“I have stolen princess back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during the day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written song that make the minstrels weep.
You may have heard of me.”
And thus begins a tale as old as time; a tale of revenge, magic, stupidity, and a young man fumbling to understand women. Our narrator is right, you’ve probably heard it.
The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss is one of those stories that attracts a following, a cult if you will. It is a story that inspires artists, fan theorists, and fan fiction writers. It is the perfect story, so much so it makes me want to rip my hair out.
The tale begins with The Name of the Wind and is told as a story being recited by Kote, the innkeeper in Newarre, and recorded by the Chronicler, who collects true stories. Each novel comprises one day in the present time allowing us to see the troubling events of today as well as hear the story of the man who claims responsibility for it all. The war, the demons, the poverty, Kote says it is all the fault of the man he used to be, the legend who is said to be dead; Kvothe Kingkiller.
If you go looking for reviews of these books you are going to find one of two attitudes; it is a “classic” or “cliche” depending on who you ask. It is convoluted; it is clever. The narrator is unreliable giving the story depth, flavor, and mystery. The narrator is a typical humble brag twat who is too good at everything and is designed to make you hate-love him. Rothfuss is building to the plot twist of an age, or Rothfuss is capitalizing on an age old, well worn story model. The only things everyone seems to agree on for sure is the The Doors of Stone is never. Coming. Out.
Personally I love the novels, novella, and short story that make up the Chronicles. I think the story-telling framing devise that Rothfuss uses is perfect for creating just enough uncertainty among readers that we can enjoy the story for what it is while still never truly trusting that we are getting an accurate depiction of events. This slight mistrust add depth like you wouldn’t believe, I honestly hate it. Not because it’s bad but because it’s so good you almost don’t see it. I want to rant and rave about the shallowness of some aspects of the plot but if I think about it for more than a minute I start to see that maybe this isn’t all it appears to be. Fan theories add to this convoluted overthinking of every detail, and spending a bit of time discussing “clues” with others always opens my eyes to things I had over looked, or things I hadn’t quite connected before.
Basically these books are the definition of a humble-brag.
Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t perfect. There is clever and then there is trying to hard to be clever and I think Rothfuss crosses that line a few times. There are several places were I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and go “But of course.” and shout “Unreliable narrator” at me all you want if I’m not enjoying to story because of something, that’s more an excuse than a plot devise. I also adore the way Rothfuss writes. To a point. When I say there are whole sections of The Wise Mans Fear that are written in rhyme I fucking mean that there are whole sections of The Wise Mans Fear that are written. In. Rhyme. Rothfuss writes pure poetic word porn but he also has a hard time not using adverbs every single line. I’m with Stephen King on this one; “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Not only are they lazy when overused but they don’t sound great. They are like one sour note in an otherwise perfect harmony.
The second book in the series, The Wise Mans Fear, has one of the worst cases of Middle Book Syndrome I’ve seen in a while. It’s not that Rothfuss seems to be rambling or is even a little unsure of himself; it’s more that he has X, Y, and Z that need to be accomplished but they are in no way related so he has to play Connect The Dots with various plot points. The result is me having to take a minute part way through the book to go “And this is where he ran out of ideas and went ‘Fuck it!'”
While the two novels tell us the story of Kvothe and events surrounding the telling of the tale itself the other two additions to the series are focused on two mysterious and well loved side characters. I say “side characters” but what I mean is they are life itself. Plain and simple. They are beautiful fae children and Kvothe does not deserve their love. (This is me warning you about my bias)
The first is Auri, the enigmatic (gods I can’t ever use that word without thinking of Aysl) young woman Kvothe finds living underneath the University. In the novella The Slow Regard of Silent Things we follow Auri for a seven day period in her solitary life in the Underthing. This book made 3# in my Top Books of 2016 because of the beautiful word porn and unique, single character plot…if you can call it a plot. I didn’t mention in that post that Auri, our only character, exhibits signs of severe mental illness, namely Obsessive Compulsive Disorder brought on, in theory, by the same stresses of University that cause a few students each term to “crack”. Rothfuss himself says it is not a book for everyone, it is a book for the broken people. It makes a lot of things about Auri clear though so if you are even a little bit interested it’s worth knuckling through.
The second is Bast, Kotes fae student and the only person in any of the books that is good enough for Kvothe. Even if Kvothe doesn’t deserve it. His story is told in The Lightning Tree, a short story that appears in the Rouges anthology. His story is also pretty Day-in-the-Life, showing how a fae princling amuses himself in the middle of Newarre. It does give a good look at the type of person Bast is but not much more that you’d get from his actions in the second novel. It is, if I’m being honest, a story of no consequence but if you love Bast, and you should, it is well worth your time.
Then there is The Doors of Stone; the novel that is never coming out (I’ve gone on about this before). If you want to get into this series I wouldn’t blame you if you waited for the last book before diving in. That being said not having an ending and being able to get caught up in discussion and fan theories is half of the fun of these books.
If you love fantasy, if you love to hate your protagonist, if you love a book written in poetry and rhyme, and most of all, if you want to hear a good story The Kingkiller Chronicles is for you.
All told I give the whole lot 5/5 stars. Have you read Kingkiller? What did you think of it?