The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, also known as Days One and Two of The Kingkiller Chronicle, are the first two installments of Patrick Rothfuss‘s complicated trilogy. (The final book has yet to be released.) Rothfuss’s website says he spent seven years developing the story of Kvothe, his main character, and I can believe that. No time lapse occurs between the two books, and they follow the same storyline, so I will discuss them together, since they really are the same story.
“Complicated trilogy”, I said. This is quite true. The far-reaching plot has many angles and complications, and it is quite a deep story from the start. Additionally, many stories relevant to the plot and characters are told along the way. Kvothe tells the Chronicler his story, starting with his early childhood. The books are set in a fictional world, in a semi-medieval age of horse-travel, swords, and magic with the twist of modern scientific knowledge in many areas. Plot details you can find elsewhere, so I will direct my comments in another direction.
I will say that young Kvothe is a compelling character. Early tragedy forces Kvothe out into the adult world as a child, and he shows himself to be resourceful, intelligent, and determined. His natural talent for magic leads him to the University to study it and find out how to destroy the bringers of his tragedy.
Adult Kvothe, for while he is still a teenager during most of book 1 and 2, he is also definitely an adult, does become impressed with his own talent. Talented he is, and uncommonly clever, and many other things, but he knows this and that does not always make him a pleasant character. Now, this is certainly not by itself a negative thing. However, the intensity of his egotism after he reaches the university made him semi-unrelatable to me. It was hard for me to truly be sympathetic to him until the final third of The Wise Man’s Fear. This did not make me put down the books, however, because of other quite compelling elements.
One such element was the pacing. There are slower portions, but for the most part the story is intense and it happens rapidly. In the middle of book 2, the story slows down dramatically, to the point that I nearly did stop reading. In my opinion, spending this much time with so little change was a risky move. Rothfuss could have shortened those scenes without losing much. I am glad, however, that I did not stop reading. The rest of the book was more than enough reward for working through that portion in the middle. As in the previous book and the first half of book 2, I was pulled onward smoothly from event to event, with enough progression to keep me intrigued but not so much that I was overwhelmed. This is also a testament to his skill with suspense- the information reveal is masterful, with few exceptions; there were a few instances where his foreshadowing was too heavy-handed. Otherwise, the pacing was quite effective.
Another element I thoroughly enjoyed in this story was the detail. This is where I see Rothfuss spending many of those seven years. Everything from the geography of the world to the make of the swords is research-based and has a real-world feel. Realistic supporting detail marks every event, character, and location in the story. If you have a passion or even a distaste for research-heavy writing, you will appreciate the work Rothfuss has done here.
One thing Rothfuss does particularly well is incorporate a realistic religion into the cultures shown in the books. Evil devotees of the religion, flawed but sincere believers, and nominal believers give the religion the texture of a real-world faith. One of the stories-within-the-story is of Tehlu, the god of the culture, and the demon he purges from the world in an act of self-sacrifice. I’m not sure of Rothfuss’s personal religious views, but that story itself is one of the gems of the books because it reflects a profound understanding of the relationship between humans and the divine. The believability is startling.
There is much more I could say about these books, but I will confine myself to one additional element. Rothfuss’s skill with language makes these two books some of the most memorable I have ever read. His book-end pieces to both books are masterfully poetic, and dispersed throughout the stories are elegant images and diction, beautiful and careful description, and poetic language unequaled in most genre fiction.
The themes and characters are complex and subtle, making for an absorbing, thought-provoking read. It is not dry or overly intellectual, either; the story remains a story for us all– accessible, well-crafted, and deep. I highly recommend it.
Below are links to purchase new or used copies of the first book. The Amazon link will allow you to read a portion of the book, and I definitely encourage you to do so. I and my brother-in-law Sean doubt you will regret it.
Thanks for reading!