Good Minds Suggest—Patrick Rothfuss's Favorite Works of World-Building

Posted by Goodreads on November 5, 2014
Patrick Rothfuss

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Patrick Rothfuss knows a thing or two about building credible fantasy worlds. The author's bestselling series, The Kingkiller Chronicle, is one of the most acclaimed fantasy series of recent decades, with its intricate portrayal of the magic-steeped Four Corners of Civilization. It's little surprise, then, that when asked for his list of book recommendations, the Wisconsin-based writer chose "world building" as the theme for his picks. Rothfuss recently fleshed out his own fantasy realm with a new novella, The Slow Regard of Silent Things, which focuses on one of the secondary players in Kingkiller—fans who devoured parts one and two of his projected trilogy, The Name of the Wind, and its sequel, The Wise Man's Fear, will have to wait just a little longer for the third installment. Luckily, however, they can distract themselves with the fellow master world builders Rothfuss highlights below.

The Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson (Goodreads Author)
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"In the Mistborn Trilogy (the first three books), Sanderson creates a fantasy world unlike anything I've ever run into: an eminently believable nigh-apocalyptic, totalitarian-feudal, semi-industrial society with a marvelously elegant and well-defined system of magic. Then Sanderson wrote another book, same world but 400 years later. Society and technology have progressed, and now it's a quasi-Victorian frontier western. But here's the kicker: He's still using the same magic as before because it's part of the world. Sanderson plans to keep evolving the culture and technology until it's futuristic. Meaning the world he originally wrote as epic fantasy will become sci-fi, all the while holding true to the rules of magic he originally created. That's serious world building. "


The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (Goodreads Author)
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"Building a completely new world like Tolkien or Sanderson is impressive. But what Neil Gaiman does in The Ocean at the End of the Lane is, if anything, even more impressive. He takes the world we know, twists it ever so slightly, and makes it wondrous strange. I haven't felt that way since I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a child and spent years truly hoping beyond hope that I might stumble on a door to Narnia."


Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde
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"Not Fifty Shades of Grey. Totally different story. This is a book of such strange and subtle ambiguity that I'm genuinely at a loss for how to describe it without making it sound ridiculous. It's a world where humans lack the ability to see a full spectrum of color. Which color you can see and how intensely you can see it effectively determine your place in a caste system. There's a totalitarian government that does things like prohibit spoon production, making spoons a valuable status marker and creating a thriving black market. Sound bizarre? Here's the thing: Somehow it's not. The world comes across as strangely ordinary, the people fretting about spoon registration the same way I might muddle through getting my passport updated. It's exasperating, but it's just life, y'know?"


Declare by Tim Powers
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"What's truly marvelous about Tim Powers is that he builds his fantastic premises with such care that they fit seamlessly into the real world. He brings in historical facts I know are true, adds some quotes from Shakespeare, and draws a sensible conclusion based on archeological research. Then suddenly I'm nodding along at the fact that *obviously* there are djinn (supernatural figures) in the world, there have been for thousands of years. And of *course* they had influence in the Cold War…. Wait. What? When did all of this become self-evident? In some ways what he does is the masterful opposite of the magic trick Gaiman performs in Ocean. Gaiman shows you the mundane and makes it magical. Powers shows you the magical with such cunning and subtle persuasion that it feels like the most sensible thing in the world."


Girl Genius, Vol. 1: Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank by Phil Foglio and Kaja Foglio
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"Perhaps my favorite comic series, and that's saying a lot. Phil and Kaja Foglio set their story in an alternate world where mad scientists aren't crazy—they're angry—and the science at their disposal is beyond the ken of mortals, very, very real. From that premise you get a Europe where the Industrial Revolution turned into World War 0, a nightmare where every baron with a workshop can manufacture clockwork automata, build death rays, or revive the dead. The story is by turns funny, delightful, dramatic, and above all clever, clever, clever."





