Monday, April 4, 2011

I Wanna New Drug...My Recent Addiction

I’m addicted. Completely, totally, unequivocally addicted.
Patrick Rothfuss is my new drug of choice. Wait…rewind. Patrick Rothfuss’s WRITING is my new drug of choice.
There. That’s better.
Normally, I write about middle grade and young adult authors and their works here, but Mr. Rothfuss’s books are not really marketed that way. A dear friend (who also happens to be a librarian) pointed out to me that The Name of the Wind was noted as a novel that crosses over from “adult” fiction to the YA category, so bear with me…
A few years ago, my librarian friend (see above) suggested I try The Name of the Wind. She has been recommending books to me for over 20 years, so I tend to know when she is serious. And when she gave me this title, I remember thinking I should get off my duff and go find a copy NOW.
She was right. She was so right that I’ve been waiting and watching for the sequel, Wise Man’s Fear, to come out for years. Finally…in March this year…the novel hit bookstore shelves and was rapidly at the top of the NYT bestseller list. (HURRAY for Mr. Rothfuss!! Congrats!!)
Before I dove headfirst into Wise Man’s Fear, I re-read the first book to get my head wrapped back around the story of Kvothe (pronounced like “quothe”) and his life. This is an epic – a book about a man telling his story while a Chronicler records it for history. A lyrical journey into another world – where a boy of eleven learns to survive on his wit, music is fundamental to survival and to the soul, where the University is a haven for intellect and arcanists hold the power of the names of things in the palms of their hands.
Story is the blood of life in Kvothe’s world. Maybe this is why I’ve fallen so far into Mr. Rothfuss’s writing that I can’t seem to come back to the real world.
Here is some “teaser text” from
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 day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

You may have heard of me.

So begins the tale of Kvothe—from his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a difficult and dangerous school of magic. In these pages you will come to know Kvothe as a notorious magician, an accomplished thief, a masterful musician, and an infamous assassin. But The Name of the Wind is so much more—for the story it tells reveals the truth behind Kvothe's legend.

I’ve found myself wondering what, specifically, is drawing me into this story this deeply. I’m a big fan of escapism…so there is that. This novel is practically the definition of escapism in the best way possible. The writing is visceral – you can smell the fire burning in the hearth at Anker’s Inn. You can taste the brown bread, sea salt and bruised apples Kvothe shares with a friend on the rooftops of the University’s buildings. You can feel the thrum of the lute strings in your own fingertips, breathe in the smoky, close smell of the crowd at the Eolian club, and wonder at the sudden weight of coins in Kvothe’s purse after a run of good luck…or hard work…or dangerous risks.
I think, too, the characters themselves have a way of pulling you into their stories. You’ve heard, I’m sure, that your main character should be real. He should be flawed, even if (and perhaps because) he is your hero. And Kvothe is that: flawed, but without a doubt, our hero.
He is also just a boy – struggling to find the answer to a mystery and survive the best way he knows how.  He makes decisions that feel like real decisions a boy would make, given his circumstances, his dreams and his mission. He is on a quest at a few different levels, which brings me to another reason I think I’m addicted to his story:
I’ve written recently about the Hero’s Journey as a story structure – and Kvothe’s story fits over this framework, too.  His journey is longer than some other examples, and certainly more intricate. Kvothe has a few mentors during the first and second books. No single Obi Wan Kenobi for Kvothe…instead he has his “Old Ben” appear when he is just a young boy. An old arcanist who recognizes Kvothe’s genius and begins his training. They don’t use weapons or talk about “the force,” but Ben (YES…he name is really Ben!) takes our budding hero under his wing and shows him just enough to make Kvothe know he is destined to learn great things and eventually have great power.
Instead of handing him a talisman in the form of a light saber, Ben hands Kvothe a book – a rarity in this world, and especially for Kvothe’s family – that helps him take the right steps forward on his path.
Kvothe has many other teachers as his story progresses, so his “hero’s journey” isn’t packaged neatly – but this makes it all the more exciting to read.
So – I’m in love with these books because of the visceral nature of the writing, the beautifully flawed nature of the characters (especially our hero), and the foundation structure of the archetypal hero’s journey.
One more thing: the platform of how the story unfolds is also one I’ve fallen for, hook, line, and sinker, as they say. The story begins in a quiet inn in a quiet town. The innkeeper, a man known to his customers as a foreigner named Kote, is more than he seems at first glance. Only when he sits down with a historian and begins to tell his story, so we see into Kvothe’s life.
So, at the heart of it all, this is a storyteller’s story. One man telling his own tale so another can record it for history – and for others to hear long after Kvothe is gone. Mr. Rothfuss gives us (the readers) interludes from Kvothe’s life story, bringing us back into the small inn regularly to anchor us to the present time and keep our feet firmly planted in different layers of the same story. Kvothe’s history … and Kvothe’s present. As a structure, it had the potential to be disruptive to the escapism of the novel…but instead, it does act as an anchor and gives the reader a way to keep perspective on the decisions and events of Kvothe’s past.
A storyteller’s story.  Tried and true structure. Lyrical writing. Flawed but fascinating hero.
Thank you, Mr. Rothfuss, for sharing your skill and your story with the world! I can only hope to take away some small lesson from your work – to make my own writing more powerful. More importantly, I will take away the feeling of being swept away by a truly epic story, falling in love with a hero worthy of his own epic story, and basking in the language and poetry of your work.
(NOTE: I'd love to put a picture of one of Mr. Rothfuss's books here with this blog post, but blogger isn't cooperating today. Sorry!)


  1. Such beautiful prose. How can I not read his work? Thanks for posting this .

  2. Going to the library today...I am going to have to check out this new author! I'm excited about reading your blog regularly. I love YA fiction. I'm making my first attempt at a MiG/YA novel...Thanks again for the tip!

  3. OO sounds fantastic. On my TBR list!