some stray musings on the kingkiller chronicles by patrick rothfuss

First, let’s set the mood.

Not that there’s any real similarity between FFIX and these books, but it feels right. Also, if it takes you longer than four hours to read this it means your eyes are broken or I’ve written much more than I expected.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about these books. My immediate thoughts after finishing the novels are here:

The Name of the Wind

The Wise Man’s Fears

Also, worth knowing that there be spoilers here, so turn your head aside if you’ve not read both of the novels currently published in this alleged trilogy.

Seriously, there are spoilers below. I wrote this and I even read it again. I talk about things that might ruin the books for you.

Stop reading!

I warned you, dummy.

 

The first novel came out to mass critical acclaim and mass sales. In fact, it sold so well that Rothfuss became a full time writer. It’s unusual for any writers to be able to leave their jobs behind, but even more unusual for someone to do it after one book, but Rothfuss was able to make that leap.

The second novel came out to much less critical acclaim but certainly as many sales, if not more.

The point is, just about everyone who read the first book loved it, including Ursula K Le Guin, Robin Hobb, and George RR Martin.

Seriously everyone.

The second book, on the other hand, seems to divide a lot of fans. A lot of people hate it. A lot. But still more love it.

I say all this because even after reading 1,700 pages over two books, I still don’t know how I feel about these books.

It would be hard for me to say I didn’t enjoy them. Or, rather: it would be a lie. I raced through these books. I acquired several sleepless nights while reading these books. I read the first one so long into the night by Chelsea’s side that I went through the batteries on my flashlight, which is why I finally bought a reading light thingy.

Clearly, I enjoyed reading these books. They’re two of the most addictive books I’ve read in a long time. Maybe ever, though Royal Assassin and Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb give them a run for their money.

The thing is, they work in a very peculiar way. They’re not really conflict driven. They’re pure character and world. It’s kind of remarkable, because the cast of characters throughout is weirdly fluid.

But let’s talk about the beginning.

The first fifty pages establish Kvothe as an innkeeper in a small town under an assumed name. He doesn’t play music or sing or tell stories. He just provides people with drink and food. The issue there is that the town is small and generally uninterested in his tavern. Few travellers ever visit and fewer stay. Few of the locals ever stop in for meals or ale. Kvothe lives there with Bast, his apprentice, of sorts.

Those few who do stop in often bring word from the world beyond the village. They talk about the heavy taxes, the way the patrolmen are no different from highwaymen who rob those who journey along the roads. The main difference, of course, is that the king employs them, giving their victims far less recourse. One story they bring with them is of a sort of monster in the woods.

Kvothe fights the monster and sustains some injuries. At the same time, he meets The Chronicler, a man of a bit of fame. He listens to and records the tales of the lives of heroes, royals, and generally incredible humans, then disseminates their story through the world.

As it turns out, the Chronicler’s been looking for Kvothe, as all seem to. Kvothe is a legend. a legend throughout the whole of the continent. At this point we don’t really know why, but it’s also not important.

Finally Kvothe agrees to tell Chronicler his story.

And this is where the novel begins, really. Somewhere around page fifty. From here the novel works on two fronts. The bulk of the text is Kvothe relaying the events of his life. The other front is the present.

While I like the moments set in the present, they’re pretty infrequent and not nearly as interesting as what’s happening in the past.

There are even moments when I think the novels should have dropped the device. Just begin with Kvothe relaying his story to the reader, because that’s really what this is, yeah? A first person narration intercut by third person narration set years after the narrative being told.

And though the novel could probably lose this element, I like the way it works. I think there’s a nice interplay between the past and the present, like in book two when Kvothe tells of his martial training. Because of the legends and because of the depth he goes to in explaining the martial arts of the Adem, we expect him to still be a great warrior. And then we watch him get beaten up quite easily. Sure, he’s fighting two men, but this is Kvothe! A man of legend!

What we see in these moments is the difference between who Kvothe is and who Kvothe the Legend is. One is indestructible. The other is only a man hiding from his fame, which is tied to his bounty.

But still, these fifty pages could easily be cut down to somewhere between twenty and three pages. I honestly think that’s true and would improve the beginning of the novel.

I mean, I read The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams, which has a 200 page intro to the novel. Like, the narrative more or less begins on page 200, but I think those initial 200 pages are actually essential to the story being told there.

This is different. This is just a problem with pacing.

But let’s look at what happens next.

Kvothe’s story begins in earnest and it’s beautiful. His childhood with his parents and his troupe. These are essential pages in understanding who Kvothe is, what the world is.

Rothfuss certainly could have began the novel at the Death of Kvothe’s parents, but that would have been a very different book, and our stomachs wouldn’t have dropped through the floor when young unsuspecting Kvothe returned to find everyone he knew dead and burnt and ravaged.

This is where we encounter what seems to be the antagonist of the trilogy: The Chandrian. Evil from legend, from stories so long ago they barely exist anymore. Creatures who were once men but now live on endlessly as a secret scourge across the world.

If this were your typical epic fantasy or heroic fantasy, the entire novel would be focused on this.

The ancient evil who killed our hero’s family and even burnt away his music, causing him to run and cower and hide as a streetkid, barely eking out a daily existence.

And, really, he spends much of the first two novels seeking for information about the Chandrian. That was, in part, why he went to the university at all. To scour their impossibly large library to find ancient words or any words that would shed some light on who and what and how they are, and maybe, more importantly, how to defeat them.

