Read: 2011 – 2014
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Published: 2007 – Present
Selected By: Elle Tea
“The Kingkiller Chronicle is a fantasy trilogy framed as the transcription of the verbal autobiography of Kvothe, a renowned musician, arcanist, and adventurer now living anonymously as a rural innkeeper. The plot is divided into two different action threads: the present, where Kvothe tells the story of his life to Devan Lochees (known as Chronicler) in the main room of his inn, and Kvothe’s past, the story in question, which comprises the majority of the books.” – adapted from the Kingkiller (series) Wikipedia summary.
This is a general review of the entire trilogy, which includes the following works:
The Name of the Wind (2007)
The Wise Man’s Fear (2011)
The Doors of Stone (TBA) – working title
Related works within the Four Corners of Civilization are:
How Old Holly Came to Be (2013) – short story within the Unfettered anthology
The Lightning Tree (TBA) – novella
The Slow Regard of Silent Things (TBA) – novella
In short, I friggin’ love this series. La-la-love. I love the characters, the plot, the pace, the world, and the style in which it is all written.
Patrick Rothfuss is, in my opinion, more than just an author. He’s a storyteller who may have so much literary magic stored in his body that I’m surprised he’s not glowing from the amount of excess that must be dripping out of his pores. Seriously – the man has such a subtle, powerful way with words, and the imagery he weaves is absolutely spellbinding. For example:
“The third silence was not an easy thing to notice. If you listened for an hour, you might begin to feel it in the wooden floor underfoot and in the rough, splintering barrels behind the bar. It was in the weight of the black stone hearth that held the heat of a long dead fire. It was in the slow back and forth of a white linen cloth rubbing along the grain of the bar. And it was in the hands of the man who stood there, polishing a stretch of mahogany that already gleamed in the lamplight. The man had true-red hair, red as flame. His eyes were dark and distant, and he moved with the subtle certainty that comes from knowing many things. The Waystone [Inn] was his, just as the third silence was his. This was appropriate, as it was the greatest silence of the three, wrapping the others inside itself. It was deep and wide as autumn’s ending. It was heavy as a great river-smooth stone. It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.”
I mean. Come on. Amazing. And that’s just a brief snippet from the Prologue. The entire series, so far, has been written so smoothly and paced so well that, though the books can seem rather large to some, the stories just fly by. Details about the civilizations themselves – from religion to language and money – are gradually explained as the stories progress, so rather than having it all spelled out for you in one go, we are plopped right down in the middle of this world, this man’s life, and we are shown, little by little, the details that make up the vast world which Kvothe inhabits.
Once the first book gets going, Kvothe can come across as little more than a pitifully unlucky boy. Nothing good seems to happen to him, and if the stars do align in his favor for even the slightest flicker of an instant, it is guaranteed that, within a chapter or two, some karmic wave will slice through everything and everyone the kid cares about, just to retain cosmic balance. He eventually morphs into a hotshot teenager, and I won’t say that the arrogance he exhibits during this time doesn’t bother me – it does; I have a hard time relating to someone who has lost everything, who has suffered so intensely and been forced to claw up from the bottom of the dung heap just to survive only to squander what might be their one and only golden ticket of opportunity on what come to little more than shenanigans. Not just once – repeatedly. And boldly.
In my opinion, this arrogance is intentional, as is the reader’s reaction to it. We are automatically attracted to the innkeeper, we can’t help it; we are attracted to the calm strength he exhibits when the room around him explodes into chaos, to the patient smile he gives to his companion, and we pity him for the sorrow that seems to fill the hollow space where his heart used to be. We can tell ourselves, “There. That seems like a good, solid, dependable man.” As he tells his story, the facade we began with begins to crack, and we see that the foundation itself is weak. The boy he was stands out in stark contrast to the patient, weary, humbled man we thought we knew. It makes you wonder even more about what lies ahead in his story, what might have happened in all the years from then until now, what could have possibly turned such a posturing little show-off into someone who seems to want nothing more than to be forgotten entirely.
And then you have to wonder… just who is he doing all of this for? Typically, someone who boasts such a careless disregard for the established rules and tramps all over them with a swagger and a song is doing so because they have something to prove. The mighty Kvothe, Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe the Arcane, Kvothe Kingkiller doubts himself. He has to validate his position, his power, his knowledge to himself constantly, not because he thinks he is better than everyone else, but because he worries that he’s not even close. He is competitive and loyal, he wants to be the best he can be – but always there is the doubt that he is not, that he’s failing himself, the memories of those he’s lost, and all of the chances others took to get him where he is. What seems on the surface to be arrogance could easily be translated as desperation – the desperate need to master everything at once, as quickly as possible, to do it all now and better and bigger than everyone else, so he can know, once and for all, that he deserves to even be alive.
The Kingkiller Chronicle series is about validation to me, about survival and patience and overcoming hardship; all of these things are fairly standard for fantasy novels. But it is also about reality, about what happens when the glory is burned away, when the fighting is over and there’s no one left to rally against. It is about the lies that feed legends, and it is about the truths behind those tales. We are given a glimpse in the beginning of a hero, we are fed nicknames and rumors, we hear allusions to greatness and to horrors, and then… then the remainder of the series is spent methodically deconstructing him until our hero becomes…
A man. Nothing more, nothing less. A man who was once a boy. A man alone who has fought and loved and mourned and lost. A man with friends and enemies, with an enigmatic past and an uncertain future. A man who is imperfect, who can be moody and unpredictable, who can be amusing and kind, who has done great things and bad ones, and who, for various reasons, people have chosen to build legends around.
A man who, against his wishes, will be remembered as a hero.
Elle read the Kindle versions of books 1 & 2 of this series, as well as the Kindle version of the short story “How Old Holly Came to Be.”