TLDR: shallow fictitious world and a few words about magic does not a fantasy book make. This is a story about an orphan that is forced to live on the streets, then he has to make money to put him through college, then he meet the woman of his dreams. NOT FANTASY. And without that, a pretty ordinary tale.
I really wanted to like this book. I've been giving up on too many books after reading just a few chapters and I really made an effort to finish this one. It sounded like the kind of book I would like, with the promise of exciting adventures about “the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen”.
I expected notorious to mean the best, most intelligent, most interesting. I wanted to see battles of wits and wondrous displays of magic power, and perhaps that just might happen in the second or third book of the trilogy. This book however, is just too boring. The obstacles the hero has to overcome are poverty and the ill will of others.
I enjoyed the writing style, the author uses easy words and simple scenes. The first person narrative helps a lot and not much attention is need to follow the story, perfect for audio-listening while doing something else. What appears to be the main plot, “genius kid learns magic to seek revenge against mysterious magicians who killed his parents”, could be very interesting, but it is not developed at all in this first book.
The following is a complete summary of the story, as such contains some overall plot spoilers, nothing specific. Skip to END OF SUMMARY for my analysis.
The book tell the story of Kvothe, a young trouper (like a gypsie) who has an savant capacity for learning things. He understands anything he is though in the first try and has a photographic memory. His family and his troupe travel around performing theatric plays of a Shakespeare like quality and complexity, together with other entertainment acts you would expect from a traveling circus.
His life is changed when he meets an Archanist, a wise man knowledgeable in all fields of inquiry, such as Medicine, Astrology, Quimics, Psychology, Alchemy and Magic. Kvothe becomes fascinated when he sees the man performing an act of magic in front of him, and from that moment on, he decides that is what he wanted to do.
After a few years of learning, his life takes another turn, as his family and his whole wandering troop is brutally murdered by a group of mysterious men, who decided to spare his life. Shocked and with nowhere to go, the young orphan spends his next 3 years living in the streets of a nearby city.
When opportunity presents itself, he manages to get enough money to take him to the University, a place with many thousands of books and practitioners of magic. He barely manages to pay for his expenses through his music, and is faced with some of the same hardships he met on the streets, like bullies and hunger.
The next turn in his life happens when he meets the woman he falls in love with. At first she is presented as a very mysterious woman, desired by many men, but possessed by none. She doesn't stay around much, disappearing for long periods of time after each encounter with the protagonist. Later they meet by accident in a side-quest adventure, and become more familiar with each other.
END OF SUMMARY
My problems with how the story is told:
- The world's most intelligent person meets an infinite source of knowledge. Things are bound to get interesting. Instead, for the next three years (and 1/3 of the book), he lives in the streets, begging for food and struggling to stay alive against the hardships of the world. He makes no use of his learned talents as a skilled musician or anything else he learned for that matter.
- When he finally arrives at the University, he again is met with the opportunity to learn everything he ever wanted to know. Yet, he is banned from the University library, makes enemies with one of the teachers and one very rich and influential student, and again must struggle to survive in this harsh environment. He has no money for food, clothes, the University tuition and not even have a place to sleep.
- The very few exceptional acts that could make the book interesting are purposely downplayed:
- he is in a quest to find out about the men who killed his family, yet that is barely mentioned in the book. - in the beginning it is told that he is known as "Kvothe the Bloodless", which is dismissively explained with a scene where he is public whipped and sheds no blood, but because unbeknown to others, he had taken a herb that increases blood coagulation. - he finally manages to use his music as a means to make money, he is probably the worlds greatest musician, yet his rival makes sure no ones hires him to play. - he is confronted with hired assassins, and supposedly had fought them off with lightnings and fireballs, which turns out to be nothing of the sorts. Something like he just set someone on fire with a lamp and used another simple trick to make it look like the used a lightning spell. - the mysterious woman that keeps disappearing? Is she some sort of angel, goddess, noble woman seeking an adventure or something? No, she is just another poor soul struggling to survive in this harsh world. She disappears because she keeps looking for small jobs she can perform to make some money, and skips on some tavern bills. - there is this huge monster that expels blue fire through its mouth, that turns out to be a harmless herbivorous creature(the Draccus). They also find a suspiciously murdered man in the woods, possessing an unusually expensive weapon. Turns out he was a drug dealer, probably killed in a bad drug deal. Where is the fantasy in that? There is 3 chapters dedicated to this side plot.
- When he started to spend more time with his love interest is where I stopped reading the book. It couldn't be more tedious. They keep talking about nothing, for many many pages. It is not an engaging dialog, nor it is witty or fun. The whole “Draccus” thing was just too much.
- He is trying to learn magic since a very young age, yet by the end of the book the most amazing thing he can do is to produce a spark big enough to light a fire on dry branches. In fact, the book could have exactly no mention of magic or anything of fantastical nature and still it would read the same.
This last point is may main grip with the book. Its not fantasy when you just invent a few names in your world, and says it has magic in it. This is a book about a boy who have his family murdered and is forced to live is a harsh world. He begs for money, he makes enemies, he falls in love. It's a pretty ordinary tale about a potentially interesting character.
I was hoping that the many overly long described scenes about mundane issues would have an impact latter on. Would he meet his former teacher, the Archanist again? Would he find revenge against his bullies when he lived on the street? Would he sought out those who helped him in the moments he most needed, and reward them with his new found magical talents? So many possible hooks left unused.
Read: 88%, 24:27/27:54 hours