Comments Showing 1-50 of 50 (50 new)

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message 1: by Tim (new)

Tim Hicks Gotta get me some Mistborn. Thanks, Patrick.


message 2: by James (new)

James Swenson 5 new want-to-reads (already read one). In Rothfuss we trust!


message 3: by Lance (new)

Lance House WTH is book 3 $%^&^&


message 4: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Blue I have all the Girl Genius books. Wonderful!


message 5: by Mark (new)

Mark One of my favorite books of all time is The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. I highly recommend it.


message 6: by Mandy (new)

Mandy Book #3 is AWESOME. At first I too was like "wtf... Shades of Grey? Like 50 shades?" Absolutely NO similarity aside from the unfortunate title. Also - Mistborn kicks butt. Great recommendations! I've got 2 new books on my list. :)


message 7: by Diane (new)

Diane Baker Rothfuss is a master, so now I have to add to my ever-growing list. I've read Gaiman's *Ocean* and absolutely concur about Tim Powers! *Declare* is a favorite. I'm also gratified that Rothfuss likes Narnia! (CSL has a warm spot in my heart.) I truly want to read the Fforde; sounds fascinating. *Mistborn* with sequels sounds promising, especially if he takes the world into the future! I enjoyed *Elantria,* so I'm hoping Sanderson can carry it all the way through.


message 8: by Peter (new)

Peter Wilding Shades of Grey is brilliant, and Fforde is generally hilarious, but I would never have thought Patrick would list it as a favourite world-building book. I haven't read any of the others, but I'll sure be looking for them with his recommendation.


message 9: by Alex (new)

Alex Out of all these books I have only read Mistborn. And I loved it (as I loved all works by Brandon Sanderson so far). Thx for the hints, Mr. Rothfuss, I am adding 3 new books to my "want to read" list.
Too many books, not enough time. *sigh*


message 10: by Sally (new)

Sally Howes I've also loved every Brandon Sanderson book I've read so far - the Stormlight Archive ones a bit more than Mistborn, though I can see why Patrick would put Mistborn on a list about 'world building' books, the Stormlight Archive is stronger in characters, plot and themes than in world building. Speaking of Sanderson, though, I would also nominate the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson as a great world building series, and a great series overall.

I'm definitely going to check out all the other books on this list :-)


message 11: by Tayna (new)

Tayna  Tavares creating my 2015 reading list in 3..2...1...


message 12: by Ken (new)

Ken Pasture Warning. Jasper Fforde can be as frustrating as Patrick Rothfuss. Fans have been waiting for the second Shades of Grey book, "Painting by Numbers", since 2009.


message 13: by Diane (new)

Diane Baker On Jordan and "*Wheel of Time* series: I'll have to disagree. I couldn't even finish the first book in the series. Normally I don't get stymied by any book of any size, but I did with this series, which moved so slowly and seemed to have more filler than story that I simply could not keep up the interest. Different Strokes for different folks. As for world-building, how can anyone top Tolkien?


message 14: by Tayna (new)

Tayna  Tavares Ken wrote: "Warning. Jasper Fforde can be as frustrating as Patrick Rothfuss. Fans have been waiting for the second Shades of Grey book, "Painting by Numbers", since 2009."

oh my god! o_o


message 15: by Nicole (new)

Nicole Shades of Grey will be making its way to my reading list. A black market for spoons has me intrigued.

I'd be interested to know what you think of The Saga of Recluce by L. E. Modesitt Jr.. I enjoy the magic system, and the notion that all things must balance, either individually or globally. What really struck me though is that the series is not written chronologically. So we start in a more modern history, and with additionally books a whole history of the world unfolds. The wisdom of ages that one character reads is lived out by a main character in another book.


message 16: by Diane (new)

Diane Baker I've not read this one; sorry. But I'll put it on the list.


message 17: by Jon (new)

Jon Parkinson Shades of Grey is excellent. It's a pretty challenging first 50 pages as it just throws you into this strange world without any context, but it's absolutely worth the effort.

I also recommend the audiobook on this one. There are a couple of mistakes in it (in the first paragraph the narrator says "4 years ago" when it should have been "4 days ago") but other than that it's high quality and very enjoyable.


message 18: by Harold (new)

Harold Smithson Ken wrote: "Warning. Jasper Fforde can be as frustrating as Patrick Rothfuss. Fans have been waiting for the second Shades of Grey book, "Painting by Numbers", since 2009."

