Nontraditional Fantasy Poll

Hi, readers!
And so I present to you our nontraiditional fantasy poll, possibly the first time when I didn’t have to look for a single book to include. With twelve or thirteen submissions in total, I had to choose which to add today and which to hold off until we (seemingly inevitably) do a genre like this again. Thank you so very much for your recommendations, and I apologize if yours was not included here; I promise it was a wildly difficult decision and all will be used eventually.
I don’t exactly know what specifically makes a fantasy book nontraditional, but each of these appears to have themes that stray, in some way(s), from conventional tropes, plots, and/or settings. I hope you enjoy the selection and find something you will enjoy reading. You may vote for up to three. Note that these book meetings are scheduled to take place on May 27 and june 10, but several of these are pretty long. Depending on which two of them win, we can reconsider the meting dates.

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

For readers of The Night Circus and Station Eleven, a lyrical and absorbing debut set in a world covered by water.

As a Gracekeeper, Callanish administers shoreside burials, laying the dead to their final resting place deep in the depths of the ocean. Alone on her island, she has exiled herself to a life of tending watery graves as penance for a long-ago mistake that still haunts her. Meanwhile, North works as a circus performer with the Excalibur, a floating troupe of acrobats, clowns, dancers, and trainers who sail from one archipelago to the next, entertaining in exchange for sustenance.

In a world divided between those inhabiting the mainland (“landlockers”) and those who float on the sea (“damplings”), loneliness has become a way of life for North and Callanish, until a sudden storm offshore brings change to both their lives – offering them a new understanding of the world they live in and the consequences of the past, while restoring hope in an unexpected future.

Inspired in part by Scottish myths and fairytales, The Gracekeepers tells a modern story of an irreparably changed world: one that harbors the same isolation and sadness, but also joys and marvels of our own age.

Notable review by Liz Barnsley

Oh not sure where to begin with this one – you know sometimes you read a book that just touches your heart for reasons you can’t really put into words – well “The Gracekeepers” is just such a novel, beautifully written, highly compelling with such wonderful characters and setting that you just sink into it and leave the real world behind.

Where you will find yourself is within a post apocalyptic setting where most of the earth is covered with water, small pieces of land dotted around. The inhabitants are divided into two groups – those who live on the sea (Damplings) and those that live on the land (Landlockers). Through the experiences of North and Callanish and a few others this world comes to life – these two are about to be brought together unexpectedly and with enigmatic consequences.

I truly adored this story from the moment I picked it up. The prose is so gorgeous that you can’t help but savour every word. The world building is absolutely amazing – the author painting a vivid and colourful picture of life on the water and on the land, allowing her characters to live and breathe and tell the tale. The two women, North and Callanish are simply magnificent, so utterly engaging and completely absorbing that you kind of inhale them in and feel every moment with them.

The tale itself is magical and I won’t give anything away – this is old school storytelling at its very best, an elegant mixture of characterisation and circumstance that come together to create a simply marvellous read that will stay with you long after you have turned the last page.

A book for the soul – certainly a book for my soul, I am bereft now I have left it behind and this is one I will return to again and again. Because it feels like there will be something new to discover each time.

Highly Recommended. No way on earth this is not going to be in my Top 10 for the year.

Happy Reading Folks!

The Rage of Dragons (The Burning, #1) by Evan Winter

The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable fight for almost two hundred years. Their society has been built around war and only war. The lucky ones are born gifted. One in every two thousand women has the power to call down dragons. One in every hundred men is able to magically transform himself into a bigger, stronger, faster killing machine.

Everyone else is fodder, destined to fight and die in the endless war. Young, gift-less Tau knows all this, but he has a plan of escape. He’s going to get himself injured, get out early, and settle down to marriage, children, and land. Only, he doesn’t get the chance. Those closest to him are brutally murdered, and his grief swiftly turns to anger. Fixated on revenge, Tau dedicates himself to an unthinkable path. He’ll become the greatest swordsman to ever live, a man willing to die a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill the three who betrayed him.

Notable review by Rick Riordan

It may be cliche to say a book was impossible to put down, but well, dang it, this book was impossible to put down!

I was intrigued by the lovely cover art, which seemed to promise a Zulu-inspired fantasy world with dragons. That’s exactly what I got, but there is so much much to the story. We meet our hero Tau Solarin as a young man, just training for his warrior trials, which in the society of the Omehi is a requirement for all commoner men. If he passes, Tau can join the ranks of the Ihashe, the more elite division of the rank-and-file army. If he fails, he has two choices: serve as cannon fodder in the Omehi’s endless war against the indigenous Hedeni who populate the continent, or become a Drudge, a servant with no rights and no honor.

