As compelling as his debut novel in the “Kingkiller Chronicles” trilogy, Rothfuss’s second tome nonetheless has a very different feel to it, almost like three distinct novels. It also has some weaknesses that were not evident in his first novel, but for all that, it is an engrossing read. This is the second day of our hero Kvothe’s retelling of his own story, and it presents him at the tender age of 16 leaving his beloved University and heading out into the real world where he gets to test his skills, his smarts, and his magic, and to pursue his burning need to revenge the massacre of his family years earlier.
Young Kvothe seeks a patron, and is offered the opportunity to enter into the services of the ruler of a neighboring country called Vintas, where he saves the king from assassination and successfully woos a maiden on behalf of his besotted master, only to learn that having the man in his debt doesn’t exactly endear him to his moody patron. Kvothe is thus inexplicably sent out into the wilds to lead a bunch of hardened mercenaries in hunting down robbers preying on the ruler’s tax revenues. The mission is a rather overly-detailed experience for Kvothe involving lessons in the art of tracking and breaking through the shell surrounding the strange red-garbed mercenary Tempi of Adem.
The mission concludes in a dramatic and bloody showdown with the thieves, and this section rather strangely ends with Kvothe in the irresistible clutches of the mythical fairy nymph Felurian about whom songs have been written. The time he spends with Felurian in the world of Faerie is written through a sort of magical haze that is both effective and, shall we say, definitely R-rated. If we had any doubts that Kvothe has gone from boy to man, this sort of clinches it. I’m still not sure how I feel about his overly long adventure with Felurian, which is kind of fun but offers little derring-do and doesn’t really push the story forward. But he does get a really cool magic cloak out of it.
Kvothe’s next adventure is in Tempi’s homeland. The Adem are a self-isolated people, half Zen Buddhist and half Spartan, who contribute some of the scariest mercenaries in the world and have their own unique female-centered life philosophy which Rothfuss devotes a great deal of time and space elaborating for us. Kvothe’s rather tense time spent in Adem shows Kvothe acquiring skills, being repeatedly bested by women, and nearly losing his life rather too often. He learns a lot of life lessons, but not enough to keep his mouth shut when he gets back to Vintas and runs afoul of the new queen. So, it’s back to University. End of day two.
Present-day Kvothe is an older, sadder, exhausted version of the younger Kvothe whose brilliant skills as depicted in the re-telling appear to be more mythical than real, if we are to believe the evidence of his older self. He is living a quiet life as innkeeper in a tiny off-the-beaten-path village, hiding from the world and from presumably terrifying enemies he has accrued in the course of his relatively short lifetime. His companion is Bast, a faerie creature with hidden motives. There are signs that war is coming, and not just any war but a war by magical beings with terrible powers, and Kvothe is guaranteed to be at the center of it come volume three. Will Bast be at his side, one wonders?