Bookbanter Column: Get Lost in a Good Fantasy Series Part 7: The Kingkiller Chronicles (September 28, 2012)

The Name of the Wind, the first of the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss, showed itself to the world in 2007.

It was a story that seemed to have every trope and cliché that epic fantasy is expected to have from an old innkeeper named Kvothe telling his tales of yore, to a magician learning the ways of his craft at a magician’s school . . .

. . . And yet there were also facets of the book that made it fascinating and quickly a bestseller, from Kvothe’s abilities and talents as a musician, to some of the amazing characters and friends he has gotten to know, to the magic itself, as they consider themselves arcanists and the magic feels more like a form of science.

The Name of the Wind spent a good long time on the bestseller lists, and earned the epithet: “Harry Potter for Adults.”

Rothfuss took his time with the second book in the trilogy, The Wise Man’s Fear, which was released in 2011, almost a thousand pages long.

But by the end of the book, there still seems too much story to tell.

Rothfuss maintains that it will only be a trilogy and is hard at work now on the final book, with the planned title of The Doors of Stone, with no known release date.  Therefore readers looking for a good new series can take their time with the first two books, as the final volume likely won’t see a release date until possibly late 2013, if not 2014.

The Name of the Wind

Kvothe begins his story as a young boy in a family of musicians and soon reveals his incredible talent with the lute and singing, following in the family tradition.  While mastering these talents a member of the University joins the troop and begins teaching Kvothe a material and science based form of magic, as well as the secret of naming, creating a drive in Kvothe to discover the Name of the Wind.

At the same time, his father Arliden is composing a song about the Chandrian, a mythical race of evil beings who may or may not exist.  This is soon proven when the Chandrian find the troop and slaughter them all.  Kvothe is the only one to survive, hiding in the woods.

He spends his next three years eking out a living begging and scratching by on the streets of Tarbean, until his interest in magic and study is reignited once more by a storyteller.  Using his experience in bargaining and negotiating to survive, Kvothe gets himself into University where he leans all he can while trying to make enough money to cover the tuition by playing and singing.  It is while playing he is reunited with an old friend, Denna, who he is very taken with.  During his studies, he also begins research on the Chandrian to avenge the death of his parents.

The book comes to a close as Kvothe investigates a place of death and destruction where a wedding was abruptly brought to an end by the Chandrian, coming face to face with a drug-addicted dragon.

At the heart of The Name of the Wind are a lot of almost clichés one would expect with an epic fantasy novel, but at the same time there are a lot of new, refreshing and completely different ideas and plots.  The magic of this world – unlike that of say Harry Potter – is one of balance, based in science with quantities and a variety of materials; it is a type of magic that at times seems quite realistic and believable.  The world has familiar places but with unique situations and events involving some strong characters and unusual creatures that keep the reader interested.

By the end of the book, the reader has become quite attached to this world and its people, wanting more stories and tales from Kvothe the innkeeper, but alas they must wait until Wise Man’s Fear, due March 2011, hopefully without delay.

The Wise Man’s Fear

Readers are returned first to Kote at the Waystone Inn with his friend and apprentice, Bast.

A new day begins, after the stories and surprising events of the one before.  Chronicler sits ready to record the story, while Kote has already been up many hours, preparing fresh cider and newly baked bread.  And so Kote continues the story of his life, the story of Kvothe the arcanist.  The sixteen year-old continues his studies at the University, struggling to get by.  He has spent his recently acquired monies on a new lute and now has little to show for it, but the instrument is an investment.  Now raised to the next level of arcanist, Re’lar, his tuition is considerably higher, and his must borrow money to pay for it.

Fortunately, he has his incredible talent as a musician and singer, and is able to make some money this way through a clever scheme at the inns.

Then there is the Fishery, where all manner of arcana are made.  Kvothe has spent previous terms learning and inventing simple items such as sympathy lamps that bring in a decent amount of money, but this term he is challenged to create something truly unique; it will take him many months, but the result will fetch a high price.  Kvothe is also finally granted access to the priceless Archives once more, and after learning how to travel its complex, labyrinthine halls, corridors and stacks; begins his incessant research on the unknown Chandrian, for they are the ones who murdered his family and friends.  Meanwhile, Kvothe’s relationship with Deanna continues to go nowhere fast, as he does all he can to make her happy and feel special . . . everything that is except confess his love for her.  He even breaks into the rooms of his mortal enemy to steal back Deanna’s ring and proceeds to get himself into a whole mess of trouble.

At the end of the term, Kvothe seems to have everything in order, but has a couple of options: he can continue with his studies the following the semester, and risk having the gossip of his involvement jeopardize his studies; or he can leave town and try something different for a while.  Fortunately at that moment, there is a rich noble from Vintas looking to woo a certain lady and needs one skilled with words.  So begins the second half of the book, as Kvothe is soon on his way and finds himself involved in the noble courts, as a different world is revealed to the reader of manners and ways and courtly intrigue.  Kvothe is also employed into a gang to stop a band of bandits terrorizing the tax collectors.  In this gang he befriends a unique man and seeks to learn his ways and culture.  The question is whether he can understand and learn this man’s language, as well as stop these bandits once and for all.  Meanwhile, in the back of his mind, Kvothe wonders and hopes if the rich noble who has employed him may wish to take him on permanently as his patron.

In this thrilling and worthy sequel, Rothfuss does an excellent job of balancing the familiar of The Name of the Wind with plenty of new and fascinating material, furthering the complexity and interest of the world, its people, and its varied cultures and ways.  While the heavy tome could’ve stood to lose a few pages in editing, readers will no doubt be delighted with its length and depth.  To many – as with this reviewer – this book will exceed their expectations and prove to be an even better episode in the Kingkiller Chronicles than the previous one.

Patrick Rothfuss has proven in Wise Man’s Fear that he can deliver the goods, and while he may need to take his time to get the writing done, the result is an epic giant in the world of fantasy that will be remembered for a long time.

Originally published on Forces of Geek.

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