes his books stand head and shoulders above any contemporary fantasy that is available.

    In short I respect your opinion but I completely disagree with your perception that two of those authors are over-rated. Martin is one of the greatest writers of his generation and Rothfuss is the next best thing on the fantasy landscape, but time will show if he will stay.
    Sorry for such a long post and for the numerous grammatical mistakes 

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