*Author’s note: Minor spoilers follow. If you’re a purist, stop reading now.
I’d like to start this review out by saying that I’m not usually a huge fan of high fantasy. Oh, I’ve read many of the classics–J. R. R. Tolkien, the first few books of The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, even some Terry Goodkind. But left to my own devices, I’m much more likely to gravitate towards urban fantasy or science fiction.
But when a good friend sang high praises of Rothfuss’ as-yet unfinished Kingkiller Chronicle, I decided to give the first book a whirl. And I am certainly glad I did.
The novel follows Kvothe, a young man who spends the early part of his life as a traveling trouper, following his actor and musician parents as they journeyed from town to town, performing plays and ballads at inns and town halls.
When he meets a clever man who seems to know magic, Kvothe is intrigued by the possibility of these powers, called sympathy in the novel. But after a tragedy befalls his family, Kvothe is left homeless and penniless, and must make his way as a street urchin, begging and stealing to feed himself.
Eventually, Kvothe makes his way to the hallowed halls of the University, where he manages to enrol despite his youth and poverty. He begins to build a life for himself, learning the mysterious arts he has always longed for, but his often impetuous actions make him more than a few enemies, and he never stays out of trouble for long. Soon, he has managed to build himself quite a colorful reputation, but even his reputation is not enough for him to win the heart of Denna, the enigmatic and secretive woman of his dreams.
Rothfuss manages to spin a story full of adventure and excitement without sacrificing character development, world-building, or emotional landscape. Kvothe’s world is sharply drawn, but retains enough mystery to keep the reader staring at the map and wondering when we’ll get to visit all the far-flung corners of Vint and Atur. In many ways the society resembles a Renaissance-era Europe, but the comparison pales when you begin to truly see the depth and scope of Rothfuss’ fantasy land.
Kvothe is also one of the more compelling protagonists I’ve had the pleasure of reading recently. The story of his youth is told in retrospect from his perspective as a much older man, and we get enough hints about the twisting and turning of his future to keep us guessing about what adventures will befall him. He is also a complex character, with as many flaws as he has good qualities. He can be hot-heated, proud and rash, but he also has a good heart and stands up for the people he cares about. He longs to belong and to be loved, but he is not willing to sacrifice his pride to pander to anyone he deems unworthy.
Finally, I really loved how Rothfuss approached the topic of magic. He manages to present everything with scientific precision, giving the reasoning and physics behind every bit of “magic” Kvothe learns. For me, it made magic something tangible and scientific instead of something supernatural and vague, something that could be studied and learned if only you had the proper books.
I couldn’t put this book down, all 650 pages of it. I’m already halfway through the sequel, if that says anything about it!
Have you read Rothfuss’ books? Did you enjoy them? Leave your comment below!