Trickster’s Journey

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Patrick Rothfuss is the author of The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, the first to books in his Kingslayer series of fantasy novels that I devoured over the past week.

The series is set as a frame story, where an enigmatic hero at what appears to be the end of his hero’s journey looking back at how he came to be the famous man of legend, telling the truth behind the man of legend.

This debut story is not perfect, but it has marks of brilliance.  Rothfuss’ characterization is a genuine delight.  Kvothe, the protagonist, is a delightful mixture of two tropes, orphan/thief and trickster.  Both tropes are heavily worn if not outright overused, and Rothfuss breathes new life into the archetype with deft touches of youthful innocence, limited power, and a tragic destiny.  At no point does Rothfuss present his characters as unassailably superhuman, and that persistent touch of mortal boundaries make the bold and daring deeds all the more impressive.  The story so far lacks a great unity of antagonists.  There are a group of bad guys out there mysteriously doing things, but their interactions are brief and very distant.

Rothfuss’ deft touch in many other areas of the story makes up for the lack of an operatic villain.  I was constantly reminded of the frame story Arabian Nights, many smaller stories set within a larger one that moves very slowly.  The first book is much more episodic than the second, which is still a collection of sequential novellas as opposed to a single sweeping tale.  Rothfuss weaves smaller incidents with smooth transitions.

As a fledgling author Patrick Rothfuss stands above the pack with deft twists of prose.  The story is laced with clever dialogue, puns, riddles, and challenges.  The fabled University, center of arcane and mundane learning in the world is a delightful tapestry of eccentric teachers, hidden mysteries, and elusive romance.  Kvothe’s story is endearing, and Rothfuss does not waste his chosen format.  Kvothe’s frame story is more than a reason to tell the tale.  Rothfuss uses the frame to reveal a much broader and deadlier world than young Kvothe is ready to encounter.  The result is a delightful tension between rumor and high adventure in the present and the nascent adventure unfolding in the main story.

Rothfuss is a delightful world builder who fully meets modern standards.  He has not constructed a simple consistent magical system.  He has put together an interlocking system of no less than three or four magical systems that function side by side in the war.  He blends religious, historical, and fairy lore in a unique melange that carries a distinct flavor of whimsy wrapped around hard and serious questions.

The most deft point is that in his youth as well as his maturity Kvothe faces a question of identity that is captivating.  Who is the mysterious Kvothe the Kingslayer.  The childhood story seeks who he will become, and the adult story questions how much of the man he has become still survives.

It is an intelligent read and a slower paced novel.  I recommend it and lament the months or years before the next book arrives, but stories this finely crafted are worth waiting for.

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