“I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.
You may have heard of me.”
Wow. I have to admit, I liked it much more than I expected. That said, this is going to be hard to summarize, but I’ll do my best. Fasten your seatbelts – this review may be a long one. Let’s get to it.
The story opens at a bar called the Waystone Inn, run by a man known as Kote and his student Bast. The first couple of chapters are to get a feel for the world that Rothfuss has created and during this time we start to learn of a legendary figure known as Taborlin the Great. This is to get a feel for the real story that we will be told, not of Taborlin, but a legendary figure named Kvothe. When a man known as Chronicler comes to the inn, we learn that the innkeeper is actually Kvothe himself, and Chronicler wants to know his story, which ends up being what the novel is really about.
Kvothe’s story begins with how he was brought up, traveling with a troupe of actors and musicians that put on plays for willing spectators. Kvothe’s father meets a man named Abenthy, who teaches Kvothe all sorts of things, and one of the things he learns is the basics of a magic known as sympathy, where you draw heat from an abstract source to light a candle or a lamp, or even to harm an assailant. When Kvothe’s entire troupe is murdered by something known as the Chandrian, Kvothe wanders the earth for a while, eventually ending up in a city known as Tarbean, where he lives in poverty as a beggar. It is during this time that he hears a story about a man named Lanre, who became the evil force that would become the Chandrian. This inspires Kvothe to finally make the move to attend the university despite his poor status.
When he finally gets into the school, he immediately makes two enemies, one of them being a teacher, or master, as the students call them, and the other being a noble heir named Ambrose. This is also when rumors start circulating about him as he performs heroic deeds: he rescues a student from a fire in the school and he stops two of Ambrose’s thugs from killing him. The last part of the story deals with how he went to a town, Trebon, because the Chandrian had terrorized a wedding there. He finds his friend Denna there and they piece together what happened while also fighting off a dragon, which Kvothe manages to actually kill on his own. He returns to school after this where he has one final confrontation with Ambrose, during which he finally calls the name of the wind. By the time the tale is over, he had laid the foundation for the legendary Kingkiller he is known as in the bar, even though the everyday patrons don’t know it.
The story over, Kote allows Chronicler to stay at the inn for the night. When Chronicler goes up to his room, Bast walks in and reveals that he lured Chronicler to the inn and threatens him, saying that he owns him and will do literally anything to make sure his master is happy. Finally, we switch over to Kvothe’s point of view, who is waiting to fall asleep.
This was really good. The way the story was structured (I would call this a frame story) reminded me a lot of The Canterbury Tales and I really like that setup. The setting of the story that came before Kvothe’s tale really helped to give a feel for what this world is like. There are demons, monsters, people in the night who could be dangerous because they’re possessed, magic being used but not realized by the so-called ordinary people… it was a fully realized world. Even though we only get hints of it because of its frame story structure, I really feel like I want to know more about it, because there’s a lot Rothfuss could do with a setting like this. That being said, the main story the book tells is incredible, too, to the point where, when there was a pretty long interlude, I was thinking, “No! Get back to the main story!” which is why I say that there’s a lot that can be done with this type of setting, a lot we can learn from it. I liked how Rothfuss balanced both worlds out, giving each the attention to detail and care it needed. Although it is Kvothe’s story overall, this world could be its own story easily, and I love that feeling. Maybe we could learn more about Chronicler, or where Bast came from, or the demons that plague this world in the time the outer frame of the story is set. There is mention of a war and how the roads are bad, which Kvothe says is his fault. I’d love to know more about this. Maybe it will be connected to the next book and we’ll learn more then, but I really am enjoying speculating on all this. The world is so well-built that I feel like the possibilities are endless, and I really can’t wait to see what Rothfuss does next with it.
“Outside the Waystone Inn the air lay still and heavy on the empty dirt road that ran through the center of town. The sky was a featureless grey sheet of cloud that looked as if it wanted to rain but couldn’t quite work up the energy.
Kote walked across the street to the open front of the smithy. The smith wore his hair cropped short and his beard thick and bushy. As Kote watched, he carefully drove a pair of nails through a scythe blade’s collar, fixing it firmly onto a curved wooden handle.”
Moving on to characters, another reason that I gave this story as high a rating as I did is because I enjoyed all the characters that played a role in the story. Chronicler, despite having little character of his own, was fun to read about. I particularly liked how he was robbed on the way to the inn, but it was a very civil affair. I was laughing pretty hard at that one. I like how he stood by Kvothe and tried to help him in the later bar fight, pulling a sword on the intruder and striving to be brave despite his fear.
In Kvothe’s story, I liked Denna particularly well. Despite the fact that she’s something of a wanderer, her friendship with Kvothe was very sweet. I really liked that, despite the fact that Kvothe had feelings for her, he wasn’t willing to risk his friendship with her by telling her. She was different and kind of a mystery, but I tend to like characters like that because they keep you on your toes. She always stood by him and him by her. One of the best moments I think they have together is when they’re in Trebon and she accidentally swallows poison. Kvothe nurses her back to health while they are fending off a dragon. When he leaves to stop the dragon from terrorizing Trebon, she leaves where they had originally been. This frustrated me a little (as it did Kvothe) but again, she is something of a wanderer so I wasn’t completely surprised by it. She was never mean to him and they always stayed true to one another, which I appreciate more than anything else about their relationship.