Tau’s people the Omehi have been in a constant state of war with the Hedeni for almost two hundred years, even since they landed on their peninsula, escaping from the fall of their old empire at the hands of a wicked force called the Cull. To gain a foothold, the Omehi had to use their ‘nuclear option’ on the hedeni: invoking the aid of dragons, which has terrible consequences both for the caller and the enemy. The Omehi’s dragons, and their militant society, are the only things that allow them to hold on to their peninsula in the face of the Hedeni, fierce fighters who outnumber them a hundred to one.

That’s just the set up! Tau’s life journey would be intriguing enough if it followed its predicted course. But fate has many twists, turns and tragedies in store for him. We watch Tau evolve from a commoner boy who just wants to skip his military service and marry his hometown sweetheart, to a fierce fighter driven by revenge and haunted (literally) by demons. He must achieve his personal goal — vengeance upon certain nobles who destroyed his happiness and his family — while dealing with the challenges of his whole nation. After centuries of warfare, things are changing for the worse. The Hedeni attacks are intensifying. The Omehi are struggling, losing more warriors and Gifted (their all-female mages) than they can replace. And there is a horrible secret behind the Omehi’s use of dragons . . . Is it possible the mighty Omehi are losing their eternal war? And if so, can one young man, Tau, make a difference? Does he even want to save the caste-driven society that has kept him down so long?

The novel is rich and complex. I would recommend giving it fifty pages or so before passing judgment because there is a lot of new terminology to take in: all the different names for the castes, the peoples, the vocabulary of magic, not to mention the characters who often carry multiple names and titles. But once you get the hang of the world-building, you will be hooked. The chapters are short and breathless, and will carry you through a rip-roaring good story. This is one of those books where you find yourself thinking, “Okay, just one more chapter.” Then you look up and realize you read half the book. I’m delighted to see that there will be a sequel. Pre-ordering now!

Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb, #1) by Tamsyn Muir

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

Notable review by Melanie

ARC provided by Tor in exchange for an honest review.

“The more you struggle against the Ninth, Nav, the deeper it takes you; the louder you curse it, the louder they’ll have you scream.”

Hi, my name is Melanie, and this was a really hard review to write for many reasons. First, I think I have hyped this book for all of 2019, and I have been very vocal about it being my favorite book of the year, and the best debut I’ve ever had the privilege of reading. Next, how do you write a review on the book of your heart? The book that feels like it was crafted for you? The book that has lit up the darkest places of your soul? It’s hard, friends. Truly. Lastly, I know nothing I say here will do this book justice. But I suppose I should give it a try regardless, aye?

Gideon the Ninth is a book about a swordfighter named Gideon who is my favorite literary character of all time. Gideon is so witty, so funny, so charming, and such a thorn in Harrowhark’s side. Harrowhark is a necromancer, while also being the main ruler of the Ninth’s planet. Both of these characters are harboring a few secrets of their own, but they are both so unsure of their pasts and their futures for so very many reasons.

That is, until one day the Emperor has invited all eight necromancer heirs, from all eight loyal Houses, to compete in unknown trails to possibly ascend into something that will make them immortal, but the costs of losing can very well be their lives. No necromancer can compete without a skilled cavalier by their side, and Harrowhark has no choice but to get Gideon to help her and save the future of the Ninth House.
“You are the honoured heirs and guardians of the eight Houses. Great duties await you. If you do not find yourself a galaxy, it is not so bad to find yourself a star, nor to have the Emperor know that the both of you attempted this great ordeal.”

But once Gideon and Harrowhark arrive on the Emperor’s planet, they soon realize that the tasks are going to be much more mysterious and much more difficult than anyone could have predicted. Especially when cavaliers and necromancers from the other houses start getting murdered. Gideon is not only tasked to help Harrowhark, she also has to ensure that she keeps breathing herself, while also trying to figure out who is doing the unspeakable things to other competitors.

Tamsyn then leads us on this beautiful adventure, where twist after twist occurs so seamlessly that you can’t help but feel completely enthralled. The writing is so beautiful, so intelligent, and so very impressive. And the way the entire story is told is so very transportive! I mean, this book has one of the scariest settings I’ve read all year, but I felt like I was right there battling for my life, with a goofy smile on my face. And the atmosphere and constant chill while reading? It’s unparalleled and truly an experience like no other.

“Maybe it’s that I find the idea comforting . . . that thousands of years after you’re gone . . . is when you really live. That your echo is louder than your voice.”