But this is sort of the conceit that the rest of his life revolves around, and while it may be his reason for coming to the university and certainly a reason for staying, the bulk of Kvothe’s story is spent learning and occasionally adventuring. But mostly there’s music.

Music is in his bones and it’s really the spine of his story. We come to learn how important music is not just for him as a person, his psychological health, but also for his livelihood and for making sense of his life.

It’s no accident that many of his most intelligent schemes come while he’s picking at his lute.

And this is where the novel folds back to the present. To a man who has no instrument, who rarely sings. A man so burning with music but with none left inside him.

Maybe.

Anyrate, Kvothe arrives at the university and essentially scams his way in, even though he’s fifteen, though most people who enter are much closer to twenty, if not over twenty.

The university is the fulcrum of his life. It’s where he makes a home and discovers who and what he is, as well as how and why the world is the way it is.

This is also where we come to an interesting thing about Kvothe. He is, in many ways, a Gary Sue, or at least has many of its signs and manners. Kvothe is legendary, as noted, but with good reason. He’s a genius mechanically, musically, and intellectually. He does things at fifteen that scholars at the university will never be able to manage.

If Rothfuss were a different writer, this would make the books unreadable.

But he sets up Kvothe with some serious tragic flaws as well as some flaws common to all teenagers. He’s brash and arrogant and rash and careless and carries around an immense temper. And while these are common flaws to humans, it should also be remembered that Kvothe is a genius, so the trouble he often finds himself in is the kind that only a genius can manage to find. Meaning, he gets into some seriously hairy and peculiar situations. Not necessarily life threatening, but often time just that.

We also come to learn how Kvothe is not the same as the legend. He dispels many of the exaggerations that grow around his name and even explains how they got their start. Often, he whispered the words into the air. At least initially. But as time goes on, many of his exploits take on a world of their own.

It’s similar to Harry Potter, in superficial ways. Harry is the Boy Who Lived and he accidentally survives and fights some serious stuff. While he didn’t set out to fight monsters and the like, he most certainly did do those things. It’s especially similar to Simon Snowlock from Tad Williams’ trilogy mentioned above.

To Simon, he’s just scraping by, barely surviving his encounters with elves, dragons, demons, and giants. To those who hear about what happened, he’s a hero from legend who slew a dragon, danced with elves, and made monsters and demons cower before him.

And since I brought up Harry Potter, I’ll talk about the similarities.

Someone could argue that Rothfuss wrote Harry Potter for adults. They wouldn’t be wrong in saying that, but they would be doing a disservice to both characters. It’s not like magic schools were invented in the 90s, and, really, the University in this world is much more similar to Le Guin’s Earthsea than it is to Hogwarts. Even the magic of this world are clearly direct descendants from the wizards of Roke. Not literally descended, but the ideas come heavily from Le Guin and share little similarity with Rowling.

So while the two are, on the surface, almost identical. In actuality, the two stories couldn’t be more different.

Anyrate, coming back from that digression–Kvothe does things that both promote a legend but also allow one to accidentally sprout up around him. He danced and made love to a god and survived to tell the tale. He called down fire and lightning to kill nearly twenty bandits when it seemed that all hope was lost. He wrote songs and letters that brought a queen to love him. He killed a dragon!

Kvothe manages to put himself in ridiculous circumstances and simply by virtue of surviving creates a legend complex and vast.

Only a genius teenager could get himself in this kind of trouble, but only a genius could find his way back out.

But the novels aren’t even about adventures. This is clear to me.

The books are about learning and understanding.

Even when a quest is given a hundred pages, most of that time is spent with Kvothe’s curiosity bringing him to new understandings, and only a handful of pages actually have anything to do with fighting or magic using or anything that a more traditionally told heroic fantasy would devote its heft to.

But Kvothe’s story is lethargic because, for him, the story of his life is not about the exploits. It’s about a child orphaned by demons discovering how the world works and finding a way to survive in it, while also making sense of the events of his own life and the many mysteries that fill the world and life itself.

I think this is most evident when Kvothe describes his journey from the university to Vintas. In one sentence, he describes being captured by pirates and escaping them and a shipwreck only to find himself penniless and nearly naked on the other shore.

That could be its own novel!

But here it’s a sentence. This is after some 400 pages of his time at the university and is followed by 500 pages of learning all the things that can’t be learnt within the confines of the university. Then he goes back to the university and we see how his exploits have actually broadened his education far more than an entire decade of study could have.

And even though I’ve written over 2,000 words already, I have yet to even touch on what the actual conflict is.

The novels set up the Chandrian as the antagonist, and he certainly has an adversarial relationship with Ambrose, a student and distant relative to the then king. But I think the real conflict of the novel are threefold and have surprisingly little to do with those obvious antagonists.

But before we get there, I’ll lay out a theory that’s probably been thought before.

As the novels move on, we come to learn that more and more members of the royal family are dying. Ambrose is known to be twelfth in line to the throne, if I’m not mistaken. This is pretty far from the throne, but the gap seems to be shrinking. Even in his early twenties, he enjoys a lot of power.

I imagine the king killed in this Kingkiller Chronicle is Ambrose, who gains the throne through some kind of nefarious dealings. There’s no real evidence that this will happen, but there is a kind of rising tide, I’d say. And we know some king has to die. Seems pointless for it to be someone we haven’t yet met in the novel.

I also think Kvothe hasn’t yet killed the king, but will, in the present, at some point in the third novel.

But maybe not.

Like I said, I don’t think that’s the real conflict.