Perhaps, but I've dealt with Clive Barker, whose Abarat release schedule makes George R. R. "I write one book every six years" Martin's look reasonable and timely.


message 19: by Eric (new)

Eric Mesa You just grew my TBR! Well played, well played.


message 20: by Jeff (new)

Jeff Raglin It's not just that it's late, it's that between Fforde's other options and the economics of the midlist, it's very likely that Painting by Numbers and the concluding volume will never get written. And without the reasonable prospect of eventually reading those books, Shades of Grey stands with a deeply unfulfilling ending that drains overall value from the book more and more each year.


message 21: by Harold (new)

Harold Smithson Jeff wrote: "It's not just that it's late, it's that between Fforde's other options and the economics of the midlist, it's very likely that Painting by Numbers and the concluding volume will never get written. ..."

Ah. Thanks for clarifying that.


message 22: by Jon (last edited Nov 07, 2014 02:31PM) (new)

Jon Parkinson Jeff wrote: "It's not just that it's late, it's that between Fforde's other options and the economics of the midlist, it's very likely that Painting by Numbers and the concluding volume will never get written. ..."

He's said that Shades of Grey was a much harder book to write than his others, and I doubt it sold as well as some of this others. However, during the last year I've seen it getting more and more attention from mavens like Rothfuss. If/when he does release a sequel, I think it will sell much better than the first.

Regardless, I still find great value in the first book and am glad I read it even if the story never continues.

For those who have read Shades of Grey, I recommend the Bestiary on Fforde's website (spoilers inside: http://www.jasperfforde.com/grey/best...). It helps answer some nagging questions you're likely to have after the book.


message 23: by Anubhav (new)

Anubhav Mishra American God had me stymied and had to wade through Sand man but finally will have to pick up The ocean at the end of the lane... Thank you Mr. Rothfuss ;)


message 24: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Freese Love the Mistborn series! I haven't read book 4 but it is high on my list. First read Sanderson when he finished the "Wheel of time" series by Jordan. Mistborn what the next books of his that I tried. I will be reading the rest of his stuff. I just want the next series to be complete before I start it, hate waiting for the "next" book!
Just my 2 cents :) Thanks for the recommendations I will be looking into them. :)


message 25: by Diane (new)

Diane Baker Looking at an L. E. Modesitt list, I note (with alarm) that the Saga of Recluce is (IIRC) even longer than Jordan, pant, pant, gasp!

I am currently reading *Red Rising* by Pierce Brown. At chapter 14, it's looking very good! He's got some cliches unfortunately (spoiler alert)
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Roman Empire in space (for instance), but the writing's smooth and the story barrels along like a strike from a pro-bowler. No Robert Jordan Syndrome yet.


message 26: by Alex (new)

Alex Oh, while we are talking about worldbuilding, I feel like I should mention Steven Eriksons Malazan - series. The world he created is highly complex, with a history that stretches back millions of years...
It can be a bit challenging to read, because Erikson does not give the reader much information about stuff that is going on, but I would still highly recommend it.


message 27: by Anubhav (new)

Anubhav Mishra Alex wrote: "Oh, while we are talking about worldbuilding, I feel like I should mention Steven Eriksons Malazan - series. The world he created is highly complex, with a history that stretches back millions of y..."

Erikson rocks.. one of the most satisfying series..


message 28: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Blue I really enjoyed the world created in Neil Stephenson's "Anathem." I listened to it but then had to go back and read the words. I couldn't understand what he had done with the language as well when listening.


message 29: by Nicole (last edited Nov 09, 2014 05:10AM) (new)

Nicole Diane wrote: "Looking at an L. E. Modesitt list, I note (with alarm) that the Saga of Recluce is (IIRC) even longer than Jordan, pant, pant, gasp!

I am currently reading *Red Rising* by Pierce Brown. At chapte..."



Modesitt does not suffer from Robert Jordan syndrome. He does a great job of balancing the different series he has going. I have been reading the Recluce Saga for years but I don't think there has been more than a 2 year gap between publishing dates.


message 30: by Eric (new)

Eric Mesa Diane wrote: "Looking at an L. E. Modesitt list, I note (with alarm) that the Saga of Recluce is (IIRC) even longer than Jordan, pant, pant, gasp!

I am currently reading *Red Rising* by Pierce Brown. At chapte..."


