New Book Obsession – The Kingkiller Chronicle

As previously documented on the blog, I love to read. I will happily devour any book put in front of me, but am much pickier about those I choose to recommend. The Kingkiller Chronicle series by Patrick Rothfuss was so exceptional, I’ve wasted no time in buying it, lending it out, and recommending it to anyone who will listen. This is noteworthy because I only buy books once I know they’re worth owning. The first two books of the trilogy, The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, in addition to three novellas have currently been released, with the final book still to come (hopefully in 2016).

I am obsessed. The writing is incredible and poetic, the stories are complicated and memorable, and the books were obviously well planned with each scene directly serving the plot or lending clues. More than anything else, what makes these books so easy to recommend are wonderfully developed characters and the world they inhabit.

Lately, I’ve really been loving stories about stories (The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield also comes to mind, though it’s a very different type of book). While the plot of these books is largely about the story of Kvothe and his journey to the present day, I’d argue the book is really about stories and legends, and the relationship between truth, stories, and history.

The book takes place in three time periods: the present (where the story is being told over three days), Kvothe’s past (and the stories of how he came by his reputation), and the past of the Four Corners of Civilization (which is gleaned through fairy tales, oral history, books, pottery, and even knots). Kvothe himself comes from a family of travelling performers, and many of their best plays and songs are based on creation legends and the history of wars, heroes, and courtly drama. His story is being recorded in the present by a chronicler, who is on his way to meet Skarpi, an old man known for telling stories, when the tale begins.

It’s obvious that the distant past has great bearing on the world in which Kvothe has lived, but whether the greatest impact has been from the truth, the legends created with only bits of truth, or whether the “meaningless” children’s stories and legends actually contain the greatest deal of truth remains to be seen.

The importance of stories also mean that some significant details may be lost on the reader their first time through. Many passages read like meaningless songs, nursery rhymes, or prattle which seem to be setting the mood, and it’s only hundreds of pages later that you realized there may have been a clue somewhere in there.

The book is also suspenseful because you know where Kvothe is in the present, but you have no idea how he got there. The cocky, genius, and hot-tempered guy from the stories seems nothing like the withdrawn man in the present. You’re left guessing what happened to bring him to his current state,  if he’s going to be able to overcome his funk, or if he really is, as the first page of the book says, “waiting to die”. I’ve got a thousand theories about the identity of Master Ash, Denna’s game plan, the true history of the world, what’s behind the door, Kvothe’s ancestry, and a thousand other details, but I’d be lying if I said I had any idea how the story was going to end. I’m not even sure if Kvothe is the hero or if he’ll end up on the wrong side. I’ve just started the novellas and intend to reread the main books when I’m done to see if I can come up with anything else. They’re so good I’m not even waiting to reread them.

Books, like travel, are at their best when they allow you to truly immerse yourself in a world other than your own. Patrick Rothfuss has crafted a series that captured my attention in a way only a few books or cities have. I can’t wait to see how it ends. 

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