My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I was very conflicted about what to rate this. There were parts I liked. Parts that drove me crazy and at the end of the day, this was a lot of people talking, not a lot of action for nearly seven hundred pages. The story has a definite frame. We have Cort, a bartender, newish in town and Bast, his apprentice of sorts. The story starts slowly inside the Waystone Inn that he owns, mostly the townspeople in drinking and telling stories when a demon-like thing attacks one of them. Cort seems to know more but we don’t know it until a storyteller arrives who guesses who Cort is, Kvothe a man of legend.
And he wants Kvothe’s story. He gets it, albeit reluctantly. It takes a while to realize that the blurb on the back of the book is the legend and the truth, the story Kvothe is telling is vastly different. All of these hundreds of pages is about his life from early childhood until he’s about sixteen.
Kvothe is a child prodigy excelling in Sympathy (their version of magic) and music among other things. He lucks into a teacher at a young age but life in the traveling actors guild he’s part of takes a very bad bounce, leaving him in harsh circumstances. Eventually he gets to the university which he wanted to attend but life there is even harder and stupider.
It’s impossible to sum up in a review a book this long and without spoiling it. I can say that if you’re looking for females, you’re not going to find any until about half way through and I’m still not sure how I feel about Denna other than she does illustrate how hard it is for women in a society equivalent to pretty much any European one prior to the 20th century, i.e. beholden to a man for nearly everything. There are a few women at the university though.
I did like Kvothe even if things do come a little too easy for him in so many things. He is smart and determined and he does good and loyal things to his friends. He has the tragic back story I’m a sucker for. And he’s not perfect (I’ve seen some reviewers calling him a Mary Sue but I disagree, he screwed up a lot and things definitely don’t always go his way. Being highly intelligent does not make you a Sue). On the other hand I didn’t like a lot of things about the university. Without spoiling too much let me say whipping people with a cat o’nine tails is a thing in this and the university never bothers to tell its students anything.
Kvothe runs afoul of university rules literally on day one and is punished severely more than once. It seems counterproductive and outrightly asinine to inflict potentially fatal wounds (keeping in mind antibiotics are not a thing here) on students without explaining ANY of the rules. They just let the students go with no orientation and if you break a rule you don’t know well you should have some how knew and report to the whipping post. Idiotic. If I didn’t need a story within a story book and if I didn’t like Kvothe, I would have stopped right here. It feels like lazy world building which isn’t in evidence elsewhere. Rothfuss’s world building is very good otherwise.
The other thing that annoyed me was that the ending just rambled off with a ‘well day one of my three day story is over.’ I hate that sort of thing. I knew I should have guessed that because it did say ‘day one’ in the beginning (but I didn’t see that for some reason until much later).
I don’t think this story is for everyone. I don’t think it’s as great as many movers and shakers in Fantasy seem to think it is. I did, however, like it and would have given it a 3.5 if you could do half stars. Will I read the next two in the series? Yes I’ll at least read book 2 but it will take me some time to get into it. I need a bit of a break (one huge book in a 6 month period is enough).
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