The conflicts, as I see them are like this:

  1. Economic
  2. Understanding vs Ignorance
  3. Acceptance of life

I’ll unpack these.

The biggest and most everpresent conflict is the economic one. Kvothe is perpetually impoverished. Even at the end of the second novel, he’s certainly not wealthy, though he does enjoy much more economic freedom than he previously did.

But this is also the most interesting aspect of the novels. The true cost of education.

In this world, the only people able to go to the University are the children of nobility or wealthy merchants. There are exceptions, Kvothe being one of them, but, by and large, the price of attending the university would be staggering to the average person.

And that’s just the price of tuition. Rothfuss clearly acknowledges all the hidden prices of university. From the need to buy food and rent shelter, to the very real need to own ink, writing utensils, and paper to write on. More than that, we’re constantly reminded that Kvothe must even buy the components that make up the devices he builds and develops.

When he wants to make some gadget to be sold, he must first buy everything that goes into it, then spend X amount of hours building it.

Because of Kvothe’s poverty, we’re really tied into his resourcefulness. It’s what makes his exploits more believable: we already care so much about his ingenuity and watch him constantly hustle just to get enough money to survive the month and pay tuition at the end of the term.

Cost is constantly on Kvothe’s mind. He drinks water at the tavern when people buy him drinks so that he can split the cost of the drink with the tavern at the end of the night. He wears ragged and worn clothes because they’re all he has. If he rips them or bleeds into them or loses them, then he will have only the one shirt and trousers to wear until he can steal or acquire enough money in order to dress himself again. He must turn down invitations to the houses of nobility [which, incidentally, is one way for him to find economic freedom–by acquiring a rich patron for his music] simply because he knows he doesn’t have any clothes that wouldn’t insult the host. He has to haggle with everyone for everything. He manages to get shelter by being the inn’s on staff musical entertainment. He also gambles to make himself a bit of extra money. Always betting on himself in some skill measured in what amounts to magic. He has to deal with loansharks and criminals just to keep enough money in his pocket to keep attending university, which is the only home he’s known since his parents’ Death, the only place that can teach him what he needs to know to survive, to thrive, and to find out why the Chandrian does what the Chandrian does.

This, if nothing else, is the central conflict of the novels. Everything depends on Kvothe’s ability to acquire money so that he can deal with the more important conflicts, which, if not central, are at least more important to the story.

All of this effort is so he can learn and understand the world and life. This is the implicit conflict that gives real shape to the novel. What would a novel about a teenager constantly trying to scrape enough money to survive be if there wasn’t something larger?

Not to say that a novel about that wouldn’t be worth its weight, but it would certainly be a depressing tale.

Despite everything, I would call this, in general, a more optimistic version of fantasy. At least it feels that way as Kvothe tells is. Kvothe’s story is funny, exciting, fun, insightful, and addictive. Chronicler and Bast see the enjoyment he gains from recounting his life, from the nostalgia of the child and man he was.

Much as his life is full of pain and heartache, we really come to feel that exhilaration you get from learning something new, from overcoming difficult problems, from acquiring specific knowledge that turns out to open up a much broader understanding of the world, or at least presents an avenue to understanding much more than the specific thing learnt.

Many of Kvothe’s biggest problems come from his inability to figure something out or his inability to correctly see the context or even situation that he’s in the middle of.

His ignorance leads him into immense trouble at times, and because he’s a genius, the danger becomes exponentially greater.

It’s only through thought and discovery that he’s able to make it through.

This is not a heroic fantasy with a big brawling badass. It’s the story of a boy who must constantly be resourceful, who must constantly think his way out of every situation.

That’s why the bulk of these 1,700 pages is devoted to learning and problem solving. It’s really a novel of puzzles, but the puzzles are ones that he falls into by being arrogant and stubborn and careless.

And then we get the tone of the narrative, which is strongly shaped by the story happening in the present. Because though the narrative Kvothe is telling is optimistic in tone, the real tone of the novel is one of pessimism and despair.

Each book begins and ends with the narration telling us that Kvothe is a man waiting to die.

He has given up on life. He can smile about the legend the world thinks he is, but it’s clear he has no great love for the stories grown up and around him.

This is where Bast becomes a very interesting character. He’s dangerous and powerful and appears for a long time to be a harmless student, until we discover that he is actually an incredibly powerful creature called the fae, who is remarkably dangerous. It also becomes clear that he’s trying desperately to remind Kvothe the innkeeper that he actually is that legendary man who did all those amazing things.

He brought the Chronicler to the inn to make Kvothe tell his story. He hired the soldiers who beat up Kvothe, hoping Kvothe would dispatch them easily and in doing so remember who he really is and all the power he holds within him, even though it’s hinted that he may have lost his magical ability.

Kvothe wants to die. He’s accepted Death. He knows it’s coming for him, whether by the king’s hand or the Chandrian–it doesn’t seem to matter. What does matter is that Kvothe is without hope and has accepted this as a fact and internalised it so deeply that he no longer even sees himself as the man who sprouted those many legends.

It’s a very interesting element and certainly the only reason the narrative is split the way it is.

This third conflict is the real conflict of the novel.

Despite all the pages and time devoted to the Chandrian, the novel is really about present day Kvothe choosing to live.

There’s actually one more conflict in the novels, which may prove to be more important than expected.

that conflict is one of love.

Kvothe is hopelessly in love with Denna, who clearly cherishes his friendship and maybe even his love, but theirs is a complex relationship. It’s one familiar to me and so I feel very strongly for Kvothe.