I love this book for many reasons, but I also love it because it’s over the top, and has so many one-liners, and it’s painfully romantic, and the girl gets the girl at the end. And it’s what’s I’ve been waiting my whole reading life for. This is a better, and way more unique, and 100% more impressive version of what straight, white dudes have been publishing in SFF forever. I keep seeing people say that they feel this book is too confusing, the characters too over the top, and the world too complex, but I just don’t feel that way at all. This is the story my sapphic loving heart has been searching for in epic fantasy my whole life. Gideon the Ninth is my queer, literary loving heart’s anthem, and I plan to play it on repeat forever.

This book has the best enemies to lovers romance I’ve ever read in all of my years. Yeah, you read that right. In my whole freaking life, this is my favorite. I’m talking OTP for the rest of my days. I didn’t exist before this ship sailed in this first book. And this book also has such a central theme of trust, and what it means to put your trust in another. Also, what it means to be trustful, and the privilege of having someone put their trust in you, unconditionally. And this book also has an amazing discussion on power dynamics and imbalances, and how important it is to be aware of these things while putting your trust in yourself and in someone else, simultaneously.

“You are my only friend. I am undone without you.”

Overall, this really just felt like the book I’ve been waiting my own personal eternity for. This felt like the book of my dreams and my hopes. All I want is ownvoices queer books, with f/f relationships, with cutthroat girls putting themselves first, but allowing themselves to be vulnerable enough to maybe let someone else get to see a softer side of them. Almost like I’ve been reviewing books for five years now, preparing myself to read and review Gideon the Ninth, even though I know no word combination or sentence structure I could ever come up with could do it justice for this story. Basically, I know this book isn’t going to be for everyone, but if you feel like you have similar reading taste to me, then I implore you to give this one a try. I mean, if the tagline “Lesbian Necromancers in Space” isn’t going to sell you, hopefully my emotional, bleeding heart self can. This book means everything to me, and I hope you enjoy if you pick it up.

Jade City (The Green Bone Saga, #1) by Fonda Lee

JADE CITY is a gripping Godfather-esque saga of intergenerational blood feuds, vicious politics, magic, and kungfu.

The Kaul family is one of two crime syndicates that control the island of Kekon. It’s the only place in the world that produces rare magical jade, which grants those with the right training and heritage superhuman abilities.

The Green Bone clans of honorable jade-wearing warriors once protected the island from foreign invasion–but nowadays, in a bustling post-war metropolis full of fast cars and foreign money, Green Bone families like the Kauls are primarily involved in commerce, construction, and the everyday upkeep of the districts under their protection.

When the simmering tension between the Kauls and their greatest rivals erupts into open violence in the streets, the outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones and the future of Kekon itself.

Notable review by chai

I’m going to attempt a summary of Lee’s invigorating new novel, even if I suspect no summary can do justice to the rip-roaring complexity of the plot:

Jade City is set in a world where jade confers great strength and power to those who can wield it—without risking madness or a lethal propensity to the Itches.

More than a quarter of a century before, the island nation of Kekon was freed from the imperial thrall of the Shotarians. Ever since, the jade-wielding warriors of No Peak and Mountain—the two largest clans in Kekon’s capital city—have worked together in their complex webs of favor and obligation, indulging the unending performance of glad-handing and compromise. But the candle of their fragile, flexible alliance is burning at both ends and lighting their way to irreversible violence. The Kekonese had thought the war was in the past, but it seems it refuses to remain there.

With foreign powers setting their sights on the Kekonese jade and the illegal trade of a dangerous drug that allows Non-Kekonese to wear jade ballooning, the peace between the clans has become like a damaged cargo rope, unraveling with the speed of a new-lit fire down to a single thread. And soon, it will snap.

Jade City is a book that bursts with ideas, and from the outset, Lee goes to painstaking work to establish a comprehensible, fully-lived in world to make sure it all makes sense. The magic is thoroughly explained and compellingly explored, as is the social hierarchy. I also relished the stories of abandoned gods, mythical jade warriors and horrific monsters that are threaded through the entirety of Jade City, making the world’s scope even more expansive, even when the story only focuses on a handful of individuals. The resulting narrative is as accessible an experience as going to the movies: vivid, immediate, and unforgettable.

Alongside the richness of Lee’s world, there’s the tremendous depth of character. The author’s ambitious tapestry includes corruption, treason, vengeance, honor, regret, forbidding love, and sexuality. It’s a killer story about a family steeped in tragedy and power, affronting painful choices while occupying a city that seems intent on swallowing them whole.

