“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.” – Kvothe, The Name of the Wind
Patrick Rothfuss’ debut novel is quickly gaining ranks among the likes of Game of Thrones and has earned the poor comparison of “Harry Potter for adults.” First published in 2007, the work has gained popularity as the fantasy genre has moved out of the stigmatized shadows and into the popular limelight. The first in a planned trilogy titled The Kingkiller Chronicles, the story centers around the mysterious main character Kvothe, a legendary hero who has hidden himself in the countryside posing as an innkeeper. Set in an alternate world referred to as “The Four Corners of Civilization” (the map in the introductory pages has a frustrating lack of detail compared to maps of Westeros), a vast continent that’s a hybrid of the industrial revolution and middles ages.
The story begins with the regular night crowd at a rural inn, run by a quiet red-haired man named Kote. We are then introduced to a traveling man named Chronicler, who is known throughout the four corners as a gifted scribe, noted for writing down the tales and biographies of kings, knights and other famous men. Kote is eventually revealed to be Kvothe, a young man burdened with his global reputation as both a hero and a villain who has hidden himself in the farthest corner of the world, most likely in Vintas.
This is where the story splits into two timelines: one in the present at the Waystone Inn where Kvothe gradually begins to tell his life story to Chronicler, and the other in the recent past told in first person by Kvothe. His narration begins with this rather impressive summary:
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.
Magic plays a small but important role in the work, known as “sympathy” and is similar to the style of magic found in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark. It is a careful science that anyone with the right patience and level of intellect can master, rather than a natural gift aided by wands like in the world of Harry Potter. Kvothe is a child prodigy, who lives with a traveling troupe of performers headed by his charming parents. Early on in the story the troupe picks up a “tinker,” who reveals himself to be a master of sympathy and teaches Kvothe how to do magic before he even turns 10 years old. The University in Rothfuss’s world is an elite institution that has the largest library in the world, and only a select group of students at the University study sympathy (which makes its comparison to Hogwarts rather weak).
Patrick Rothfuss immediately proves himself as an impressive writer and crafts memorable quotes out of the simplest ideas. The Kingkiller Chronicles are an essential read for anyone who considers themselves a fantasy and historical fiction reader.