Archive for April 6, 2011

The Wise Man’s Fear: Kvothe the Awesome

April 6, 2011

There are so many reasons I love these books. It started when I read the infamous introduction Kvothe gives Chronicler in Book 1. It built as I devoured the rest of The Name of the Wind and lingered over me as I paced back and forth, pulling out my hair waiting for The Wise Man’s Fear (how can a few  years take SO LONG?!). And then the joyful day it was released! Ah! Bliss! It’s been… oh geez, when was the last time I was this excited for a book to be released? Probably not since the first year or so of waiting for A Dance with Dragons. Or maybe the next Locke Lamora book.

Getting ready to re-devour it mmm mmm.

(And only now, reading a couple other reviews to give y’all some links, do I realize… this is Pat Rothfuss’s first published book(s)! I had no idea!)

There are so many reasons I love these books. But I’m just going to pick two for this post, the two that are perhaps most relevant to you lovers of space fantasy.

1. Magic is well-designed.

I cannot tell you how much of a turn-off poorly designed magic is to me. If I’m  engrossed in a book- compelling characters, interesting plot twists, etc- and then suddenly the  main character flourishes some poorly developed spell with no internal consistency, that pretty much just serves as a plot-crutch… auuugh, it drives me crazy! Look, authors: if you throw in some magic just to solve a situation because you can’t think of any other way out… it shows! I’m talking to you, wizards-are-basically-gods-Tolkien!

Pssshhyeah I'm Gandalf! Check out my one-size-fits-all light spell!

(I do loves me some Tolkien. But the magic was always so removed and unapproachable. I didn’t dig that.)

Anyways,  a good magic system? One with structure, laws, consistency? Well… maybe not TOO much consistency. This is magic, after all. But yeah- that kind of magic adds gorgeously to a narrative. (Watch for an upcoming Astroarcane story where Milo nerds out about magic theory.) I like Garth Nix’s Sabriel (the Abhorsen Trilogy): the main character is a necromancer who controls and banishes undead entirely based on the powers related to each of the bells on her belt. Handbell magic! And it works, beautifully, because the rules are sensible and well-defined- though of course there’s room for creativity.

Bells and zombies, yo.

So, back to Kvothe, and the world of the Kingkiller Chronicles. This magic is the most scientific magic I have seen in a book in… gosh, I can’t even think of an example. Most magic is what they call sympathy- you forge a link between a thing and a representation of it, and so whatever you do to the symbol, happens to the thing itself. And the more similar the model is, the higher your energy transfer efficiency is. We see Kvothe making mathematical calculations of how many thaums of energy will be needed to heat an item X degrees given Y metal in the link and… I think you get the point. It’s totally scien-tastic.

(The other half of magic in that world is Naming, which is much more mystical, but also fairly well anchored and consistent.)

So yeah: well defined magic system makes a believable fantasy world.

(I also like magic to have well-defined limits. I like when Milo is running out of mana in his Tome and has to get really creative about using the last of his strength. And I like when Kvothe gets binder’s chills from drawing too much heat out of his own body with a bad transference.)

2. Kvothe is the definition of ballsy.

Okay, I have to admit: the overly confident young hotshot who’s good at everything is usually a great big turnoff for me. I hate when the main character is good at everything and perfect in all ways. Just not interesting to this girl! But somehow… I dunno! Maybe it’s that in addition to being a badass arcanist, he also likes strumming his lute.

What a dork. Image by Kim Kincaid.

Kvothe jumps into these situations where your normal person would just freeze up and die horribly… or even your normal HERO would agonize about the right thing to do… and he just MOVES. Top speed,  fast-thinking, he analyzes the situation and reacts without wasting a second. He’s fearless… but it’s somehow a believable fearless, and it doesn’t set me off.

He’s also completely shameless and makes enemies everywhere he goes because of it. There is a hilarious scene in the most recent book where he’s playing his lute at his favorite tavern, and he does this clever little bit where first he plays a really easy song but hams it up like it’s really difficult, then plays a really difficult song while yawning and acting like it’s the simplest thing in the world. Half the room gets the joke, the others look like idiots for not getting it, and Kvothe doesn’t care in the least. It was brilliant to read and still makes me chuckle.

(Kvothe and Milo should never meet. They would pull pranks the scale of which would never be matched again in the history of the universe. They would collect ALL the enemies.)

I cannot WAIT for the next book.