It is not often in which I read a book that I feel is amongst the best in the genre (within the limited number of books I have read that is). While The Lord of the Rings will probably remain the best fantasy I have ever read, this book has firmly set itself as next in line bumping The Lies of Locke Lamora down a notch. Speaking of The Lies , these two books share many similarities. A young and plucky protagonist who has spent time on the streets and because of this, he is sharp witted and bright. There is a bit unrequited love, constant trouble and constant scheming. But unlike The Lies, the protagonist, Kvothe, is less juvenile (despite his younger age) and the tone of the story is more mature with less humor. The result in an enchanting piece of literature that is both expertly crafted and immensely enjoyable.
The story surrounds, an innkeeper with a mysterious past. We quickly learn that he is no simple bartender but rather an arcanist (read: Wizard) whose exploits are legendary if not apocryphal. Circumstances are such that Kvothe will recount the true story of his deeds over the course of three days. This installment covers the first day. In this installment, we learn of the younger years of Kvothe, his family, his uncommon genius, the tragedies that formed him and the determination that defined him. The style of writing offers us an firsthand look at the at the creation of legend and a personal mythology. As the mythology is built, we follow Kvothe’s underlying quest to search out a people that are thought to belong only in fairy tales but for whom he has a deep seated hatred.
The Characters Run Deep
This is not fantasy with shallow, one-dimensional characters. The supporting cast and Kvothe especially, are some of the best drawn characters I have encountered in any genre. The author painstakingly builds the character in such a way that his actions and motivations are understandable, regardless if they are wise or agreeable.
While the depth of characters runs deep, the content of the novel is not correspondingly shallow. This novel walks a line between fantasy and literary fiction better than any other I have read. It manages to provide profound moments without being message fiction or absurdly dense.
The Creation of Myth
This is an excellent study in myth building. If you have had the pleasure of reading The Skystone by Jack Whyte and the rest of the series, you will be aware of the masterful job completed in the building of the legend of Merlin. Similarly, we read of the action, both purposeful and inadvertent, that make a bright young street into a legend. I found the process to be amazing. Is he as great as he has been made out to be or is there more to the story.
This epic fantasy novels deals in the concept of the myth. The story spends many pages discussing music, poetry and persons of myth and quoting these at length. It has been my experience that when authors attempt to create text, quotes from ancient or mythological text their results are largely unsuccessful. Patrick Rothfuss does a wonderful job in this area. Whenever he attempts to “quote” from some ancient source, the results are authentic sounding quotes, poetry and song.
The only element I found to be less than 5 star worthy was that of Kvothe’s love interest. While Rothfuss created a large number of interesting and compelling characters, the woman for whom Kvothe pines is far less interesting. She feels as if she is a character I recognize from many other novels. I find the beautiful but damaged, charming but distant, interested but unavailable woman to pine over to be an uninteresting and tired character. That said, it is a minor complaint and I imagine her role in the story will be much more important as in future installments.
This novel has cracked my top 10 favorite novels. The novel is immersive, the prose is beautiful, the characters are sharply drawn and the story is intriguing. That said, not all readers will love this as I do. While I found the story and the writing intriguing, some readers will tire of the slow pace. The novel is not short and requires an investment of time. If violence, non-stop action and pervasive use of magic is the only thing that turns your crank than this may not be for you. If you enjoy strong character development, beautiful prose and myth building, you may enjoy this as much as me.
There are two version of the audiobook in existence. I listened to the newer UK release version. Firstly, I enjoy British narrators and secondly I had heard mixed reviews on the narrations of the US release. Rupert Degas’ narration in this audiobook rivals the best narration I have heard. He employs a wide variety of excellent accents, voices women exceptionally well and has superb timing. His singing voice leaves something to be desired but overall is a 5 star narrator.
It is difficult to find commentary on the sex/violence/language content of book if you are interested. I make an effort to give you the information so you can make an informed decision before reading. *Disclaimer* I do not take note or count the occurrences of adult language as I read. I am simply giving approximations.
Scale 1 – Lowest 5 – Highest
Sex – 1.5
The sexual content is very low. There are few comments of a sexual nature sprinkled amongst the pages and few comments related to the Kvothes interest in the female figure as he ages but there are no graphic comments or sex scenes.
Language – 1.5
Patrick Rothfuss proves my long held belief. Adult language is not required to convey emotion or lend credibility to characters. The use of adult language is well below average and anger, surprise and intensity is easily convey without the use of swearing.
Violence – 2.5
There is one significant scene dealing with the murder of group of people. It is mildly graphic. The is discussion of a much larger group of persons murdered. There is discussion of the violence of the ancient people that Kvothe seeks and some minor violence between characters. There are also a couple of scenes in which whipping is used as punishment but it mildly graphic.