Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Published: 2007 & 2011
Date Started: March 18, 2014 Date Finished: May 3, 2014
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★★
Every book has a story: I started reading The Name of the Wind in Paris, of all places. There was a small library of books from previous guests at the apartment we were staying in, and The Name of the Wind was one of the few in English. As luck would have it, I had been waiting for a good time to start into The Kingkiller Chronicle. And what could be better than your Parisian apartment basically telling you to read it? Always do what the Parisian apartment says.
It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.
This review is going to gush for a while and then become remarkably selfish. On we go:
I don’t know if it’s an occupational hazard, or if I just haven’t been able to pick ’em lately, but I feel like it’s been rather too long since I got this swept up in a book. I looked forward to my commutes on the train just because it meant I could keep reading The Kingkiller Chronicle. It was one of those marathon readings that ended with a quick Internet search to find out when the third book is coming out. (So far marked for 2015… sadface.)
This is the story of an innkeeper in a small town in a big world that is drawing ever-closer to a dark and mysterious reckoning. It is also the story of the innkeeper’s famous – and mostly secret – identity as Kvothe, the Arcane, the Bloodless, who can call down the name of the wind. The innkeeper has settled to tell his life’s story to an attentive biographer, a story rather different from the legend. As it happens, the innkeeper is also quite fond of the songs and stories of the world, old tales to which his life has been deeply linked.
With The Kingkiller Chronicle, Rothfuss has undertaken a remarkable exploration of what it means to tell a story. There are stories within stories within stories and yet, they all weave together so naturally that it hardly looks like any effort at all. The tiny detail/payoff ratio is amazing – probably even more amazing if you’ve read the books more than once. (The books will definitely require a reread before Day 3 comes out.) It’s really not until I stopped to think about it – which wasn’t often as mostly I wanted to keep going – that I realized that the clues were laid out all along, or that a little rhyme at the beginning of the book takes on rather a different meaning by the end.
Both the characters and the world feel as whole as a mostly first-person narration can make them. Kvothe is a born romantic with just enough practical fighting skills. He’s a hero who’s deeply in touch with what it means to be afraid and helpless and out of control. He’s a daydreamer and an academic. And we’ve seen enough hints now to know that in the next book, something terrible is going to happen to him. Rothfuss has firmly secured out hearts to Kvothe’s cause, and that makes some of the reading almost painful, in the most artful and creatively controlled way. Heartbreak, and likely a magical catastrophe, are on the way.
This is epic, heroic fantasy as I haven’t seen often these days. The world has gotten swept up in the grimdark, Game of Thrones-ness of it all – and that’s fine! The subgenre certainly has its place.
But The Kingkiller Chronicle is much closer to the kind of book I’m interested in writing, and its popularity has somewhat put my mind at ease regarding what fantasy readers will endure. Sometimes the middle is long, and the payoff is an emotional reaction rather than a swordfight. Sometimes your heroes will fall apart and not be quick to put themselves back together – sometimes they are only put back together with the help of someone else. There’s romance and there’s friendship. Although, I can’t say that my book will have anything like the coolest magical school on this side of Hogwarts, which Rothfuss has created in his Arcane University.
As a reading companion to The Kingkiller Chronicle, I will point you to the unbelievably thorough reread done on Tor. Enjoy the discoveries and the conspiracies and the theories. And count down the days until The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day Three.