Everyone knows about Game of Thrones – seriously, everyone. Fantasy fiction fans can gloat that they’ve known about it since 1996, when George R. R. Martin published the first Thrones novel. The HBO series has steadily increased its audience and cultural impact since it debuted in April 2011. We all know the memes and jokes, and creative internet users constantly invent new ones.
Every time a big betrayal / murder / plot surprise happens, it’s all everyone talks about for a week. But all good things must come to an end eventually. So what will be the next Game of Thrones? The next fantasy epic with a huge cast, rich plot, lush production values, and addictive storyline? The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss. It is The One. Right now it consists of two brick-sized novels, The Name of the Wind (2007) and The Wise Man’s Fear (2011).
Two novellas set in this world are slated for publication by the end of 2014, and the third main volume, The Doors of Stone, has been completed in draft form. If you’re a fantasy fan, you probably know about The Kingkiller Chronicle already. But soon, like Game of Thrones, everyone will know it and love it. Here are six reasons why:
1. I see a pattern here — no, two patterns.
Game of Thrones benefits from being the current avatar of two big trends in popular culture: a) we love well-produced ensemble series with lots of intense drama and frequent shockers — see, for example, The Sopranos and Breaking Bad; and b) we love large-scale fantasy epics, now that computer graphics are advanced enough to fill any representational holes convincingly — see, for example, the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies. Game of Thrones pulls its viewership from both camps: those seeking an intense ongoing saga, and those seeking epic medieval-style fantasy. We’ve demonstrated our appetite for both; something will have to sate that hunger as Martin’s story winds down. My money’s on The Kingkiller Chronicle.
2. Its world is rich, persuasive, and amazing.
As this recent Sequart article discusses, worldbuilding — the invented world’s geography, languages, cultures, customs, magic systems, and technologies — proves of central importance in genre fiction such as fantasy. J. R. R. Tolkien coined the term “secondary belief” to describe the feeling, sought by all fantasy writers, that readers should feel toward created worlds. Everything should feel plausible, internally consistent, no less real than our own world. You should find yourself talking about Rivendell or King’s Landing like they’re places to which you’ve really traveled. Rothfuss’s “Four Corners of Civilization” inspires extraordinary secondary belief. Most of the world resembles ours, at a roughly late-medieval stage of development and population. The Four Corners are satisfyingly varied, too: bleak, crowded cities such as Tarbean; the University’s industrious, hushed bustle; main character Kvothe’s lonely country inn in the middle of nowhere; ship ports and cross-country roads and thickly forested mountain ranges. In the second book, The Wise Man’s Fear, the world opens wide again as Kvothe travels to its far side. And unlike Westeros, the Four Corners actually look inviting to visit!
Rothfuss’s magic system earns special praise in terms of secondary belief. Most of his magic is founded on the concept of “sympathy”; as with the small, so with the large. In other words, cast a spell linking the matchstick in your hand to the wood of a nearby barn, light the match, and watch the barn burn. Many riveting situations develop out of slight miscalculations of the forces involved. Sympathetic magic appears clearly delimited, systematic, learnable (at the University), and, above all, plausible. The other, rarer kinds of magic existing in the world remain elusive and intriguing: the (believably) evil Chandrian’s deathly, corrosive magic; the extremely complicated magic of runes cast on objects; and elemental magic activated by speaking the “true name” of things, magic that can only be learned by a kind of inspiration after extensive training.
3. The Tinker’s Packs website does good work.
In 2008, Patrick Rothfuss founded this website (The Tinker’s Packs), where he sells books, shirts, calendars, posters, and items depicted in his books (i.e. rings, sympathy lamps, musician’s pipes).
Now, at this point there was only one Kingkiller book in print, and only for a year; that in itself is a remarkable testament to the devotion Rothfuss’s works inspire. He wrote in his blog at the time:
“Earlier this year, I held what I thought was going to be a little photo contest. The response surprised me; hundreds of people sent in almost a thousand photos. People dressed up, stripped naked, and climbed onto rooftops. It was an eye opener for me. I realized that there were a lot of folks out there who *really* liked the book.”
Rather than milk it for all possible profit and personal attention (/cough/Martin/cough/), he decided to channel that fan enthusiasm for charity. From the site’s inception, he has given all proceeds to his favorite charity (Heifer International, which provides the poorest of the poor with milk).
4. Patrick Rothfuss is media-savvy.
He tweets. He Facebooks. He blogs. He played Lords of Waterdeep on Wil Wheaton’s internet gaming show Tabletop. Across all these venues, he maintains a persona of modest, easygoing good humor. He always wears jeans and geeky t-shirts. In his current Facebook cover photo, he pokes fun at the idea of his own celebrity.
And most importantly (considering what brought him fame in the first place): he still gets the writing done (/cough/Martin/cough/). He continually builds brand loyalty by making himself available, being a good guy, and delivering the pages. Last summer he toured Europe, and though he did anticipate large, enthusiastic crowds, he was still overwhelmed by fans’ response.
5. Rothfuss may be the Chosen One.
The Chosen One as a trope is worn quite smooth in fantasy fiction: Frodo Baggins, Harry Potter, Rand al’Thor, and a million others. But Rothfuss may be a Chosen One in real life. Consider: DAW Books published a 16-page mini-book giveaway in advance of The Name of the Wind. I received it in fall 2006, about six months before publication, packaged with Realms of Fantasy magazine. On the cover of the mini book was a quote from fantasy royalty Terry Brooks:
“The Name of the Wind marks the debut of a writer we would all do well to watch. Patrick Rothfuss has real talent, and his tale of Kvothe is deep and intricate and wondrous.”
Brooks wasn’t the only big name touting Rothfuss’s work before it was published. Tad Williams, Kevin J. Anderson, and Hugo award winner Robert J. Sawyer also willingly climbed aboard that bandwagon. Granted, most books (of every kind) solicit advance praise and do publicity work. But the attention lavished upon Rothfuss is so unusually star-studded and resources-intense as to point to a Chosen One.
6. The story is just that good.
Fantasy fiction often reads as flatly one-dimensional. Learning magic, fighting evil, maybe rescuing a damsel in distress — very little else. But The Kingkiller Chronicle’s storyline has something for everyone, and it all works wonderfully. There’s a Dickensian coming-of-age story, as we follow young Kvothe’s loss of both parents, rough years as an orphan begging in a big city, and finally washing up at the University. There’s the theme of live performance — both live theater and musical performance — woven intricately through the whole story; everyone who has ever trod the boards or nervously plucked at an instrument can relate to it. There’s the fascinating story of how Kvothe learned both languages and magic in the University’s pitch-dark library. There’s humor, and mystery (the terrifying Chandrian, and the mysterious girl Auri, about whom a novella is due this November), and triumph, and rivalry, and romance unrequited, and a dragon with a drug addiction (which totally makes sense in the context of the book!). There’s also a fascinating doubleness and self-consciousness worked into the story, as well: forty-ish Kvothe tells the story in the present, with the mysterious (fae?) character Bast at his side, to Devan Lochees, a.k.a. “Chronicler”. What we’re reading is what Kvothe narrates verbally, including hesitations, corrections, and “how do I tell this” comments. Kvothe’s narration contains many stories-within-the-story(-within-the-story). In short, this Chronicle has everything, and it will all play beautifully onscreen.
When and where? All we know is that New Regency and Twentieth Century Fox TV have bought the rights to the books in order to develop them for television. No timeline has been released. My best-educated guess is that The Kingkiller Chronicle will fade in just about the time Game of Thrones fades out, in a few years. Patrick Rothfuss’s epic fantasy will be the next big thing — so get ahead of the curve and read the books now!