Jade City centers around the Kaul family: Lan, Shae, and Hilo, and there is such a current of love and rage and loss running between the three siblings.

Lan’s character in particular burrowed deep into my heart. Kaul Lan’s heart had no talent for violence. Ever since the mantle of clan Pillar (leader) had been passed to him from his legendary but ailing grandfather, Lan has been trying to keep the rusty, ramshackle machine that is No Peak grinding along. But he had been burdened for so long, and bereft of that state of rage and resentment everyone else expected him to cultivate as the clan’s Pillar. I love how Lan always tried to be a gentle and patient leader, even when his enemies suffered no such compunction, even when his softness was always taken for weakness. Lan was the furthest thing from weak, and as the novel acutely illustrates, it takes great strength to be shown the grimmest face of the world and still choose to meet its gaze with kindness.

Hilo, on the other hand, is Lan’s opposite in every way. Hilo is imperious, enraged, and in some abhorrent way, alive. His blood sings with violence and he possesses such will for vengeance. But for all Hilo’s unbridled temper, there is something almost vulnerable about him. Hilo radiates the flinching fragility of people who carry the worst kinds of aches, and it’s manifestly apparent in the way he lashes out at his little sister when she leaves her family behind for an Espenian military officer, because he felt abandoned and lonely and instead of admitting it, he draped his words in venom and hung tightly to the iron in his pride just so he’d feel like he’d gotten his bearings again. And it’s that softness, which is often denied and sublimated in favor of dogged anger, that endeared Hilo to me.

I also loved Shae’s character. How she’d taken a risk to rise above the destiny carved out for her by the men in her life. She cast off her jade and went to Espenia where she was just another faceless figure, not the heir to a legendary warrior who liberated his country, or even a jade-wielding soldier who knew five dozen ways to kill with a lover’s intimacy. When Shae comes back, it’s like coming to a place that had been home but isn’t anymore, like trying to fit back into a skin already shed. I really admired her loyalty, how her love for her family keeps reaching new incandescences, chasing away all trace of grudges and grievances.

Shae is not the only female character given so much care and attention. Ayt Madashi is a very compelling villain. Wen, Hilo’s lover, is also granted equal footing in the story. As a jade-immune stone-eye, Wen has suffered the toll of the insidious belief that stone-eyes carry a curse in their blood. It didn’t help that her family was disgraced despite the fact that Hilo has recruited her two brothers as his First and Second Fists, or that Hilo himself is constantly tormented over her safety and often tries to keep the face of the world and its violence curtained from her. But Wen isn’t the type to yield to whoever tries to push her into surrender, and I have a feeling she’s going to play an even more enormous role in the next installment.

Gripping and audaciously inventive, Jade City wraps enough up to satisfy but clearly sets the stage for so much more. I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequel!

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading. Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war.

Notable review by chai

This Is How You Lose the Time War does not make it easy for any reviewer to describe the experience of reading it. As soon as you start to put words in, you hit a wall. How does one explain the action of the novel without surrendering any spoilers?

I can tell you that the first strand running through this loosely-braided narrative comes in the form of a letter. That the first of its kind is only pretend, an instant of self-indulgence, but that it began a circling of time for Red, the past cutting into the present like a whetted blade. Then comes the second letter, which is an abyss daring Red to fall inside despite the sense that she and Blue are all digging themselves deeper than ever before. By the third letter, Red feels that they are cutting their own throats by all of this.

Blue and Red, our protagonists, are two time traveling spies from rival factions in a time-war-ravaged world, who make contact and find love—and something that frightens them, too—across a void too profound to bridge with anything other than words. The two women are more real to each other than reflections in a mirror. They had borne witness to too many battles waged against time (and each other), but this time too many forces are ready to make siege weapons of their letters. Yet, in the sheer shimmering (im)possibility of every word, they can almost pretend they can get away with it.

And we’ll run again, the two of us, upthread and down, firefighter and fire starter, two predators only sated by each other’s words.

This novel is, for lack of a better term, a lot—but in a good way. This Is How You Lose the Time War is a book of sustained beauty and lyricism that also works as a fractured mosaic of a novel—told in swift, brutal strokes, all wound into vertiginous loops of prose. It is not what anyone would describe as a light read by any stretch. Rather, it is the kind of novel that delights in confusing, wrong-footing, and maddening its reader. The kind of novel that demands not only you pay attention, but that you actively participate. If you’re here, This Is How You Lose the Time War seems to say, you have to be here: attentive, wide-eyed, and alert.

