Ah, Fantasy. It is my first love, and the genre that I am the most critical with. Fantasy means sometimes long, epic cycles that may or may not be finished because the story is so long that the author dies before their ending. There appears to be some interest in the Fantasy genre (hello, Game of Thrones and The Wheel of Time) because of their TV adaptations but, readers be warned, there is a lot to it and plenty of good stuff to tuck yourselves in. I grew up with Eighties/Nineties fantasy and yet, one of the most promising stories of lately is that of Kvothe. It took me long to decide to start this “trilogy” (more on that later).
What is it about?
Meta story telling alert. The main character of the novel, Kvothe, is a renown magician, fighter, minstrel and all round hero. He now appears to be “retired”, or in hiding… Anyway, he is currently out of the public eye. A traveling scribe, Chronicler, is saved by our man (who now calls himself, oh so creative, “Kote”) and recognized immediately (because he calls himself Kote, and also because he is the world’s most ginger ginger and so… you know, quite recognizable). Anyhow, here ends my pettiness with the story. Kvote decides that he wants to tell his true story to Chronicler, and so he begins. All in all, the story should take three days (books) to be told. This first novel (and it is a hefty enough novel, in and around the 1000 pages mark) covers Kvothe’s childhood and his first year at University. Some chapters are in third person (the ones where we are in the company of “Kote”, Chronicler, and Kote’s apprentice, the faerie prince Bast) but the majority of the story is told by Kvote in first person.
What makes it good?
My very, very short synopsis does not make justice to the complexity of this novel. It is a proper fantasy novel and it takes its time to settle and to present characters and situations. Kvote himself is the most interesting one of them all: he is supposed to be a very famous hero, musician and sword-fighter, and we get an insight into how the legend is born. As it almost always happens, the most interesting part of a story like this is the beginning, when the hero is struggling and fighting against all odds. This first novel is basically that: how the hero manages to make a place for himself in the world, despite all the shit he has to go through. So, points for that. Besides, the world depicted here is close enough to our own that it can attract readers who are not necessarily interested in the genre. Even the most “arcane” aspects of the story, including its magic system, can be somehow linked to our own folklore. (see more in the extra bit below!)
Extra paragraph on the magic system, which is normally an important part of Fantasy world building. In this case, the world itself is pretty similar to the “normal” Middle Age setting. The University though, besides teaching the average stuff (alchemy, math, medicine, etc.) teaches “Naming”. By knowing the “real” name of things, you wield power over them. This is not the most complex or detailed or creative (hello, Brandon Sanderson) magic system ever created, but it does its job properly and it is not a too important part of the story, really, it just contributes to the overall feeling of the world. There are more mysteries than the ones related to magic in here, and I quite like that.
Mr. Rothfuss knows his shit, clearly. His style is perfect for the task at hand, which is building a compelling world, hero, and story. His style is lush and full of detail, making us believe that it is indeed Kvothe telling us his own story and embellishing it with his own storytelling abilities. It is a joy to read.
I hate Patrick Rothfuss, because I will never see the ending of Kvothe’s story. He has been taunting us for years now, and yet we only got the two novels so far. There is no way he is going to finish the story in three books, maybe only in four and if a fire is lit under his and Kvothe’s ass. After being duped for years by dear George Martin, I did not want to start any other cycles before knowing it was completed. And yet, the hype was so high and everyone loved this so much that I gave it a go, and it did not disappoint.
Dearest Fantasy reader, this is the fate we are always subjected to. Sometimes, the ending is much worse than the journey, and sometimes, the journey does not even have an ending. So start this at your own peril…
(a half point AT LEAST knocked off because of the fact that the story might never end)