I am a tremendous advocate of the adventure-fantasy genre. Naturally, I’ve read Tolkien’s foundational "The Lord of the Rings" series, and I often read and enjoy many books that critics will scorn due to their lack of originality in archetypal deference to works of the past ("The Inheritance Cycle", anyone? One of my favorite book series, by the way). As I see it, almost all forms of literature within this genre are allowed some margin of similarity to other fantasy works. After all, the full-bodied lore of the genre has built upon itself with such vigor that the casual reader can now be expected to understand many of the foundational aspects of fantasy- adventure, magic, swordplay, crafting skills, etc.- from personal knowledge. As a result, these facets of each story can often remain unexplained, freeing the author’s attentions and allowing more interesting developments along plotlines or character development.
Now that I have fully laid my heart bare on these issues (don’t stone me, enjoyable stories can exist despite weaker writing!), allow me to tempt your eyes along with this note:
Patrick Rothfuss’s "The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day One)" needs none of these excuses to be a fully immersive and fantastic fantasy novel.
As you may have deduced, "The Name of the Wind" contains a quality of writing that simply outpaces the average fantasy novel of this generation, ultimately turning about as it passes its comrades and blowing a loud, wet raspberry without missing a step. The book is constructed as a narrative of blended perspectives, first introducing you to the main protagonist Kvothe (pronounced “Quothe”) from an omniscient, third-person perspective and transitioning into a first-person perspective as Kvothe recounts the misadventures of his past. Kvothe is an engaging character, quick-witted, clever, arrogant and skilled, with such a depth of development that any reader could find some aspect of his personality with which he or she could relate. His skills and shortcomings are clearly defined from the introduction of his childhood, yet aspects of each are given room to grow as the story progresses. In all occasions, however, his self-confidence ultimately conquers any insecurity that would attempt to falter the story’s pace. As he relates each mistake of his colored past, even from the retrospective viewpoint he has now attained, Kvothe inevitably defends his original decisions with a cutting remark against all other options.
Many mechanical lore aspects in "The Name of the Wind" are innovative, but I was particularly intrigued by the magic system Rothfuss designed. I can best describe this system through its division between talents of science, “hard magic,” and “soft magic.” Individuals who seek to become masters of the magical skills in this universe attend the University and seek rank in its Arcanum, aspiring to eventually achieve the title of “arcanist.” Much like university students in our reality, these students have a wide array of studies available to them, but most eventually settle on one or two particular course loads that suit them. It is from these studies that I derive the divisions between the universe’s magic systems. Science topics are quite mundane- Chemistry, Language, History, Advanced Mathematics, and Medicine. These, as well as the “hard magic” studies of Alchemy (a sort of fantasy-chemistry), Sygaldry (the application of magical runes to objects), and Sympathy (a transference of energy between objects by similarity and sheer willpower) are all governed by strictly observed laws of science or culture. The “soft magic,” however, Naming, seems to be ruled by internal and personal strictures of philosophy, emotion, and intuition. By discovering a “Name,” an arcanist gains complete dominance over the Named object or element and can thereby bend its reality to his or her will. Rather than a stark, logical understanding that can be taught and learned by rote and repetition, Naming requires a simple intuition that seems to be innate rather than acquired.
Without tearing too much plot from behind the curtains, I would encourage any fantasy-genre enthusiast to read "The Name of the Wind" as well as the second installment of the presumed trilogy, "The Wise Man’s Fear." Even those disinterested in fantasy novels might give these books a shot- the quality of writing is high enough that it might just foster a new appreciation for the genre. I can honestly say that "The Kingkiller Chronicles" has climbed to the top of my favorite series list (which is of Everestian proportions, mind you), and I have been impatiently waiting for the next series installment ever since I finished the second book.
And here I will remain. Waiting.