The Kingkiller Chronicle – Review (Books 1-2)

The Kingkiller Chronicle is a trilogy of books by author Patrick Rothfuss.  The first novel, The Name of the Wind, was released in April of 2007.  Book two, The Wise Man’s Fear, was recently released in March of 2011.  The release date of book three is still unknown at this time.

You may ask why I am reviewing books that are not new releases.  The answer is that I find that limiting, as I often do not discover quality books until many years after their initial release.  Many of the best books are quietly released and only catch on via word of mouth after some time.  My reviews consist of both new releases and books that are “new to me” in an effort to share my enjoyment of all books.

My basic overview:

Book one, The Name of the Wind, begins the story of Kvothe, a seemingly ordinary innkeeper living under an assumed identity as “Kote”.  Living with and keeping Kvothe’s secret is his apprentice, Bast.  We quickly find out Kvothe has a notorious and infamous past.  A man referred to as Chronicler tracks down Kvothe at the inn and convinces Kvothe to let him record his life story.  The bulk of the book is a first-person narration of Kvothe relating his story to Chronicler.  Kvothe begins his story in his childhood years, where he and his family are part of a traveling troupe of musicians, actors, and storytellers.  He progresses through his later childhood years in the slums of Tarbeen and then into his early teenage years at the University.  Kvothe is exceptionally intelligent, a musical genius, and gifted with the use of sympathy (a type of magic taught at the University), but his strong personality clashes with several people at the University, leading to the start of his infamous reputation.  Along the way we are introduced to several characters that are hinted to be key figures in Kvothe’s life.  Among them is a mysterious young woman named Denna, who flits in and out of his life.  Another is a troubled and nameless young woman who lives in isolation in the sewers under the University, whom Kvothe befriends and names “Auri”. Book one leaves off with Kvothe still recounting his University years to Chronicler.  Interwoven with Kvothe’s tale are several scenes featuring Kvothe, Chronicler, and Bast in the “present” day, where Kvothe makes it clear that he has left his old life behind for good reason and he resists efforts by Bast to return to it.

The Wise Man’s Fear picks up where Kvothe left off in his dictation to Chronicler.  His story begins again in his University years, where we again see his brash personality and the wrath of his enemies conflict with his studies at the school.  Kvothe continues his story onward to a journey that takes him far from the University.  He sets out to seek a wealthy patron for his musical gifts (his troubles at the University prevented him from getting one there) and ends up on a span of adventures that take him from the household of a wealthy and powerful noble in the city of Severen, to the dangers of the sparsely populated and bandit-ridden Eld, through the legendary Fae, and into the mercenary training of the famed Adem.  This journey is where we begin to see Kvothe grow into his ability of “naming” (a magical art) and also where his reputation begins to spread across the far reaches of the land.  This book also has interspersed scenes from the “present” that include Kvothe, Chronicler, and Bast, and shows us how these two characters listening to Kvothe’s story may have their own intentions.

I first read The Name of the Wind during the summer of 2010.  A friend had heard good things about the book and I was looking for new material, so I borrowed a copy from my local library.  I was immediately hooked and blew through the book in about 10 days (which is no small feat for me when I often don’t get more than my lunch hour for daily reading time).  There weren’t any points in the book where I had to fight to keep myself reading.  Next came the six-month wait for The Wise Man’s Fear. My wait proved to be well worth it, as I found this book to be just as engrossing as the first.  There was perhaps one point in the book where I felt the story was meandering a bit, but I understood the purpose for this after finishing the entire story.

An aspect to this story that I really appreciate is that the characters that practice sympathy (a type of magic) in this story do not posses some special mystical ability required to perform these arts.  Too many SF/F stories revolve around a central character who discovers they have a hidden mystical ability.  That story device has been completely overused in my opinion.  In this series, the characters who perform sympathy are simply scholars who study these arts as any university student would study and then perform a given subject.  True, there are students like Kvothe who seem to excel more than others due to natural ability, but it seems similar to how real-life students are often more gifted in one subject than another.  The characters that practice sympathy are shown to face prejudice and fear from most people outside their university setting so there is the element of this being perceived as a mystical and dark art that is not understood by common folk.

This is definitely a series I would recommend for fans of fantasy literature.  There are fantasy elements, but the story is more of a character piece, and those tend to be my favorite.  I am eagerly awaiting book three.