It’s good. But it’s not that good.
I’d heard raves about it and reviews mentioning Arabian Nights style tales within tales. So a third person limited narrative and then a narrative by a chronicler (called ‘the Chronicler’) writing down the story of Kvothe the Kingkiller. It’s not as complicated as it sounds. It is like Heart of Darkness. You can make a lot of the fact that the narrator is actually a guy on the Thames listening to someone else’s story, but there’s really no need. Heart of Darkness is brilliant and you don’t need to make a lot of that minor narrative trick to realize that it’s great. More importantly, that narrative trick has only the tiniest amount to do with its greatness.
So Kvothe is an epic figure with an down to earth nature and it starts out very much the archetypal tale of the hero’s beginning: the tragedy and then growing up an orphan with vengeance, like a hard bead of acid, gnawing at his heart.
But then he goes to the University and… well, let’s just call it Harry Potter-esque. Granted, Kvothe is a more interesting character than Harry Potter, but then so are the flushings that follow a meal of authentic Gujarati cuisine, washed down with prune juice and Guiness and then followed with a dessert of candied tamarind. I can’t say this often enough, so I’ll say it again: if you want to read about a wizard school, you will never do better than to read LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. What LeGuin does that Rothfuss does not it maintain the same tone and style for the epic bits and the schoolyard bits. Rothfuss seems to switch between classic Tolkien and some kind of mid-century tale of bright young English schoolboys and their antics, only with a little magic.
But let’s not get carried away. This is a good book. If you like fantasy, this is better than 90% of what you’ve been reading. A lot better. But don’t get fooled into thinking it’s in the very top echelon.
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