Now, I should mention Ambrose, and why I really hated him as a character and why it had to be that way. A good portion of the time at the university, Kvothe has to deal with the noble heir bullying him and making his life miserable. He gets Kvothe banned from the section of the university library where he would have learned anything about the Chandrian, he eventually breaks Kvothe’s lute, and as I said in the summary, he tried to have Kvothe killed. There is no redeeming quality about him, which I think was done on purpose. Giving Kvothe this type of enemy made the time at the university particularly tense and engaging, and it complicated his overall goal of learning more about the Chandrian. Their rivalry was a little annoying at times, but I did like that it created a legitimate challenge for Kvothe while he was at the university.
I should also mention the elephant in the room here. The Chandrian were interesting as the main force Kvothe is struggling against. I don’t really know what they are, what their motives are, and this creates a great sense of mystery for the story. We know that the leader of them, Haliax, is Lanre, a warlord from a story, but what about the others, and why are they doing all of this? I hope Rothfuss will eventually start to give answers to this, because again, there’s a lot that can be done with it. The only reason we have for the killing of Kvothe’s troupe is that “someone’s parents have been singing entirely the wrong sort of songs.” While that in itself could be the reason, we haven’t learned the significance of this. Maybe it has to do with their power or the way they’re feared, but Rothfuss has set something up that I really want to see expanded upon.
“‘When the hearthfire turns to blue
What to do? What to do?
Run outside. Run and hide.
When your bright sword turns to rust?
Who to trust? Who to trust?
Standing alone. Standing stone.’
Denna grew paler as she realized what I was implying. She
nodded and chanted the chorus softly to herself:
‘See a woman pale as snow?
Silent come and silent go.
What’s their plan? What’s their plan?
Finally, I want to jump back to the first frame of this story and talk about Bast. When we are introduced to him, he seems inconsequential, maybe even a little innocent. We see him a lot in the inn, which lays the groundwork for who he is as a character, such as when he gets angry at his master for leaving an over-the-top and worrying note. He is definitely loyal to Kvothe and it is established that he is a student that could do better, but is overall a good friend. All of this works to set up exactly the opposite of what he is shown to be at the end of the story. The reveal at the end that he’s not as innocent as he’d seemed threw me off guard, but it is a major reason why I want to know more about the world outside Kvothe’s story. What is driving Bast’s actions? Does he really want Kvothe to be happy? We got an early hint that he was more dangerous than first seen, but again, this is why it would be great of Rothfuss to further expand upon this world in later books. The way he treated Chronicler was completely out of nowhere given what we’d seen, but it makes me want to learn as much as possible about the world of the outer frame of the story and how it ties into Kvothe’s story.
“Bast leaned forward, bringing his face close to Chronicler’s. The scribe panicked and tried to scrabble sideways out of the bed, but Bast took hold of his shoulder and held him fast.‘Hear my words, manling,’ he hissed. ‘Do not mistake me for my mask. You see light dappling on the water and forget the deep, cold dark beneath.’ The tendons in Bast’s hand creaked as he tightened his grip on the circle of iron. ‘Listen. You cannot hurt me. You cannot run or hide. In this I will not be defied.'”
Finally, let’s talk about Kvothe. I liked his character quite a bit. His story was interesting enough that I actually enjoyed learning about him and what motivated him. That said, I’ve seen him accused of Gary Stuism and, honestly, I don’t see why. While I do think that a lot happened to him, I can also see how the choices he made affected the story overall. For example, listening to Ambrose and taking an open flame into the Archives got him banned. He didn’t have to trust him, and he was upset by what followed. Or saving Trebon from the dragon that he accidentally led there. He wasn’t always perfect – I think it’s just that the mistakes that he did make were small ones. A gifted character like this can sometimes fall into that boring mold, but I personally like how Rothfuss handled him. I don’t think he was too perfect, and he was still badass enough to be the intriguing legendary figure that the story sets him up to be. That said, he did have a meaner side, but that was usually an act that he picked up from the troupe, and he only used it when he really felt he needed to, so it didn’t become a habit.
“Chronicler found himself thinking of a story he had heard. One of the many. The story told of how Kvothe had gone looking for his heart’s desire. He had to trick a demon to get it. But once it rested in his hand, he was forced to fight an angel to keep it. I believe it, Chronicler found himself thinking. Before it was just a story, but now I can believe it. This is the face of a man who has killed an angel.“
As I said earlier, I’d really like to see Rothfuss expand on all of this. I know that the next book is the next chapter of Kvothe’s story, but I also think it would be great if we can see more of how it ties into the world they live in now. Rothfuss has a great setup for something like that, and I’m excited to see where the story will go next.
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