Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Kingkiller Chronicle Redux

A year ago I blogged about The Name of the Wind, the first book of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle. It took me thirteen months, but I finally read book two, The Wise Man’s Fear. And I feel even more ambivalent. There are so many things I don’t like about this trilogy—even things I hate!—and yet if book three were going to be released tomorrow, I’d be camped out in line at the bookstore by midnight tonight.

 A quick summary: Kvothe was born into a traveling players’ troupe. When he was eleven, the entire troupe, including his parents, was murdered by a group of immortal evildoers who most people consider to be a fairytale. From that point onward, Kvothe bent his life toward mastering the sophisticated magics taught at the University as the only road to knowledge and revenge.

In the present, Kvothe is an innkeeper, a hero in hiding, relating the story of his life to a scribe over a period of three days (one day per volume of the trilogy.) We know that there are currently problems in the lands: impossibly high taxes, unsafe roads, distant war, and unnatural creatures that fear iron, but we don’t yet know how Kvothe ties into any of that, or how he might solve it.

The majority of the story is the past, as told by the innkeeper. In The Name of the Wind, Kvothe relays how he made his way from the site of his parents’ murder to being a street-beggar to being a student at the University. In The Wise Man's Fear, he tells of his seeming success at the University, until an ongoing and dangerous feud with another student forced him to take a leave of absence to let things cool down. He went to distant Vintas, where he vied for the patronage of a nobleman, and found himself drawn into tangent after tangent.

 I don’t want to spoil the book by giving too much detail. Let’s just say—there are wonderful things about Rothfuss’s storytelling and world-building. He’s an idea man—he enjoys exploring philosophical concepts through character interaction. The downside is, it makes the story feel very picaresque or episodic—one nearly random event after another, to force the character to learn and grow in whatever way serves his impending hero-hood. And each episode goes on for hundreds of pages (this is a 994 page book.) I spent a good deal of the book thinking, can we go back to the University now?

Ultimately I thought the books could have been edited a lot more tightly, both plot-wise and sentence-wise, and perhaps been broken up into more volumes—maybe even a triple trilogy, á la Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series. Nevertheless, Kvothe is a strong and charismatic character, whose clever voice, human flaws, and audacious risk-taking overcome the occasional weakness in the writing and plot.

In my previous post on The Kingkiller Chronicle, I said book three was coming out in March of last year, and I apologize. I don’t know where I saw that, but it appears publication dates on the third book were tentatively set for May 2013 but have been pushed up to an unannounced date, possibly next year.

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