Kingkiller Chronicles: An interim Inspection
Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller series presents a delightful, well-developed story currently unfolding in two books: The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear. A third book is forthcoming. That’s a good thing since the first two books are really well done with an interesting cast of characters, a fresh treatment of the fantasy realm and an intriguing world (especially the University) in which they live. It’s also good because the first two books cannot stand on their own. This is really one book in serial format with relatively arbitrary stopping points. I’m a little like Darcy at the mid-point of Pride and Prejudice; “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love…” the Kingkiller Chronicles despite the fact that having no end to the first two books rankles. (Does that make Mr. Rothfuss Elizabeth? Oh, that’s a little bit scary.) OK, mini rant out of the way, now onto the books themselves.
Kvothe is one of my favorite heroes. Full stop. More than Gandalf, Aragorn or even Superman? Yes, they’re too perfect. More than Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker? Yes, they’re too whiny. More than Batman or Ender Wiggins? Yes, while complex they’re have a bit of the antihero about them; Batman obviously more so. First, Kvothe is a hero in the epic sense of that word but fully human. The protagonist, John Smith, from I Am Number 4 has been called the hero of this generation by Michael Bay. Well, he’s a pretty self-focused hero that does get pulled out of himself during the story, but it takes some pretty serious work. No, Kvothe has our desires and drives but magnified. He isn’t pursuing the “great adventure” but rather pursues the adventure before him. He is pursuing justice (or revenge) but continues to fully live life before him. He has all of our selfishness, yet fully commits himself on behalf of others. He can be narrow minded but is willing to learn. In short, he is a genuine, true hero writ on a large scale while maintaining human proportions.
So what is it I like so much about these books; why am I driven to stay up too late reading them? First, Kvothe is an engaging character in whom I fully vested. Second, the supporting cast is rich, with interesting relationships with whom you always want to spend some more time. You know an author is doing his job when you wish for more. Third, the world and its cultures are rich and intriguing. Finally, it’s a fine narrative with enough of the dust and weariness of the world drawn in to make it interesting and real feeling without being so dark as to make it depressing, which I find too often these days. I like having a real hero and a world worth preserving. Dystopia is interesting but can be pretty depressing.
I’ve already highlighted Kvothe, so let’s turn to the Chronicles a great cast of supporting characters, Sim & Wil, loyal and funny true mates. Bast & Devi, both dangerous, untamed with mostly caring hearts. Each of whom have interesting relationships with one another and Kvothe. There is the enigmatic Denna; to say she is Kvothe’s love interest is to simplify a strange and interesting relationship. There are so many more, from the University’s Masters (especially Master Namer, Elodin, to Vashet of the Adem.
It has interesting cultures and people from the Edema Ruh (gypsy-like) to the Adem (semi-taoist fighters). So while I fuss at Mr. Rothfuss for not completing each book in the series, the journey is fabulous. Like other great fantasy writers, Rothfuss has the ability to make you believe you are having a glimpse into a real world with its own history, in this case, told from Kvothe’s perspective. I particularly like the mechanism Mr. Rothfuss uses for sharing this story: a chronicler or scribe to whom he tells his life story, even though he is still relatively young. This allows both a breathing space for perspective on the narrative and allows the story to foreshadow coming events in ways we cannot fully guess in the second book. This is also where the stories stop for the book to end.
The narrative has a nearly perfect balance of topic, such as the University or the Adem, occasional action – such as the opening battle against Scrael or later against the apparent tax bandits with turned out to be mercenary soldiers led by one of the Chandrian. It is the Chandrian, who are woven lightly throughout the story, who tie the disparate sub-plot and settings together. By the end of the second book, we have a few puzzle pieces but not the picture.
Mr. Rothfuss brings all of these characters, settings, sub-plots and relationships together in a truly epic tale.