But I think the real conflict with regard to this has to do with the absence of love and the desire to be loved.

Kvothe needs love. He needs it like blood in his veins. It’s what drives his music and his education. The hope that he’ll be able to share just moments with Denna, that she’ll maybe turn her gaze towards him and realise that he’s what she’s wanted all along.

And sometimes they’re close. But Kvothe, in doing what he thinks is right for Denna, transgresses on her personhood and her desires.

It’s uncomfortable to experience because you know he so deeply intends to do right by her but is so hopelessly doing it all wrong.

It’s about misunderstanding. It’s two people sanding on either side of a river and staring at the water but seeing completely different things.

This is actually an idea that sprouted up in the writing of this essay and wasn’t really something I thought of as central to the novel, but it very well could fold back and be much of the reason why Kvothe is no longer the Kvothe of Legend. Why he is now Kvothe the Despondant, the Heartbroken, the Defeated, the Hopeless.

He lost his love. He lost all that was left to him, and so he gave up his music, gave up his magic, gave up his skill, and has become a simple innkeeper waiting for Death to find him.

This will be an interesting element of the third novel and why I think most people will be disappointed by it.

You already see the reviews of the second novel: Nothing happens.

Well, that’s one way of looking at the story, but I think it’s something where expectations don’t match intention. Because, in many ways, not a lot does happen, and what does happen is very episodic. But that’s if you’re looking at this story as a sequence of prominent events, which is not the way the story’s being told.

This is the story of a life, and a life is more than just the big moments. A life is really defined by the thousands of quiet little moments, and that’s exactly what Rothfuss captures so perfectly.

I believe people will be disappointed with the third book because they’re going to expect a resolution to the two explicit conflicts: the Chandrian and Ambrose.

I think the resolution to both of those will happen, but not at all in the way that many readers are expecting or want. I think they’ll expect and hope for a conclusion that leads to the destruction of the Chandrian or at least some way of neutralising them, and I think the same will be true of the Ambrose conflict.

But I imagine Kvothe doesn’t kill the Chandrian. Evil doesn’t get vanquished in life. It simply goes on.

The poor rarely rise above the nobility, especially when it’s one man–genius or not–who stands against one of the most powerful nobles in the land.

I think the real conflict in this novel is Kvothe’s hopelessness.

We know he’s now economically secure–possibly even wildly wealthy.

We know he knows quite a lot, though it’s implied that he’s lost his ability to enact that knowledge, which is an interesting discrepancy and something that’s both peculiar and awesome about Rothfuss’ magic system.

So I believe the first two conflicts I laid out above [economic and knowledge vs ignorance] are implicitly answered by the fact that Kvothe still lives. He certainly doesn’t understand everything and he may be unsatisfied with his ignorance, but that’s not what caused him to collapse into despair.

No, I think the despair comes from the absence of love, or the fact that he lost it. Possibly lost Denna permanently or in such a way that Kvothe believes is irreconcilable. Possibly, even, she’s dead, and her Death is at least directly or indirectly caused by Kvothe’s actions.

So how does Kvothe learn to live again?

Well, that’s what we hope to find out.

But I do think that this trilogy that began with so much acclaim and love from readers, writers, and critics will deliver something that many will find deeply unsatisfying. They’ll feel betrayed by what they believe was a promise when the Chandrian were introduced.

It may even impact the rest of his career, but I imagine there will be enough who still love it to push him through to his next project.

Probably you’re wondering why I wrote so much about a trilogy that’s been read by very few people that I know. It’s a fair question, considering I’ve never devoted so many words to any other book or series of books on here, but I’ve come to understand important things about this trilogy and about books in general by writing it out.

Because this has been my struggle with these books. I clearly enjoyed them, was addicted to them, but wasn’t sure if they’re even good or if I even actually like what they’re doing. Also, I want to understand how he can write so many words that involve so little explicit narrative movement or even direction and become both a critical darling and a bestseller and write something that I couldn’t put down.

I think I’ve come to at least some of these answers.

But most importantly, I think it’s fair to say that I truly love these books.

I hope everyone I know reads them some day.

But mostly, I hope the third book comes out this year, as I believe it will [despite the absence of evidence].

For now, I’ll keep thinking, keep writing, and hopefully find a way to take all these lessons and apply them to my own writing.

Because that’s what this is all about, yeah? Taking the best lessons, stealing them, tucking them into your inside coat pockets, and running back to your own worlds to make them richer, deeper, more beautiful.

 

on writing books no one wants

I’ve written several novels now. Six in their final form, and I have a few others in various states of disrepair and incompletion. Two of my novels have been published, with another one coming out in a few months. It’s hard to say if anyone actually wants any of these books, though.

Mostly I want to talk about Twilight of the Wolves, which I knew would be a hard sell at first, which is why I’m offering a free novella to those who buy a paperback edition, and why the kindle version is currently $2.99. Even with all that, it looks like no one’s biting, which is, admittedly, quite disappointing. I think there are a few very big reasons for this.

