A Toast to Kvothe! (A Review of Patrick Rothfus’ Fantasy Novels)
I just recently finished reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfus, and I’m already 400 or so pages into the sequel The Wise Man’s Fear. To me, reading these novels is like gliding through rarefied air. The narrative is crisp, clear, easy to follow, yet the story is filled with mystery, clever repartee and a wonderful sexual tension that in some ways reminds me of my favorite novel of all time, The Magus by John Fowles.
I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll try to avoid specifics. The narrative structure of these novels is one of the many aspects that keeps me reading. Simply put, Rothfus introduces his main character, Kvothe, in the present, an unassuming innkeeper, named Kote, in a small village. When an official Chronicler finally tracks Kvothe down to investigate Kvothe’s story, the novel becomes Kvothe’s retelling. The entire retelling is colored by the style and flair of the narrator and at times, the story breaks when events happen to disrupt the narrative, or Kvothe tires for the day. This structure alone fascinates me, and through it, Rothfus develops Kvothe’s story as legend, complete with his hardships and his triumphs, his talents and his foibles. Using first person narration creates a more clear character – reader bond, as it also makes it easier for Rothfus to infuse the story with Kvothe’s personality, emotional responses, world view, and style.
Another reason I enjoy reading Rothfus’ narrative is because I have been reading George Martin’s Game of Thrones novels (the first two), and the narrative style of those novels is so different. Martin’s novels have a large cast of characters, great political intrigue, mystery and suspense, yet the narrative is disjointed as the third person narrator follows different characters, in different location, through different chapters. Reading The Game of Thrones novels is much harder work. Reading Rothfus is more fluid, easier, yet not simple or dumbed down.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Rothfus’ novels will appeal to men more than women even though many of the characters that inhabit his world are interesting and strong women. Since Kvothe’s story begins when he is a teenager, there are many instances where he feels, acts and behaves awkwardly, especially when he interacts with women in the novel. Always a gentleman, the struggle between his desires and his conscience (Freud’s Id and Superego), becomes a major source of subtle tension throughout the story. This, along with Kvothe’s youthful inexperience with women, reminds me of the conflicts I went through as a teen and young adult, and I’m sure it will ring a bell with others. Drawing the protagonist toward a romantic interest, and then pushing him away, again and again, develops powerful tension and suspense. For science fiction fans, this technique is also used quite well by Joss Whedon in his Firefly series with Malcolm Reynolds and Inara.
Overall, if you are looking for a clever, literary, easy to read fantasy novel, give Patrick Rothfus’ work a try.