Rothfuss V Ruocchio: How to Write a Hugh Jass Series
"The Name of the Wind" versus "Empire of Silence."
Can you call someone an author if they haven’t published anything in a hugely long time? Was Harper Lee still an author after so many decades of not writing anything new? At what point did she become “the lady who wrote that one book” instead of actively being an author?
It’s relevant in the case of Patrick Rothfuss, whose debut novel hit shelves in 2007, followed by a huge sequel in 2011…and then nothing. Well, there was a short book from another character’s perspective, but it hardly counts as it doesn’t really add to the overall narrative of the saga. It’s just established events from another POV, published as an excuse to quell the rustling ranks of readers who were tired of waiting for The Next Book. That was nine years ago.
Contrast that with Christopher Ruocchio, who wrote a book of similar length to kick off his publishing career in 2018. Unlike Rothfuss, Ruocchio then proceeded to publish a book of increasing length every single year, plus novellas set in the same world, and short stories for a variety of anthologies.
As I just recently finished my third reading of EMPIRE OF SILENCE, thoughts on comparing these two men started to percolate in my brain pain. They have a lot in common as far as their work goes. What’s different is key, though: Ruocchio is a workhorse, and doesn’t give up.
Both men have written protagonists who are at the ends of their careers, and are reflecting on their origins. They’re telling stories for future generations so that their own account of their deeds is there for posterity.
Rothfuss’ book THE NAME OF THE WIND is 722 pages. Ruocchio’s EMPIRE OF SILENCE is 768. Rothfuss gives us the fantasy magician “Kvothe,” while Ruocchio gives us Hadrian Marlowe, the Sun Eater, a space warlord who destroyed an entire star because he had to.
Kvothe starts out as a traveling minstrel with his family. He’s out farting around in the woods one night when a bunch of mysterious demon-like folks called the Chandrian show up to kill his parents. Kvothe can’t find the Chandrian after they disappear, so he goes and enrolls in Not-Hogwarts so he can learn magic, so he can kill the Chandrian later.
Hadrian is on the run from his noble family, wanting to forge his own life for himself, so he steals some money and goes into cryosleep on a pirate starship, destined for a distant planet. Only problem is he wakes up in a trash heap without his money, not knowing what planet he’s on or what happened to the pirates he hired. They’re gone. What follows is a day-to-day quest for survival, and a desire to stay off the radar of official Space Police Guy channels. He doesn’t want his dad to find him.
Rothfuss goes on to frustrate his readers by not getting Kvothe any closer to the Chandrian by the end of book 1. He doesn’t get any closer by the end of book 2 either, and that’s 1120 pages. I haven’t yet read HOWLING DARK, the sequel to EMPIRE, but I’ve been reliably informed by longtime reader Kenny Parrish that Hadrian doesn’t figure out how he ended up on the Trash Planet in that one. And it’s 800 pages.
Here’s the thing though: I’m not worried. I have a reasonable amount of confidence that I can get an answer, because Ruocchio is still writing the series. He’s published every year since 2018. The fifth book dropped back in December, and he’s under contract with a new publisher to get the sixth one out in hardcover.
These books are all 500-800 pages long. Every year he is cranking one out. That man is doing the damn work. That’s not even counting the two novellas and the collections of side stories he’s published in the meantime.
Patrick Rothfuss is making bogus charity pledges to his legion of readers who inexplicably continue to give him the benefit of the doubt, while Christopher Ruocchio delivers over and over and over again.
I find that level of grit and productivity to be more than a little admirable. It’s why I’m grinding through the series this year. My library has most of the audiobooks and I can use Audible credits to get the rest of them. Now, if I get to the end and we still never find out why Hadrian got dumped on Trash Planet, I’ll be a little miffed, and I’ll say something about it. For now, I’m not worried.
One final note: Kvothe and Hadrian both simp hard for a middling female lead, and the story slows down a LOT when she shows up. It’s another exercise in “Hey here’s something else you want to know about, and I’m not going to tell you what it is.” A little bit of bait and fishing here and there is fine, but man…don’t burn the goodwill of your readers. Like I said, I’ve read EMPIRE three times. 2018, 2020, 2023. All three times, my interest plummeted the moment Valka showed up.
Again, I expect there will be some payoff. And in the meantime, Ruocchio’s prose is really, really readable. I like it. So I’ll keep at it.
I recommend you do as well.
(Content warning for language and violence, and some sexual content)