Think I’m overstating the narrative brilliance and thematic depth of these books? I dare anyone to read this saga and not agree with me 100%.
Rothfuss’s writing style is fluid, rich in detail, and self-controlled; he weaves a labyrinthine plotline effortlessly; his realm-building abilities are subtle and sublime; but the reason I absolutely adore these novels is because in a genre obsessed with size – shelf-bending series spanning eons and featuring a cast of hundreds – Rothfuss has done just the opposite and penned a profoundly intimate story about an unassuming innkeeper recalling the events of his life while working in a tavern. But – trust me – his story rivals that of any epic fantasy adventure…
“It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.
The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking. If there had been a wind it would have sighed through the trees, set the inn’s sign creaking on its hooks, and brushed the silence down the road like trailing autumns leaves. If there had been a crowd, even a handful of men inside the inn, they would have filled the silence with conversation and laughter, the clatter and clamor one expects from a drinking house during the dark hours of night. If there had been music….but no, of course there was no music. In fact there were none of these things, and so the silence remained.
Inside the Waystone a pair of men huddled at one corner of the bar. They drank with quiet determination, avoiding serious discussions of troubling news. In doing this they added a small, sullen silence to the larger, hollow one. It made an alloy of sorts, a counterpoint.
The third silence was not an easy thing to notice. If you listened for an hour, you might begin to feel it in the wooden floor underfoot and in the rough, splintering barrels behind the bar. It was in the weight of the black stone hearth that held the heat of a long-dead fire. It was in the slow back and forth of a white linen cloth rubbing along the grain of the bar. And it was in the hands of the man who stood there, polishing a stretch of mahogany that already gleamed in the lamplight.
The man had true-red hair, red as flame. His eyes were dark and distant, and he moved with the subtle certainty that comes from knowing many things…”
“The debut novel from Patrick Rothfuss not only lives up to its extraordinary pre-press hype (DAW President Elizabeth Wollheim called it “the most brilliant first fantasy novel I have read in over 30 years as an editor”), it surpasses it. When fantasy fans begin reading The Name of the Wind, they should be fully prepared to lose all contact with the outside world while immersed in this highly original and mesmerizing tale of magic, adventure and legend.”
But as I wallowed in the literary afterglow of The Name of the Wind, a deep concern fell upon me – how could Rothfuss possibly write a sequel on the same level of The Name of the Wind? I’ve read plenty of exceptional novels that have been followed up by decidedly inferior sequels. I waited and worried…
Fast forward four years. A review copy of The Wise Man’s Fear lands at my door – 994 pages of long-anticipated fantasy fiction goodness.
Was it what I was expecting? No. In fact, I found myself stunned on numerous occasions by wonderfully unanticipated plot twists and revelations. Was it as good as The Name of the Wind? Yes – if not better. Readers will find out much more about Kvothe’s past, be introduced to some unforgettable characters and bare witness to more than a few jaw-dropping adventures.
The philosophical element is much more integral in this novel, in fact, there were literally dozens of “quotable” passages. Here are a few of my favorites:
• “A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet introspection.”
• “If a leg goes bad, you cut it off… and some folk need killing. That’s all there is to it.”
• “…sometimes the best help a person can find is helping someone else.”
I’m purposefully not going into any specifics of The Wise Man’s Fear – I don’t want to diminish anything in this glorious reading experience for anyone.
Bottom line: These novels are arguably the best fantasy fiction I’ve ever read. It’s simply unparalleled, masterful storytelling. If you’re a fantasy fan and have yet to experience this saga, drop whatever you’re reading and pick up The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear. It’ll change the way you look at fantasy fiction forever.
And as if reading The Wise Man’s Fear early wasn’t enough, I recently got the opportunity to interview Patrick Rothfuss for BarnesandNoble.com. Below is that incredibly insightful and entertaining conversation, which included talk of beards, books and the naming of babies…
PGA: In your Publishers Weekly interview, you talked about the almost limitless possibilities in the fantasy genre and how that can be a trap for writers. (“It's enough rope for a writer to hang himself with. It's easy to get distracted by the glittering props available to you and forget what you're supposed to be doing: telling a good story.”)
With that narrative boundlessness in mind, some of the best releases on the shelves right now are basically fusions of a variety of genre elements: fantasy, romance, mystery, science fiction, etc. (Richard Kadrey’s Kill the Dead; Clay and Susan Griffith’s The Greyfriar; The Passage by Justin Cronin; The Secret History of Elizabeth Tudor, Vampire Slayer by Lucy Weston; etc.) What are your thoughts on the genre hybridization going on in contemporary genre fiction?
