Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Brandon Sanderson may have written the second-longest fantasy novel of all time

Brandon Sanderson has confirmed that his new book, Oathbringer, the third volume in The Stormlight Archive, is very, very big.

In a Reddit update, Sanderson says that the novel is 25% longer than Words of Radiance, which came in at 400,000 words. That suggests that Oathbringer will be 500,000 words in length.

This would almost certainly make Oathbringer the second-longest fantasy novel of all time. The #1 spot is held by To Green Angel Tower (520,000 words), the third volume of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams. The #2 spot is disputed, but probably goes to Ash: A Secret History, which clocks in between 493,000 and 500,000 (depending on if you count the notes or not). Two of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander novels also exceed 500,000 words, but the genre these novels occupy is highly questionable (since they are historical romances with a time travel element).

The Lord of the Rings, often cited as a very long epic fantasy novel, is a relatively breezy 470,000 words in length.

Oathbringer will be released, presumably in a very small font, in November this year.


Steve said...

I know I've bothered you about this before on Reddit, but I feel like the answer still eludes me. How does something like this square with the insistence by GRRM and his publishers and editors that anything beyond 1500 MS pages (roughly 420k words) is unable to be published as a single volume? Do Sanderson's publishers just not care about that? Is it assumed that making single volumes of a comparatively much more popular fantasy series like ASoIaF longer will drive away casual readers? Will making the print smaller make them less popular? I genuinely don't understand and it makes the fact that Martin will need to structurally compromise most of the ASoIaF books all the more frustrating.

Adam Whitehead said...

Difficult to say. When ADWD came out in 2011, the series was far less successful than now so there was a commercial reason for not making the book too long. If TWoW came out at 450,000 words or 500,000 words, I suspect they'd still get it out in one volume (in hardcover at least) and it'd be fine.

I do suspect that Sanderson and his publishers will have further discussions about this resulting in the book coming out in two volumes (on Reddit Sanderson says this is a possibility) or some material being sliced off, possibly for a novella or side-novel.

vacuouswastrel said...

I think it must be very based on popularity. Hobb was forced to split her first two Rain Wild Chronicles book, even though it really damages them, and they can't possibly be as long as some of the epid doorstoppers that have come out. I'd be surprised if they're even as long as her longest Fitz novels, so I suspect part of it was trying to start a new series like that, rather than a long-awaited installment of an ongoing story.

It also depends on the publisher. GRRM's ASOS was split into two volumes in the UK, but not in the US, iirc.

But it also seems to be random. I have a UK paperback copy of A:ASH [woah, only just noticed that!], and it's huge, and yet it's a standalone, and Gentle wasn't that famous. In the US, that was apparently reason enough to split it into not one but four volumes, but in the UK it was just one volume...

Adam Whitehead said...

The US sells 5-6 times as many copies of a book than the UK, so they can spread production costs and economics scale more effectively. Also, it was only the paperback, the UK hardcovers of ASoS and ADWD are both in one volume each.

Sometimes publishers will also say to hell with it. ASH was seen as a prestige project, a book that wasn't going to explode out into the stratosphere so Gollancz published it on the understanding they might take a loss on it. In fact, it was so well-reviewed I believe they did actually do better on it than expected. It being published in four volumes in the USA also I think helped make the book make a good profit.

More inexplicable are when publishers screw around with font size and margins to make shorter books feel much longer. They did that with the MALAZAN books and also some of Peter F. Hamilton's books. The likes of REAPER'S GALE and THE REALITY DYSFUNCTION are actually shorter than some of the WHEEL OF TIME books, but are almost 200 pages longer in paperback, which is just crazy.

Anonymous said...

Sanderson aside, Ash is an amazing book, and criminally ignored by most people. I have the gigantic UK version, which makes me much happier than four little ones as they're apparently sold here in the states.

Alex Walsh said...

I remember you saying the copy of To Green Angel Tower you picked up was starting to have chunks fall out- mines still pristine & in one piece ;)

I'd be surprised if this gets released in one volume though as I'm not sure publishing technology has actually advanced since the 90s now that everything is printed in China. It's not as if Sanderson is writing a short series, perhaps two books a couple of months apart? If there is a natural pause in the story, it might work. Either way, it'll be a hardback & Kindle purchase for me (have the other two in hardback and they're usually cheap on Amazon pre-order).

Mike Bonsiero said...

I kind of wonder if there will be a swing back to something like a 400 page length for the major epic fantasies. I know readers in this genre have tended to want their books as big as possible, but not all stories can support that length. Some of the maligned later WoT books for example could easily have been excellent 500 page books instead of mediocre 900 pagers (Winter's Heart and Path of Daggers, especially). Sanderson's Stormlight Archive is actually a really good example of this. He's got a pretty good story woven through so far, but it seems like his goal is to write a BIG story as much as it is a good one and it's losing some punch trying to do both.

vacuouswastrel said...

I hear you on publishers messing around with formatting. This has particularly struck me with Discworld, because I have paperbacks from the same 'set' for most of the first 20, and people have put wordcounts online.

Lots of them are almost exactly (give or take 1 or 2 pages) 380 pages long - whether that's Soul Music, at 98k, or Maskerade, which is around 10% shorter at only 88k. They seem to have mostly adopted this size from Pyramids (90k) onward. Fair enough... except that Guards! Guards!, the very next book after Pyramids, is only ~320 pages... despite being over 100k. 12% longer in words, but 16% shorter in pages!
Perhaps even more strikingly, Reaper Man (81k) is only 9k shorter than Pyramids, but Pyramids is the standard 380 pages, whereas Reaper Man is only ~280 pages... 10% shorter in words, but 26% shorter in pages!

I know this is all minor, unimportant stuff, but it's always kind of baffled me what sort of reasoning must have lead to these decisions...

Didn't know that about ASH... kudos (and gratitude!) to Gollancz, then. As Anonymous said, a criminally overlooked book.