I think part of it has to do with my built in audience, which is made up of the indie lit crowd. I deeply love these people and I appreciate everything they’ve done for me, and I’ve made some great friends within that community. The issue is, I suppose, that it’s a pretty small market, and that few of them have the money or desire to buy everything that comes out. But, I mean, who can do that? But the real point is that no indie authors are making a living off their words, which is why so many are also professors or currently in programs that will lead to them gaining teaching positions. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but it means that your audience is ridiculously small, and largely in conversation with itself. This means very little of what’s published by and within the community reaches past it to casual readers, or even the larger arena of readers, which is a small market to begin with. So what we have, in a sense, is the smallest market within a very small market. It means that very few, if any of us, are selling that many copies of our books. There are exceptions, I’m sure, and there are those who get a lot of great critical attention, especially lately. But I’m not sure how that translates to sales, but I’m sure Two Dollar Radio sells better than most publishing houses of that size because of how much attention their books get, which is a testament to the authors there and to the Obenaufs.

Part of the indie community’s mentality is the importance of high artistic appeal, which typically means that most of the books fall into the experimental or literary genres. Often times both. We love strong prose that plays with form and structure. I think many of the readers within the community don’t have much interest in genres like science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and horror. There are exceptions, of course, but many of those writers who write genre but are critically beloved are considered transcenders–those who reach past the shabby limits of genre fiction and tap into the literary genre. Thinking of people like Brian Evenson and Matt Bell, though there are certainly others. By and large, the indie community is interested in literary fiction, which is exemplified by the presses associated with the community. I can’t think of any publishing houses that actively seek SF/F, though a few want horror. And it’s not that they necessarily discourage SF/F, but that’s not their audience, and they don’t really want to be a part of that conversation.

Also, before I get too far, I’ll just say this is all how I perceive the community [which should be obvious] and is in no way meant as a definitive description. If there are indie presses doing SF/F, I’d love to see them! Mixer Publishing is one, but I’m not sure how many others there really are. And that’s not to say that there aren’t indie genre publishers. It means that they’re not really a part of the indie lit community, as I understand it. Also, I’m not going to talk about journals or magazines, because that’s absurd to even discuss. For every ten writers, there’s a journal that exists.

Anyrate, moving past the community–which is the audience I can tap into most readily because I’m a member of the community–let’s take a look at the genre readers.

One peculiar thing I discovered when trying to mail ARCs to different magazines and websites for review or interview opportunities, I largely met a wall of disinterest. Most genre publications won’t even look at a book if it’s not published by a SFWA publisher, which puts a huge limit on your ability as an indie author to tap into that market. Beyond that issue, many genre readers are looking for more commercial fiction, something fun and exciting that’s also full of big ideas and complex morality. What they’re typically less interested in is difficult prose. What genre readers want is an open door that leads to a headlong race, a house of mirrors, or a labyrinth. I disagree with everyone who says that genre readers don’t want to be challenged by their books, because that’s just completely untrue and absurd. It is true, however, that they’re less interested in how you can play with the structure of a sentence. They want clear and clean prose that allows them into the complexity of the world you’ve created, where they can wrestle with the philosophical, social, and moral implications of your narrative. A Song of Ice & Fire isn’t difficult to read, but it’s an incredibly complex series of novels. The same is true of MalazanThe Book of the New Sun, The Dispossessed, and Neveryon. And even despite the disinterest in complex or experimental sentences, I think you’ll find few writers more talented than Gene Wolfe, Ursula K Le Guin, and Samuel R Delany, even on a sentence by sentence reading.

Anyrate, so these are the two worlds that Twilight of the Wolves is dealing with. In one, there’s a small built in audience, but the word fantasy cast a dark cloud over the novel. Then there’s the genre audience, which is huge, but is largely disinterested in books published by independent literary presses.

And Twilight of the Wolves very much falls between these two worlds. It’s an experimental novel with sometimes very caustic and aggressive and lyrical prose. It’s rooted in the postcolonial and surreal, and is a subversion of the fantasy genre while being firmly and definitely in dialogue with the fantasy tradition. It’s postmodern and it has a tricky structure with lots of surrealism and difficulty to overcome. It’s a book that demands you learn how to read it and rise to the challenge it presents.

Both of the reviews published about Twilight of the Wolves very much misunderstand even what happens in the novel. Both reviews didn’t even realise that a third of the novel is narrated by a character because of that character’s inability to use personal pronouns or speak aloud. I was grateful for both reviews and it made me proud that both of them loved the book so much. It didn’t even bother me that they missed what I think is a very important part of the book. The novel, though I often think of it as being very straightforward [lying to myself, surely], presents many challenges to the reader, and because of the thickness of the prose, it makes discovering the actual narrative a challenge I wasn’t expecting. And I’ve received only very positive feedback from the novel. People who read it and give themselves to it seem to truly love what’s happening.

But on the otherside of this literary/experimental/postmodern leaning, there’s the fantasy. This is very much a fantasy novel. I stand firmly by that. This is a world I’ve been dreaming my whole life, and it’s purely genre, despite the literary tricks and the playing with form. It’s a reaction to the tradition, but also a continuation of the tradition. I believe people who love George RR Martin, Gene Wolfe, Samuel R Delany, Joanna Russ, Ursula K Le Guin, and China Mieville will really love this novel. And while it’s silly for me to compare myself to any of them, I think I learnt a lot from each of them. Kyle Muntz once told me that the novel reminded him of Thomas Pynchon, but I always think the novel is much closer to Earthsea and Neveryon, and sort of the flipside of Game of Thrones, in that we’re only looking at the people at the bottom. The focus isn’t on kings and knights and ladies and prophecies. We’re looking at orphans: a eunuch, the only survivor of a plague, and a man cursed by a god. They’re powerless, and they don’t rise through the social or military ranks of the world. Instead they try to escape it entirely.

