While a number of people have been staggering around with George R.R. Martin’s monster A Dance With Dragons, I’ve been risking my tender back by tackling another brick-sized tome – the sequel to The Name of the Wind.
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 the day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me.
The man was lost. The myth remained. Kvothe – the dragon-slayer, the renowned swordsman, the most feared, famed and notorious wizard the world has ever seen – vanished without warning and without trace. And even now, when he has been found, when darkness is rising in the corners of the world, he will not return. But his story lives on and, for the first time, Kvothe is going to tell it…
It is the second day of the Chronicler’s visit to the small country tavern where our hero has tucked himself away, with his loyal Fae companion, Bast. The second day when he continues to tell his own life story – the true version… Or is it? Kvothe is the classic unreliable narrator, several times admitting that he has a habit of embellishing his reputation. At the start of this very long narration, we return to the University where we last left him battling enemies and pernicious poverty. To be honest, I started the book with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. I’m not a fan of overblown ‘epic’ fantasies – to the extent that I abandoned Martin’s epic halfway through the third volume and I’m not the slightest bit tempted to give it another go.
However, it didn’t take long before I was once more caught up by Kvothe’s charm to relax and let the Rothfuss magic do its stuff. He is a remarkable writer. At a thousand pages, this doorstop should be a lot stodgier and boring than it is. We have Kvothe’s recollection of a multi-talented, vibrantly youthful version of himself interspersed by a number of interruptions, where a poignant counterpoint is the burned out innkeeper, whose motivation in telling his tale seems to be to setting the record straight before his death. Or is it? Bast, his concerned companion, is still something of a puzzle – although we get a strong sense that he isn’t what he appears to be… The central theme of what makes a reputation and the nature of fame – a classic for fantasy fiction – is approached with intelligence, while the world is a masterpiece of interesting details that ensure it is convincingly complex.
Kvothe’s character is so full of charm – so vitally alive – he leaps off the page and into my heart. The odd anomalies and the disturbing gap between the young Kvothe and the exhausted, older version have still not been explained. Any grizzles? Well, I do feel the adventure with Felurian was a tad longer than it should have been – but I didn’t skip any of it and I’ll bet you cannot guess what the wise man’s fear is…
Despite this one niggle, I’m not knocking off a point. This fantasy tale has – for me – the X factor. I know that I’ll be remembering this story long after many others have faded into the abyss of my shocking memory.