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A few years back I read a book that changed my perspective of the fantasy genre.  I’ve enjoyed stories of swords, sorcery, orcs and heroic quests for a long time now.  But for me, after you get past Tolkien’s seminal work, the rest of the stories tend to devolve into the same old story of an unlikely hero, a great evil, an impossible task, and eventual victory. 

Now don’t get me wrong.  There are any number of ways where that tried and true formula can turn into a very enjoyable book.  That’s why I keep reading fantasy.  Rothfuss, though, with his debut novel of The Name of the Wind, and the recent sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear, has found a way to take a sweeping epic and turn it into something infinitely more intimate.

Kvothe, our flame haired protagonist, trouper, hero and innkeeper has led an exciting, yet short life.  When the book opens, we find him assuming the mantle of a mild mannered innkeeper. He works very hard to hide who he is. And who he happens to be is a legend in his own time. Everyone knows of and tells stories of Kvothe.

In an interesting storytelling device, a man named The Chronicler has tracked Kvothe down and convinced him to have his story recorded. To set the record straight, so to speak.  Thus begins a masterful tale of tales.  Over the course of three days, Kvothe will set down how he became a master magician, the smartest kid at the University at a time when most children have not thought of attending school yet, slayed a dragon, outsmarted a Queen of the Fae, killed a king and started a war.  Yet when Kvothe tells it, you can see how a simple story can become a legend. He isn’t humanities only hope from a Dark Lord. Rather, he’s a kid driven to find an answer to a question. With an indomitable will, he makes things happen.

While I enjoy the story that Kvothe is telling, and innumerable stories that are told to him or by him to other characters during his recounting, it is not the story that draws me to these books.  In the end, you can still boil this down to unlikely hero, a great evil, an impossible task, and eventual victory. Or so it seems two books into what appears to be a trilogy.

No, rather it is Rothfuss’ masterful grasp of the language and the art of telling a story.  His description of Kvothe playing music can move you to tears.  You will feel Kvothe’s triumphs and defeats.  You will read pages of description of arcane magics and systems of science in a make believe land, and later try to replicate it yourself fully expecting it to work in our world.

One last superlative for this book. I reread the first book in 3 wonderful days. I picked up the 1000 page sequel and had it done in under a week. I typically read before bed and fall asleep within 30 minutes. Instead, hours later, I would still be reading. I had to force myself to put the book down and go to sleep lest my job suffer. And even then, I felt myself fully immersed in the world he created even when I was not reading.  It’s that good.

As for Rothfuss, I am a fan of the man as much as the writing. His Worldbuilders fund raising drive has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, which he has been kind enough to match. His blog is all sorts of witty and funny. Check him out. http://blog.patrickrothfuss.com

The Name of the Wind: 4.5
The Wise Man’s Fear: 5

You need to buy this book and read it. It’s #1 on the New York Times Bestseller’s list as of today (3/21/2011)

Buy it Now at Amazon