My knowledge of this book started way back when I worked at the book store. I had a regular customer that would come in to talk about Sci-Fi/fantasy books and he actually introduced me to both Steven Erikson, and Patrick Rothfuss. This book in particular he pointed out as being incredibly good. But, I think I steered away from the book for a while because I was tending to stick to mainstream/popular books to keep up with modern reads and awards lists. I was also aiming mainly for books I could read in a few days. So sadly, this book ended up pushed to the back of my mind. Up until the friend of mine that is always lending me books handed me this series to read. After my last review, I decided to read a few more of my borrowed books and this is the one I grabbed. I figured this book would take me several weeks to finish, not just a week and a half. I could not put it down, I usually read at night, but I found myself wanting to read at any quiet moment at all. So basically, I had book in hand the entire time I was at my mothers.
This is a fantasy book, kind of in line with Robert Jordan instead of R.A Salvatore. It follows the Ginger InnKeeper “Kote” as people suddenly show up in his Inn covered in blood, missing a pony, and carrying a giant dead spider. What does it mean? Where did it come from? And why does the unassuming Innkeeper know what it is?
As it turns out, the Innkeeper isn’t actually that unassuming. Real name Kvothe, he is both Famous and Infamous, depending on who’s telling the story. He is in hiding for reasons currently unknown, and trying to keep it that way. But he slips up, and a Chronicler finds him, intending to get the true and full history of Kvothe the Bloodless.
Due to this, the story is written in an interesting perspective. A lot of other books I have read split perspectives like this, but I find Rothfuss’ method works the best (Anne Rice did the same in Interview with the Vampire). Many chapters are in third person to see Kvothe and the community around him, but then there are more chapters in Kvothe’s point of view as he tells Chronicler his history. It’s an odd jump, but it works and you get a really rounded out feel for the story.
When I started reading it, I was worried for a while that I was reading the books out of order because they bring up things in the first few chapters but they don’t explain anything, so it feels like information you’re already supposed to know. But I think that plays in his favor because throughout Kvothe’s retelling, bits and pieces of his story tie back to what was ‘currently’ happening. This created that NEED to keep reading because not only is the opening sequence more explained, but Kvothe’s story is heartbreaking and tense so I wanted to read about what was happening to him.
The way Rothfuss wrote Kvothe could have gone drastically wrong, as I have seen happen. Kvothe, as a child, was a genius. Things that took people years to learn, he could learn in days. Everything he created was perfect and advanced, and Kvothe always seemed to come out on top. But Rothfuss makes it work. You know most of Kvothe’s adventures are going to turn out but sometimes the odds seem so staggering, you predict he will be okay, but the thought becomes not “will he be okay!?” but “okay, how the hell is Kvothe going to get himself out of this now?”. I think this actually forces a more creative writing style because we KNOW he will win, so you can’t wow us with that fact, you have to keep the reader entertained by more and more elaborate tales as to HOW he wins. And the thing I found interesting, even though Kvothe succeeded at everything, there were sometimes consequences to that win. Which also takes the power away from “winning” since he’ll probably still end up punished.
Which leads me to the secondary plot. This is where the two timelines start to tie in. In the opening, people in the Inn are talking about something called the “Chandrian”, and Kote knows more about it than he’s letting on. As it turns out, Kvothe was part of a troupe, and his father and mother wrote the music for a lot of their work. But his father chose to write a song about the mysterious Chandrian. He learned a little too much, and in turn drew their attention. The Chandrian wiped out the entire troupe, leaving a 12-year-old Kvothe in the middle of the forest, alone.
From there he tells the story of living on the streets, stealing and hiding to survive, and finally managing to get into a prestige College to become and Arcanist (kind of a HIGHLY trained jack-of-all-trades).
Another thing that was interesting about this book was it’s magic system. The book eludes to demons, fae, creatures, and “magic”. But in this book, it’s called “sympathy”. Rothfuss explains Sympathy in such a way that it actually starts to sound plausible! It’s basically binding one object to another to create what looks like a spell. Like, to lift a heavy rock you might bind it to a piece of paper, or to create a flame to light a candle you’d bind it to your own body heat through blood. It’s an interesting magic system, and not one I’ve seen before. But there is a type of magic that not many people can learn, and it is that exact magic that drove Kvothe to extremes to get into the school. The one he was looking for specifically was called “The name of the wind” (I see what you did there Rothfuss). It is not sympathy, or any kind of binding, it is an inherent ability to see the names of things. If you know the name, you can use that to command it.
The whole book had incredibly interesting ideas, and no matter how far he stretched into the realm of “Fantasy” he still managed to tie it to plausible science. It was odd reading a fantasy novel that felt like parts of the story could really happen, that feeling is usually reserved for Sci-Fi.
Before I wrap this up, I will mention one thing that impressed me immensely. Even though this book is written by a man, about a man, and the story is heavily dominated by men, it comes off as oddly feminist. Many characters were appalled by rape, and it’s never glorified, just a horrible fact; women might not have had too many scenes together, but they were never catty; No damsels in distress, instead most of the women written by Rothfuss were powerful forces all on their own; and when a woman has to rely on a man to survive, there was no judgement. In their world it was harder for a woman to survive and that exact fact was pointed out to Kvothe, so when he would be about to pass judgement, he remembered those words and realized he cannot speak to what a female character could or could not do because even in the same situation, he had the privledge of gender. This was all incredible to read, especially from an 11-year-old book. This alone made me love the book.
Even though the books are gigantic, they are a fast read. It is incredibly well written, the characters are endearing (no matter how perfect they seem), and the mysteries are so intriguing that I was reading just to learn more! I highly recommend this book, as long as you can handle a few darker topics.