It’s rare to find a good author, especially a new one. So when I manage to find one, I like to share it. Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles are quickly carving a wonderful new niche in the realm of fantasy writing.
The last new author I embraced so quickly was A. Lee Martinez. I started with In the Company of Ogres and loved everything that came out after. Rothfuss’ style is very different, of course.
The first thing to understand about the series is the idea of a chronicle. The books tell the story of the heroic arcanist/swordsman/minstrel/innkeeper Kvothe. Specifically it tells the story of Kvothe telling his story to a scribe nicknamed The Chronicler.
The structure is episodic. The plot ebbs and flows rather than building to one gigantic wave. It can be anti-climactic at parts. Sometimes it’s a touch over the top. But, always, it’s fascinating.
While most modern fantasy writers seek to emulate Tolkien’s idea of complete world crafting with rich histories, languages, lore and maps, Rothfuss seems to draw as much from 18th century shipwreck novels.
In many ways, Kvothe’s life is a shipwreck. Rather than start one long, epic quest, you follow his fight for survival. Of course, there ARE smatterings of ancient evils, songs, dragons and such. Yet the story strives to feel “real” as often as it does fantastic.
Now I did mention a few issues with the story so far, but before I get to that, let me say I highly recommend the series. It’s always a treat to follow a hero who has great gifts and flaws. Somewhere we know things went south for Kvothe, but we also know the Chronicle of his past is only the beginning. This could easily stretch into a new series following him after his story is told.
Now for the problems …
As I mentioned earlier, sometimes Rothfuss can go a little over the top.
For example, through most of the series Kvothe is a virgin. It’s not unexpected. He is clueless when it comes to women. I have the same issue myself and often wonder how I ever managed to marry. Kvothe also yearns for Denna, a young woman he bumps into repeatedly.
However, in the second book, Kvothe is walking along the road, sees the most beautiful girl in the world, chases her into the woods and bones her for a year or so. The girl is actually a magical wood nymph, and Kvothe becomes the first man to escape her. It’s a pretty jarring shift, taking us from 18th century shipwreck novel to greek myth. It’s not a deal breaker, but I did roll my eyes a bit.
The worst part is Kvothe is apparently gifted enough in his sexual abilities to make the nymph surprised to hear he was a virgin. Sorry, but you lost me there. No amount of reading or study is going to make you able to please the most beautiful girl in the world your first time (especially after a spirited romp through the forest).
What saves the story is an offhand comment Kvothe makes during one of his breaks in his story telling. He admits to stretching the truth sometimes in his storytelling. I think that’s enough to allow the reader to accept the idea of hyperbole while the author can get away with a few things here and there.
There are a few other moments like that, but Rothfuss never lets Kvothe get too over the top. Kvothe makes enough mistakes to stay reasonably grounded.
Not a lot of problems, as you see. Just a great series to jump into.