PR: I don't really think of it as hybridization. I think authors are just realizing there's no real reason to feel limited to a narrow set of genre rules in their writing. There's no reason a mystery novel can't have fantastic elements in it. Similarly, there's no reason why your epic fantasy series can't have elements of a mystery.
Nobody cooks using just one ingredient. Why would you write using just one flavor of story?
PGA: Do you see this as a trend or an evolution in genre fiction?
PR: I think it's an indication that a lot of the newer genres are growing up. Compared to classic literature, (which is a genre too, by the way) the modern genres are really young. Fifty years is almost no time at all in terms of establishing a literary trend. Genres like fantasy are finally emerging from their awkward teenage years and starting to mature a little.
Don't get me wrong here. I'm not implying that fantasy is for kids. I'm saying that more and more people are finally realizing that there's more to fantasy stories than elves and wizards and goblin armies. Those things are just props and special effects. And if Hollywood has taught us anything, it's that cool props and special effects are not enough. Story comes first. Everything depends on story.
The best authors have always known this, of course. But these days I think more and more fantasy readers and writers are realizing it's the truth. That's what I mean when I say the genre's maturing.
PGA: As a full-time book reviewer, I’ve read a lot of fantasy over the last few decades – and a sizable percentage of it is derivative, formulaic, uninspired, imitation. I suppose that’s why I loved The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear so much. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever read before – and that really is saying something. Previous to writing the Kingkiller Chronicle, did you read a lot of fantasy?
PR: Growing up I read a ton of fantasy. Thousands of novels. I'm not exaggerating here.
PGA: Were there any particular novels or series that resonated with you growing up? And why?
PR: There were so many books that I loved growing up. Tolkien, of course. The Dragonriders of Pern. The Narnia books. Wizard of Earthsea. The Riddle Master of Hed. The Last Unicorn….
Why did I like them? Well back when I first started reading those books when I was 8 or so, I loved them primarily for the props. Because magic swords and dragons and magic are cool. It wasn't until later that I realized how deep a lot of those stories went.
I could list books all day. But I shouldn't. I'm still finding new books I love. There's some amazing stuff being written nowadays.
PGA: Back to your statement about telling a good story. The Kingkiller Chronicle is essentially a story of a storyteller telling his life story. It’s as close to perfection – a story told perfectly – as I think I’ve ever experienced. Powered by simply extraordinary storytelling sensibilities – character development, pacing, back-story, plot intricacy, imagery, world-building, etc. It’s just a timeless, towering, masterwork. How difficult was it to construct and lay out this incredibly complex three-volume saga?
PR: Good lord. Can I put “a timeless, towering, masterwork” on the cover of the book?
But yeah. It was hard. I knew I wanted to do something different when I started to write this book. But when you leave the well-trod path of the classic three-act Hollywood story, things get really tricky. I've had to figure a lot of things out from the ground up.
And I'll admit, over the last couple years there have been times when I've regretted starting off my writing career with a project this big. So many plotlines. So many character arcs. So much metafictional hoo-ha.
Sometimes I wish I would have just picked a little story to start with. A nice little book. About 120,000 words. Something short and sweet and simple.
PGA: What specifically inspired you to write Kvothe’s story?
PR: I wanted to tell a different sort of fantasy story, something that didn't focus on huge world-shattering events. I wanted to give the reader a look at the life of someone who had become a legend in his own time. Sort of a backstage pass into the myth of the hero.
PGA: Patrick Rothfuss, Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, Michael Moorcock, Pratchett, Feist, Goodkind…Why do some of the best fantasy fictionists of all time have wild beards?
PR: Honestly? I think it's because a lot of us have better things to do than spend fifteen minutes a day scraping a sharp knife over our faces. A beard isn't really an achievement. It's something you get by doing nothing. It's an anti-achievement.
PGA: I can only imagine the zeal of your fans you meet at signings and such. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen? (Any Kingkiller tattoos, people dressed as Kvothe, etc.?)
PR: Someone named their baby after a character in my book.
I'm not even kidding. That knocked me for a bit of a loop.
PGA: Are you still writing Day Three?
PR: Oh yes. I've got the bones of it. But there's still a lot of work to be done. It's important to remember that I finished writing the first draft back in the year 2000. The first two books changed a lot as I revised them, so now I have to incorporate those changes into book three.
Also, I've learned a lot about the craft of writing in the last decade. Parts of book three are brilliant. But other parts I look at and I shake my head. I've come a long way as a writer, and so now it's easy to see some of those early mistakes now that I've got more experience under my belt.
PGA: From The Wise Man’s Fear: “There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.” What do you fear?
PR: Screwing up the third book...
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for almost the last two decades and has written more than 6,000 reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and BarnesandNoble.com. In his free time, he reads.