Sunday, 7 July 2013

Review of the King Killer Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss **No Spoilers**

Well, I've now read the first two books in this fantasy series : The Name of the Wind and then Wise Man's Fear and with the release of the 3rd novel due sometime in 2013 or 2014 I wanted to put down and then upload my thoughts so far on the journey of Kvothe.

I'm a big fan of some fantasy writers in particular Joe Abercrombie (First Law trilogy) and Richard Morgan (Steel Remains, Cold Commands) and I think that Rothfuss works slots in nicely in terms of sheer innovation of storytelling and subversion of the fantasy genre, repeatedly. His work is probably a bit less gritty but the story and immersion in the Four Corners world is as strong if not stronger than the world building of Morgan and Abercrombie. 

My first experience the novels was around two years ago when I downloaded the first half of book one on Audible based on nothing more than a surf of the Audible SF and Fantasty section. Remember that this was well before Game of Thrones blew up and I was part way through the First Law trilogy and waiting for the second of Morgans two fantasy novels. In fact listening to the first 20 minutes I was unable to get in to the book and it sat  unlistened to and unloved on my iPhone. At the time I found the frame and unreliable narrator conceit of the novel a little jarring. I also thought the 'traveling troupe' motif was, to be frank, really irritating. 

I was eventually persuaded to try it again when it was recommended on the This Week inTech  (TWIT) podcast by presenter Leo Laporte (the godfather of the Internet). Leo said that anyone who doesn't like the King Killer Chronicles couldn't be his friend and as Leo always seems like a good guy to me I thought it was only fair to give the books another go. In addition Leo also interviewed Rothfuss on his Triangulatation podcast around the same time giving some insights into the writing of the novel.

In terms of the story I enjoyed the characters, the intricate nature of both the world building and the multiple magical systems. The attention to detail is staggering and on close listening you realise that nothing is ever wasted or padded out in story terms. I am guessing that every narrative thread introduced and built in the first two books will be brought to fruition in book three. Rothfuss is a clever and evil storyteller who drives a taut narrative forward whilst constantly requiring the reader to challenge exactly where Kvothes story will take him next. He has that the unusual gift to write prose that makes you think, creates and builds effective characters quickly but still include fist clenching 'YES' moments interspersed with Hollywood set pieces without distracting you from the underlying premise - this is literary fantasy of the highest order.

On the fantasy elements, there are tons of non real world lore and magic within the books pages but the basic physics of this world essentially matches ours and at around the half way mark of the first book I found myself simply accepting the magical concepts as real (e.g. Sympathy) because they simply fit into the world we imagine but are never used as a lazy 'dues ex machina'.

The triumph of the books though is two fold. The creation of a protagonist so perfect yet obviously flawed immersed in a fantasy world that almost seems created to fulfill his destiny and then the mystery of Kote, Bast and what is going to happen at the Inn in the concluding third book. As I mentioned, originally the framing device of the novel - an older Kvothe, now an Inn Keep called Kote with his young apprentice Bast telling his story over three days to Chronicler - seemed jarring and non intuitive to me. As I progressed through the books the 'interludes' at the Inn become more interesting and I suspect more important. The last handful In Wise Mans Fear are truly genius and in particular the fight with the two soldiers is a massive 'WHAT THE .....' moment and I had to go back and listen to it again to make sure I got everything.

These novels are put simply a tour de force of storytelling and I suspect, from the buzz on the net that if Rothfuss can keep the narrative going (and I see no slip in quality from book one to two - if anything Wise Mans Fear is the better of the two for story and 'wow' moments) then we have a definitive fantasy trilogy that could eclipse LOTR as just perfunctory journey man fiction. I for one would read Patrick Rothfuss re-telling of the phone book !

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