In the late 2000s there were two years in a row when my sister sent me fantasy novels for Christmas. These are always welcome, and the choices both years were excellent and made a lasting impression on me, enough for me to consider them contemporary influences: books so good they raised the bar, made me realize I had to put a lot more work in if I was going to step into the same arena.
I regard the two books, and the authors, as halves of an intensely intimidating whole that I read back to back, as I managed to ignore the 2007 bookish present until after I had read the 2008 present.
2008 brought me Brent Weeks and the Night Angel Trilogy, a masterclass in relentless plot development. The narrative did not let me go. The cliffhangers seemed endless and forced me to keep turning pages. I simply had to know what was going to happen next! The acknowledgements pages were so wittily written I decided immediately to not bother with any of my own. I liked his honesty in the interview lodged at the back of the paperback, and the fact that Shakespeare was an influence – how can he not be?
But back to the books. The trilogy did a fantastic job of introducing its ideas, building on them, and using them to fuel the fire of further dramatic twists and dilemmas. I have not read them in a long time now, but the bones remain ingrained in my memory. The characters live, the problems are immediate, the storytelling infectious and, beneath the hood, brilliantly structured. I really wondered after reading the trilogy if I could possibly match his achievement.
Then I picked up the gift from 2007, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Damn. The writing is beautiful. The world just so alluring. The framing deceptively simple. But the writing, the writing is just exquisite. I don’t often weep at the greatness of a sentence, but when I do, it’s probably from Patrick Rothfuss. If Alan Moore is correct, and artists and the tellers of stories are magicians, that the power of words is in their ability to alter the consciousness of others, and that power is not something to be abused or treated lightly, then Patrick Rothfuss is a magician. His words are placed together with utmost care for absolutely maximum impact. His prose is magical, making reading a joy even as challenging ideas are sprinkled innocuously through the text. He can take as long as he wants to get Kingkiller Vol. 3 right, because outside of Conrad and David Foster Wallace I have not encountered a writer who so perfectly crafts his work.
The combined effect of these two writers upon me was quite profound. I didn’t write for over a year. I didn’t see the point, they had every base covered between them, and I could not hold a fricken’ candle to the monster that those combined books became in my mind. I forgot that every voice has its place, and the choir of humanity welcomes many voices . Eventually I remembered, when I looked over a two page fragment of an idea I had written in 2005, and it sparked something in me, so in one afternoon I turned it into a 34 page outline for The Thief and The Demon.
As a result I consider these two authors to be strong influences upon my own work. I had to recover from them, and learn again to have faith in my own voice after being so thoroughly blown away by theirs. It was difficult at the time, but I am a better and stronger writer for it.