But this isn’t escapism. I didn’t think of it while I wrote it, but this book is very much influenced by Edward Said, Eduardo Galeano, Noam Chomsky, Taoism, Shintoism, and transcendentalism. Though this novel takes place on a different planet, in a very different solar system, it’s rooted in humanity, and its only real question remains: what does it mean to be human?

This, more than any of my other novels, is about what it means to live, which was the original title, and it’s the title I still think of it having. To Live.

And so I’ve written a difficult book that very few people want to read, but it’s the most perfect artistic expression I’ve yet created. It’s the novel that is perhaps most deeply me, most deeply autobiographical, most deeply everything I’ve ever loved and hated.

It will challenge you and perhaps it’s not worth it to you, but this is the book I had to write, and there are many more books set in this world, and they’ll likely all hit this same nebulous inbetween. Being both literary and fantasy, but belonging to neither.

I always knew this was going to be a difficult sell, but I really am disappointed with how it’s selling, and maybe I shouldn’t be. Maybe I should be focusing on how those who read it love it. But I guess I expected more for it. It’s difficult putting your whole heart and life into a book and then watching it struggle to stay afloat in the ocean.

I stepped into this year hoping to become a full time writer. I’ve given up on that, I think. It’s very unlikely that this will sell much better. There’s a huge market for it, especially since Game of Thrones entered our television screens, but tapping into that giant market is no easy task, and it’ll likely be a few more books till I’m there, but this is where my heart is, which is sometimes strange to think about. I walked so deeply into the indie lit community only to realise the books I wanted to write didn’t belong there. I mean, I have a few books that still fit quite nicely there, and I think Noir: A Love Story is perfect for that crowd, so look for that in a couple months. July.

But I am disappointed, and I think that I may be shrugging off a lot of this extra stuff I’m doing and just get back to writing. My time has become split by a thousand obligations, and I want to cutoff most of those, and probably will soon. I need to focus back on the words and fight for these books.

So, for now, if you’re still reading this, there’s the promotion I’m doing for the month of April where you can get a novella with Twilight of the Wolves for free. After April, I think I’ll be going underground for a while and just focusing on what really matters with this whole writing business: the words.

something special for april

Twilight of the Wolves was released on Friday but now it’s April, and because it’s April, I decided to do a little special offer. So, for the entire month of April, when you buy any edition of Twilight of the Wolves I’ll also send you a digital copy of Girl with Ears & Demon with Limp.

It’s that simple. Just buy the book, show me the receipt, and I’ll get you my novella as well.

I thought this would be fun thing to do, and since they take place in the same world, I think they complement each other quite well as they both play with surrealism and fantasy. But, yeah, spread the word and buy a copy!

If you want more information about these two books, you can find them at their related pages:

Girl with Ears & Demon with Limp

Girl With Ears & Demon With Limp is a fast-paced, surreal rendition of a Medieval tapestry. Set within an infinite castle, from which a young wolven girl and an insane man wish to escape, it’s Kafka turned inside out. And like Kafka, these characters are seeking to make meaning for themselves in a world where meaning has vacated for other lands.

Christopher Barzak, author of Before & Afterlives

edward j rathke has given us a fable bright with language, an adventure story, a coming-through-pain endurance test – but most of all, a lovely and touching tale about the place two forgotten outcasts make for themselves in the world.

Amber Sparks, author of May We Shed These Human Bodies

Twilight of the Wolves

Like a Terrence Malick film set in a universe as rich as Game of Thrones, Twilight of the Wolves is a different kind of fantasy novel: endlessly inventive, thoughtful, and almost painfully beautiful.

–Kyle Muntz, author of VII and Green Lights

Twilight of the Wolves is an unusual and poetic epic fantasy, with a world, civilizations, and mythologies all of its own, yet unmistakably reminiscent of our past and current world. Best of all, Twilight of the Wolves puts on center stage the people and socioeconomic classes who are often marginalized, suppressed, or overlooked in other types of epic fantasy and secondary worlds, in a passionate and compassionate study of love, languages, and humanness.

Berit Ellingsen, author of Beneath the Liquid Skin

coverdraft3 Twilight of the Wolves - Edward J. Rathke

twilight of the wolves released today

Twilight of the Wolves - Edward J. Rathke

It’s finally available! Buy Twilight of the Wolves and earn my forever love! If you want to read more about the novel, click over to the page devoted to it where you can find reviews and so on. It’s being released by Perfect Edge Books, the brainchild of Phil Jourdan.

Blurbs:

–Kyle Muntz, author of VII and Green Lights

Twilight of the Wolves is an unusual and poetic epic fantasy, with a world, civilizations, and mythologies all of its own, yet unmistakably reminiscent of our past and current world. Best of all, Twilight of the Wolves puts on center stage the people and socioeconomic classes who are often marginalized, suppressed, or overlooked in other types of epic fantasy and secondary worlds, in a passionate and compassionate study of love, languages, and humanness.

Berit Ellingsen, author of Beneath the Liquid Skin

I think these two blurbs capture exactly how it feels to me, and exactly what it means to me. I’ve always said that I’m more influenced, stylistically, by film than I am by literature, and I’ve always strived to capture that beautiful cinematic poetry of Terrence Malick, and I think, with this novel, I finally reached it. It’s an aesthetic I’ve worked for years to reach, and Twilight of the Wolves is the most perfect representation of that. And then there’s all the postcolonialism surging up through the cracks in the novel. My whole life is in this novel. My entire heart. I’m so immensely proud of it that I want to share it with the entire world, but a part of me fears no one will love or understand it.

