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December 1, 2008 |

By Dustin Rowles | Books | December 1, 2008 |

Another fantasy book. I must admit, I was worried about this one. The cover is beyond words. Lady Clevername gazed upon it and immediately burst into cackles of glee. It’s kind of like if Genny (also Rusty) decided to try to dress up as Ziggy Stardust. Only in the forest, as a shirtless man. Do with that mental image what you will.

The novel is apparently part of the The Kingkiller Trilogy, which means I have yet another two books to read in the OCD that is my reading life. While Sarina bemoans plowing through the four books of Twilight, I once read all twelve books of the Left Behind series. Mostly to prove to myself that I was stronger than Christian Indoctrination. And I was. Jeezy Creezy he ain’t gots me yet.

The novel is this pseudo-Beowulf, in which this legendary warrior, posing as an innkeeper in a nowhere backwater, is telling his life story to a story gatherer over the course of three days. So book one is day one. At first, I was not impressed with this method. I thought it was a really cheesy way of guaranteeing yourself a three-book deal. This story is bigger than just one book! It’s THREE!

So this guy, who’s name is Kvothe, which is potentially the worst character name I have come across since the aforementioned Left Behind series. Kvothe is big shit. He’s called Kvothe the Bloodless, the Kingkiller, and various other names that give long haired fat kids boner at renfaires. The first book covers his origin story, at least up until his teenage years.

The writing is pretty bad. It’s got this kind of tenor like it was written by a dude who reads a lot of fantasy. It’s borderline fan-fic, borrowing elements from everything that came before it, and also portions of a life spent in the Society for Creative Anachronism. Kvothe comes from theatre folk, a traveling caravan of gypsy nomads who do stage productions and are genuinely awesome people. So of course, they die horribly and mysteriously at the hands of a group of evil magical folk. Think Harry Potter mixed with The Forsaken in Wheel of Time. Because I know I did.

So Kvothe tricks his way in the Arcanum, which is a wizarding academy, where people learn how to use magic. Only they don’t call it magic, they call it sympathy. It’s a little Bell, Book, and Candle, and comes from a mind that has attended at least one Wiccan ceremony. And the book becomes your average schoolboy academy story. I think the problem I had with it is that I’ve come across the damn training session in every other fantasy book I’ve read. Harry Potter has Hogwarts, Tavi learns furycrafting in Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series, even Wheel of Time has the White Tower of the Aes Sedai.

It’s always the same thing. The lowly poor kids against the spoiled rich kids. Mortal enemies. Teachers who love the hero, and teachers who hate the hero from the start. Legendary exploits that schoolkids still talk about to this day. Just once, I’d like to see the rich kid be the nice guy. But apparently, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get a break in medieval times.

And this is the crux of the first book. It’s Kvothe’s time in the Arcanum, interspliced with “meanwhile back at the ranch” moments in present time to help break up the giant flashback that encompasses the series. He keeps making hints at things yet to come, which only feed my seething rage at his inept scheming. it’s like I’m being tricked into reading the next two books.

And I wouldn’t except for the love story. In most books, it’s the worst element. In fantasy, it’s practically the kiss of eternal death. Nerds can’t write love. But Rothfuss absolutely NAILS it. Kvothe’s pursuit of Denna is the only reason to read the series. He captures what it’s like to pine for someone, to feel the sting of young love’s rejection, to be friends so hard because you love them that much. It’s wonderful, and it totally makes the novel worthwhile. And as Kvothe admits, the story is about a woman. So fortunately, there will much of Denna in the novels, and so I will continue reading them.


Publisher’s Note: I did a Google Image search for a picture of the author, and there are about 10 pictures of him online. And in every single of them, he’s wearing the same “Joss Whedon is My Master Now” T-Shirt. Dude needs a new T-shirt.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. Details are here and the growing number of participants and their blogs are here.

Cannonball Read / Brian Prisco

Books | December 1, 2008 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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