Lin-Manuel Miranda once said that Hamilton’s “The Story of Tonight” was his “trying to capture the feel of Kvothe and his friends leaving the Eaolian” which gives you a sense of just how deep his love of The Kingkiller Chronicle is. If that reference to Kvothe went right over your head, let’s backtrack a bit. What is this series that Miranda is set to adapt into film and television properties? Who is Kvothe? And why should we care? Here are some basics to get you started.
The series. The books (and spinoff novellas) in this ongoing series are written by Patrick Rothfuss — he started work on the series in 1993, finished his first draft in 1999, and published the first volume, The Name of the Wind, in 2007, and the second, The Wise Man’s Fear, in 2011. He likes to joke that it took 15 years to write the first book, and this publication pacing drew a few comparisons to another notoriously slow-to-scribe fantasy novelist, prompting George R.R. Martin to joke that Rothfuss’s delay “drew some of the fire” away from him. “Slow writers represent,” Rothfuss blogged back. Like Martin, Rothfuss takes time crafting and revising his world, even if he has it all plotted out to the very end. And to be fair, the author’s personal life hasn’t been easy — he’s also had two parents fighting lung cancer along the way. (His mother died a couple of weeks before the first book came out.)
The structure. The Kingkiller Chronicle is a metafictional story about story, and the power of story. You could call it an epic fantasy, but it’s also part autobiography (of the main character, not the author). Depending on how much you trust the narrator, it’s the coming-of-age story of a boy who grew up to become a legend — whether he’s a hero or antihero is still to be determined. But it’s also a travelogue, an adventure, a mystery, and a romance. It’s even a fairy tale. The story begins far into this former hero’s life, and flashes back to tell us his life story. When we meet him, he’s faked his own death so he can live in obscurity as a humble rural innkeeper. But a traveling scribe seeks him out to write his story, so he can separate man from myth. Each day it takes to tell the story makes up one book, which is why the books are also sometimes referred to as Day One, Day Two, and the upcoming Day Three. But there are stories within stories — by the end of Day One, our narrator has not yet made it to his 16th year, and by the end of Day Two, we’re only a year (or two?) further into his life. (Depending on how you count the time spent in an alternate world called Fae. More on that in a bit.)
The hero/antihero. Kvothe, or Kote, as he goes by now, is attractive and lean, with flaming red hair. He’s a musician, a scholar, and a magician, or rather, an arcanist, which is something like a wizard alchemist. He’s a natural actor, having grown up with a gypsy-like caravan of wandering entertainers, the Edema Ruh. He’s street smart, from his days living as a beggar after his family and troupe were killed. This sets him on a mission to understand why they were killed, and to exact revenge. He begins his journey at university, where he’s a quick study of languages, science, music, magic, and fighting — and each skill becomes a vital part of who he is and his adventures. Naturally, he’s a bit arrogant about being so hypercompetent.
The cast of characters. Kvothe has a lot of mentors and friends who guide him along the way, not to mention a few rivals. Bast is his loyal assistant of sorts in the present day, but he seems to be trying to wake Kvothe up, and make him be the hero he used to be. If Rothfuss could have his choice of actor, he would have Neil Patrick Harris play Bast. (“That is an opinion that fire cannot burn from me,” he said.) Denna is Kvothe’s love interest, and Rothfuss’s fantasy casting choice there would be Natalie Portman.
The world. The world in which the story takes place is called the Four Corners of Civilization, or Temerant. You can see a map of it here. There are multiple lands within this world, including the Commonwealth, which is where the university that Kvothe attends is located. Here, those who can afford the tuition can study magic. What you can’t see on the map is a parallel reality called the Fae, which is inhabited by faeries and other species. Mortals can get trapped in the Faen world, and time operates a little differently there. Kvothe spends three days, as far as the outer world is concerned, but it’s considerably longer for his physical self. The mortal and Fae worlds share a moon.
The magic. There are several types of magic in this world, including Alchemy, Glamourie, Grammarie, Sygaldry, Naming, and Sympathy. This “naming” is unlike, say, the magic naming you might find in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea, as that is more mechanistic. Here, it’s more esoteric. Still, magic in this world is more math than myth, and our hero has a gift for it.
The monsters. The first ones you’ll meet are a sort of a deadly spider-like creature, called the scrael. (Fun fact: Their feet are like razors and will slice you open when they jump on you).There’s also the Cthaeh in the Fae, which looks like a tree but is actually a psychopathic clairvoyant who can see all possible futures and tries to set you on the most doomed path. Then there is the mysterious, mythical Chandrian, a group of seven destroyers who killed Kvothe’s family. Fire burning blue is a sign of their coming. And finally, there’s the draccus — a fire-breathing reptile mistaken for a dragon.
Famous fans. Besides Lin-Manuel Miranda? George R.R. Martin called the second volume “the best epic fantasy of the year.” “I gulped it down in a day, staying up almost to dawn reading, and I am already itching for the next one,” he wrote. Fantasy author Robin Hobb wrote a customer review on Amazon saying that when she finished the first volume, she felt “as if I’d been on a journey with an entertaining new friend, rather than sitting alone looking at words on a page.” And Orson Scott Card called it “the real thing … Rothfuss [is] the great new fantasy writer we’ve been waiting for, and this is an astonishing book. After The Name of the Wind, the Harry Potter novel might seem a little thing and — dare I say it? — childish. You have been warned.”