So, yeah, I hope you love it. I’d recommend it to fans of experimental and postmodern literature as well as people who just love fantasy. It’s everything I ever wanted one of my novels to be and I’m so very proud of it.

Kyle Muntz also had this to say today over on the book of faces:

I’d add that this book stretches fantasy to the limit–with beautiful writing, formal experimentation, lots of feeling, and a profound look at themes of post-colonialism and sexuality–while always remaining true to the genre, which I think is really important and difficult to do.

Basically: I hope everyone takes a look at this book. I think anyone who does will definitely enjoy it.

So don’t just take my word for it! Mostly, I hope people just give it a chance. I’ve found that publishing a fantasy novel on a literary press is sort of a marketing tool fighting against itself. Literary minded folk aren’t interested and fantasy folk think it’s too high-minded, or something. I think it’s a blending of the two, and I hope it’s enjoyable to fans of both high literary genre and gritty fantasy.

It’s not a book for everyone, but I think it should work well for fans of Ursula K Le Guin, Samuel R Delany, Gene Wolfe, China Mieville, Steven Erikson, and George RR Martin.

Also, join me tomorrow night for my first and maybe last reading ever at The Beat Coffeehouse in Uptown, Minneapolis.

And now promotion for the next novel already begins. I have some amazing secret news about that too.

so much selfpromotion

Makes you feel weird about yourself. Or it makes me feel weird about myself. It’s bad for the heart.

I think, for now, I’ve posted enough about Girl with Ears & Demon with Limp and Twilight of the Wolves, though I got some cool feedback and words about both yesterday.

I have some work I need to catch up on. This week has been difficult, to say the least. Hearts are fragile things. It started on a pretty unhappy note, and I don’t know if it’s getting better, but I feel like I’m able to be more productive today. Hoping to finish Part One of 13 Angels Screaming at the Mountain, which has been forcibly pushed aside for a couple weeks, despite my best efforts. After that, I want to start on the graphic novel.

Let’s talk about movies, since it’s been awhile since I posted about what I’ve been watching. I’ve been keeping up with my movie a day schedule, sometimes watching a few each day, and since I’ve watched so many since last posting about them, I’ll just do brief recaps, because none of them have been very exceptional.

Rewatched the entire Lord of the Rings in a marathon with the roommates. What’s funny about watching them all back to back is that you really get to see all the problems with them. The first one is clearly the best, and only because it’s structured just like a horror film, and uses a lot of horror techniques. The problems with the following two are related to their success and the time between releases. I think Jackson probably went back in with all the new money and tried to make them more epic high fantasy in tone, which also made them sort of hokey and awkward. Some of the funniest moments happen whenever the main characters encounter any other character. No one ever has a normal conversation, or even interaction. Everything’s piled with awkward and bizarre. Legolas is constantly saying the strangest things you’ll ever hear anyone say, and it all seems so out of nowhere. And then he’s always looking around, shiftyeyed. I can’t remember what else was funny/weird about it, but there are a lot of things. Everything in those films is super weird.

The Man of Tai Chi has some super awesome action sequences intercut with Keanu Reeves proving that he’s an alien. He clearly was raised by wolves and only learnt to speak human language as an adult, and he learnt from zeroing in on William Shatner’s Captain Kirk. Stick around for the fight scenes, but pay attention to Reeves. It’s the closest we’ll get to a truly alien performance.

Project A is awesome because Jackie Chan is awesome.

Rewatched The Dark Knight and it’s still awesome, and it’s really awesome in comparison to Equilibrium, which I watched for the first time a few days after. That movie is just hilariousbad.

Thor: The Dark World is as silly as the original, but it lacks the purposeful humor. Everyone’s still always wearing armor, and really weird armor, at that, but this time everything’s so serious. It really cripples the film. It always seemed weird to me that Kenneth Brannagh directed the first Thor, but now I see what he really added to it. He knew how to handle inherently silly material, but he gave us stakes that we sort of cared about by making us enjoy the characters. This new one’s too serious and, well, silly.

Airplane is just silly in a lot of the right ways, but, I mean, it has sort of 70s casual racism and sexism, so there’s that. But it’s hard to take anything in that movie seriously, as it’s just a series of gags and oneliners.

Cutie and the Boxer is a great documentary about art, and the sacrifices it leads to. It tore their family apart, but they’re still together, sort of wallowing in misery. It’s tough to watch at times because you realise what’s happened to them and why, but it’s also full of beautiful moments. It shows love in all it’s horror and perfection, which are often happening at the same time.

I can’t remember what else I’ve watched. Mostly silly things and action movies. Sometimes you need that.

Now to get back to the real work.

I’m lagging behind.

recent things with publishing

All right, so there are a lot of things to note in here. I’ll start with other people’s business and work my way to my own things.

J David Osborne, the man behind Broken River Books, has his short story collection currently available for free on the kindle.

Jeremy Robert Johnson has a sampler available on the kindle for just one dollar.

The awesome Chris Deal has his first full length collection available for just a few dollars on kindle.

Cameron Pierce has something very cool for free on the kindle right now.

It’s been a hectic time for free things on the kindle lately, and I don’t know really how to keep up. I have lots of reviewing to do soon, which means I have lots of reading to do now.

Anyrate, onto me.

