Book Review: The Kingkiller Chronicles Books 1 & 2 by Patrick Rothfuss
by V. Shalace [July 25, 2021]
The first time I heard about this series, it was from my cousin who told me with great vehemence, “Don’t bother reading it. A lot of people said it was good, and it’s nice and long, so I bought the first book. I couldn’t get past the first few chapters. It was awful, the main character was annoying, and I was so angry that I spent money on it.”
Wow, I thought. Talk about the opposite of a glowing recommendation. Just as a reference, one English fantasy novel she told me she really liked a few years ago was American Gods by Neil Gaiman.
For awhile, I forgot about the Kingkiller Chronicles. Then during graduate school, I ran into two different people over the course of one day at my apartment complex who told me that this was one of their favorite fantasy series of all time.
I asked one of them what the series was about. He thought about this for a few minutes then said, “It’s kind of hard to summarize, because it’s basically about this guy’s life, and all you know about him is that he kills this king, and the story is how he comes to do that. He goes to this university to learn magic and a lot of things happen. I guess I can relate to him because he’s a student.”
I was looking for something to read, and like my cousin, I like long books. All right then, I thought. I guess I’ll give it a try, and then I’d make up my own mind about whether it was worth reading.
The Kingkiller Chronicles is a trilogy, although the third book has still not yet been released. The first book is called The Name of the Wind, and book two is The Wise Man’s Fear. I went through them both in about two weeks, and my conclusion?
First of all, that undergraduate student was right. This is a very difficult series to summarize. There are essentially two main strands interwoven through the trilogy. One strand is told in third person and takes place in the present day where Kvothe, currently living as an innkeeper, is telling the story of his life to Chronicler, who wishes to record the true account of the Kingkiller’s history. At the same time, there are hints of great unrest in the kingdom that relate to some war that is not explained. The other strand is told in first person by Kvothe and is really the bulk of the narrative. It starts with his childhood in a traveling performance troop and moves through the unfortunate—and sometimes tragic—events that eventually lead him to enroll in a magic university and begin searching for information on a mythical, demonic figure in the world’s history known in children’s stories as the Chandrian.
Much of the series really is just about Kvothe’s life: how he manages to survive after losing his family, how he scrounges up enough money to stay in school, how he reconnects with the music that was such a huge part of his life as a child, how he meets the woman he loves, how he learns to fight, and that sort of thing. Normally, I like stories that are just about life and living in an alternate world. What I didn’t like was how so much of his life was like a slow train wreck. Bad things just kept happening and happening, and whenever something better came along, the story made it obvious that another misfortune would soon be on the way.
Unlike my cousin, I liked the main character Kvothe quite a lot. I appreciated that he was a very moral person. It wasn’t that he didn’t realize that he could do bad things, like when he found a large amount of psychoactive tree sap that could be sold to drug dealers for a great deal of money. However, he cared about right and wrong, and he generally chose, within his power, to do the right things for the right reasons. This might not sound like much to some people, but it was very important to me and made me care more about him and want to know more.
Unfortunately, Kvothe was the only character that I really liked, with the exception of a few of his university friends who were not particularly important to the narrative.
All in all, I can see merits to both my cousin’s criticism of the series and that undergraduate student’s praise. The tone of this series is definitely on the serious and slightly dark side, but there were some sprinkles of humor. I liked the way the different narratives were woven together, and it was interesting to hear the stories that different characters told about their world’s history and the history of the Chandrian. However, I would have enjoyed the books a lot more if there had been more people in Kvothe’s life that he had close interactions with and that I could trust wouldn’t stab him in the back in a later chapter.