Great book. I heard the Recorded Books audio version and the narrator is so awesome. I kept wondering when the book would climax because I didn't know it was part of a trilogy. Even with the cliches, he still keeps you guessing, which is nice.


message 31: by Andy (new)

Andy "Dune". Haven't read the sequels but the original is world enough. Stunning.


message 32: by Heather (last edited Nov 11, 2014 11:05PM) (new)

Heather One of my favourites is Brent Weeks. Was blown away by the Night Angel Trilogy, and am really enjoying his current Lightbringer series.

Love Rothfuss and Sanderson too, and really looking forward to whatever they produce next.


message 33: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Freese as long as we are talking about world building I like David(and his wife forgot her name :/ )Eddings books a lot. Always a good easy read with lots of room to explore on the way.


message 34: by Anne (new)

Anne Roy I'm glad to see you share my good taste ;-) And I'm still, at the age of 57, hoping to find the right wardrobe! Seriously though, I agree with all of Patrick's choices, but would like to add one of my own: the Realms of the Elderlings books by Robin Hobb. The Farseer, Liveship Traders, Tawny Man and Rain Wilds series all blend seamlessly into a world where talking ships, serpents and dragons, and the ever-changing and mysterious character of the Fool entertain and astonish, and provide a rich and immersive world to lose yourself in. I can heartily recommend all of these, and also her Soldier Son trilogy.


message 35: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Freese Anne, Thank you for these recommendations. Your description has me itching to visit this world. :)


message 36: by Julie (new)

Julie I love Sanderson, one of my faves. Elantris is good but it's dreck compared to Mistborn. And if you REALLY want a kick in the pants, check out Sanderson's Stormlight Archive series. It takes a bit to get going but SO addictive!


message 37: by Steve (new)

Steve So glad to see Declare in this list! And you absolutely nailed what makes it (and much of Powers' other writing) so uniquely special.


message 38: by Chumofchance (new)

Chumofchance Interesting list! I have to admit, for a (somewhat) traditional fantasy author, he ended up with some picks that surprised me. Sanderson certainly ranks as one of the best worldbuilders currently writing, and Fforde and Powers both rank as tops as well, but in fairly unconventional ways.


message 39: by Fee (new)

Fee How lovely to find one of my favourite authors recommending one of my favourite books!


message 40: by Brady (new)

Brady Mistborn is next on the list then


message 41: by Sue (new)

Sue Absolutely loved Shades of Grey, and eagerly await any planned sequels. But as Jeff said, Fforde (who is a genius [as is Rothfuss]) is doing other things and may not get to it/them. Drat. But don't miss this one!


message 42: by Wolfman2032 (new)

Wolfman2032 I have to disagree about Mistborne. Sanderson is great at coming up with magic powers, but in Mistborne you have zero knowledge of the world other than locations visited by the main characters. The setting is basically a city floating in a void with a dozen buildings. Sanderson always gives me the feeling he doesn't know what his worlds are like until he invents a specific local for a specific plot event. No sense a living world. Plus all he writes are thinly veiled christian allegories.


message 44: by Pat (new)

Pat Johns The Long Price Quartet is the best world building I have read since Tolkien. You really should read it.


message 45: by Jovanny (new)

Jovanny one of the best aurthors i read


message 46: by Jovanny (new)

Jovanny reujn rbnt


message 47: by Jovanny (new)

Jovanny htrrthwh


message 48: by Tiffany (new)

Tiffany Frey Daniel wrote: "as long as we are talking about world building I like David(and his wife forgot her name :/ )Eddings books a lot. Always a good easy read with lots of room to explore on the way."

one of my Favorite re-read series, truly one of the 1st fantasy series I read & still makes me laugh out loud!!


message 49: by John (new)

John Cadwell when the wheel of time lost its heart I am thankful to have found your spin of wierd,write on brother Man


message 50: by Erin (new)

Erin Redfern Anne wrote: "I'm glad to see you share my good taste ;-) And I'm still, at the age of 57, hoping to find the right wardrobe! Seriously though, I agree with all of Patrick's choices, but would like to add one of..."

Anne wrote: "I'm glad to see you share my good taste ;-) And I'm still, at the age of 57, hoping to find the right wardrobe! Seriously though, I agree with all of Patrick's choices, but would like to add one of..."

Yes a big vote for Robin Hobb from me too Anne. I'd put her just a bit behind Patrick Rothfuss for building a world that leaves you bereft when the page turns to an end and reality just doesn't measure up.


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