Twilight of the Wolves - Edward J. RathkeI’m sure most of you are now aware that my novel Twilight of the Wolves is coming soon. If you want to get it early, you can check out the Goodreads Giveaway, or you can review it for SF Signal or Heavy Feather Review. There are several other places I’d love to see it reviewed at, and if you’re interested in doing that, please contact me, because I have a book with your name on it! And, if you’re willing to wait, you can simply pre-order it on Amazon.

 

 

coverdraft3As a sort of companion piece to Twilight of the WolvesI’ve released Girl with Ears & Demon with Limp, which is set in the same world, but is intended for a YA audience. It’s a novella available for one dollar on the kindle, for this month. I hope you love it. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve written recently.

 

 

 

 

In a few months, I’ll also be releasing an illustrated paperback version with artwork done by the amazing Jazmyn Mares. Here’s  a quick sketch she did of the protagonist of Girl with Ears & Demon with Limp:

I’m crazy excited for that version to become real and alive for everyone. The story will remain the same, but it’ll have beautiful works of art inside.

Also, this is the first part of a series that’ll probably stretch for about ten novellas following her life. I’m excited to write the rest of it, and even more excited now that I have such amazing artwork to work with.

Up next, working on a graphic novel with Jazmyn and finishing my giant monster novel, which I’ve had to take a frustratingly long break from, because I need to make money sometimes.

So it goes. But, yeah, what else?

the next big thing

So several people have tagged me in this sort of thing and I’m meant to do it [meant to do it yesterday/a week ago yesterday] as it seems everyone’s doing it. Just about everyone I know has already done this so I won’t be tagging anyone else. Anyrate: selfinterview!

1) What is the working title of your next book?

To Live

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea came from a thousand different ideas falling into the same idea. I’ve been planning, in a sense, a new world for most of my life. It’s going to be the setting for several novel[la]s and sort of what all of this is for, all the writing: to one day be good enough to create a new world, new lives. And so everything and everyone has fallen into it, from way back when I wanted to be a cartoonist or a videogame designer [when I was, like, ten to fourteen] all the way up to now. It’s built on a mythology that all my other books, the ones that take place in the real or realer world follow.

But, anyway, it was meant to be a quick 20,000 words about a man who accidentally becomes a demon and the little girl who follows him through the world while a war occurs offscreen while an ascetic castrated monk follows them. It ballooned well past 20,000 up nearer to 100,000 words and I think I managed to capture everything I meant to do, even if it took me five times as long to do it.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Fantasy. It’s sort of an inverted epic fantasy taking place in a steampunk world. There are dragons and gods and angels and demons and species between human and animal and airships and metallic men and wizards and people of various races and cultures and technologies. It’s about imperialism and war and Death and dying and living and what it means to be human–especially that. To be human.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

There are essentially three characters that the novel follows and one of them begins at infancy and goes well into old age so I’ll just stick to them.

Sao, who the novel circles around though I wouldn’t really say the novel’s about him. He’s the core in a lot of ways. Anyway, hard to say exactly who should play him. He’d have to be an asian actor and I suppose he’d have to be played by a few actors as we begin at his infancy and move into adulthood. I’d prefer the actors to be Japanese because that’s what his culture is modelled after, so maybe Joe Odagiri as an adult. As a child I would’ve said Yuya Yagira but he’s an adult now, too, so maybe he could play Sao as an adult.

Aya would be played by a few actresses starting in childhood and moving to adolescence and then old age. As a child I’d pick Quvenzhane Wallis and as an old woman I’d choose Toni Morrison and just pretend she’s an actress.

My nameless monk could be played by just about anyone because he needs to be somewhat androgynous, hairless, and pure looking because he never says a single word until. Maybe Cillian Murphy fifteen years ago. I’d have to find some unknown, probably. Maybe that little kid from The Road.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In a world where gods still live and dream, To Live is a story about language and love, mythology and morality, and what it means to be human as it follows three people’s journey through a world torn apart by war.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Those aren’t really the same things, but it won’t be selfpublished, though I’ve no idea who’ll publish it, though. Hopefully someone cool and somewhere I can be proud.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Two weeks.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Hm, in a sense you could think of it as George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire told only from perspectives of those without power. Imagine one of those novels narrated by a kitchen maid or a farmer or a vagabond and you’d sort of get a feeling of it. It’s a bit more contemplative, maybe a bit in the vein of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun or Samuel R Delany’s Neveryon. It’s concerned more with simply what happens on the page or even what’s expressed by the characters. It’s a novel about the disenfranchised, I suppose.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My whole life. Everything has been leading to me finally diving into this world, as I said above. This is the first novel there, but I’ve several short stories and a novella that also take place there with many more novel[la]s and stories to follow. It’s a world and now we live in it and though the stories aren’t explicitly connected, they all happen across the same globe, in different countries and continents and time periods. It’s been inspired by everything I’ve ever read and watched and listened to. Every videogame I ever played, every novel I’ve fallen in love with, every song I couldn’t get out of my head, every time the world seemed like too much, every time I feared I was too dissimilar, too foreign, too everything I wasn’t meant to be. It’s my whole life and it’s To Live.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Dragons fly, gods die, new ones are born, war everywhere, love here and there, sprinkles of happiness in a world where little goes right. It’s a novel about hope, and, because of that, it’s tragic, but hopefully beautiful. It’s the most realised thing I’ve written. It’s what I’m most proud of and it means the world to me. I typed through tears, through nausea, through pain, all selfinduced. I love every word in it and I’m afraid of every space between them.

To me, it’s perfect and I hope one day you’ll see it.