El-Mohtar and Maxwell, our author duo, are undeniably some of the greatest writers writing today, and in This Is How You Lose the Time War, they are in full command of their narrative gifts. Together their language soars as they write of desire, longing, fear, survival and freedom. The result is prose that reads like an intricate dance, a dialogic push-and-pull as effortless and compelling as the protagonists’ correspondence. There’s clearly a lot of trust here between the two authors, and the novel is all the better for it.

That said, those gifts can sometimes double as obstacles. As beautiful as the prose is, This Is How You Lose the Time War is a novel that can feel both exhilarating and exhausting, sometimes simultaneously. There are moments when the lyricism feels labored, the sentences so bedecked with metaphors and analogies that one might crave a little more restraint. Inside the long economy of a novel, I think too much prose (no matter how exquisite) can occasionally hamper the flow of the narrative, and at times, it is the case with This Is How You Lose the Time War.

But one quickly learns that the best way to read This Is How You Lose the Time War is in small merciful doses, lingering more over each sentence, extrapolating meaning from tidbits of language, and slowly stitching the errant pieces into a whole. Ultimately, this becomes the most rewarding experience of reading This Is How You Lose the Time War: that this is a novel that not only teaches you how to read it, but how to relax into the chaos of it all and enjoy it too. I’m already looking forward to reading it again.

Dearest, deepest Blue—
At the end as at the start, and through all the in-betweens, I love you.

Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children, #1) by Seanan McGuire

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

Notable review by Emily May

“We went down, and at the bottom there was a door, and on the door there was a sign. Two words. ‘Be Sure.’ Sure of what? We were twelve, we weren’t sure of anything. So we went through.”

This book is exactly my kind of weird.

I have to try and explain Every Heart a Doorway somehow, but it isn’t easy. It’s a kind of dark, creepy fairy tale about all those children who slipped through the cracks – a wardrobe, a rabbit hole, or a simple doorway – and found themselves somewhere else; somewhere no one would believe they’d been. No one, that is, except Eleanor West.

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is where despairing parents send their troubled kids. The ones who claim to have been to a different world. Eleanor West promises to help them, and she does, just not in the way the parents imagine. Because Eleanor has been to her own world and she knows the sadness and loss these children experience when they are dragged back to the “real” world. She offers them a place where they can be believed.

Very atmospheric and strange, but also full of wit and humour, this story is just damn near perfect. I loved the eerie style of writing, and the diverse cast of characters that included an asexual protagonist and a boy who is transgender. There’s also a whole lot of creepy murder going on.

It’s such a strange little book and I genuinely enjoyed both the writing and the insights into human behaviour. For example, Lundy’s response to Nancy’s question about why there are more girls than boys:
“Because ‘boys will be boys’ is a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Lundy. “They’re too loud, on the whole, to be easily misplaced or overlooked; when they disappear from the home, parents send search parties to dredge them out of swamps and drag them away from frog ponds. It’s not innate. It’s learned. But it protects them from the doors, keeps them safe at home. Call it irony, if you like, but we spend so much time waiting for our boys to stray that they never have the opportunity. We notice the silence of men. We depend upon the silence of women.”

There are many, often subtle, nods toward gender issues. And there’s a rather hilarious moment when Nancy’s roommate asks if she minds that she masturbates. I love how the book manages to be comical and serious, dark and light, fairy tale and psychological thriller, all at the same time.

Many of these kids just want to get back to their home, their real home, the place where they truly feel like they belong. How hard it is to live in this world while knowing that somewhere out there is a doorway that leads to where you’re supposed to be. But, as Nancy finally comes to realize:
“Nobody gets to tell me how my story ends but me.”

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1) by Patrick Rothfuss

Told in Kvothe’s own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen.

The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature.

A high-action story written with a poet’s hand, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that will transport readers into the body and mind of a wizard.

Notable review by The Book Smugglers

A man walks into an inn – let’s call it the Waystone Inn – and he sees its owner behind the bar – let’s call him Kote . Kote is a quiet man who keeps to himself, full of lines on his face and scars in his body; He looks old but he is not yet thirty. He is a man who has seen things, known things, far too many to count. A man who has longings which he does not listen and regrets that consume him. His hair is red – but not the flame red that once was. His eyes are of a dull green – not the bright green –grass they used to be. He is a man with a Past. He is our hero.
A man walks into the Waystone Inn disrupting the conversation its (few) regulars are having, claiming that he has been attacked by a giant spider. He was able to kill the animal and its carcass is brought forward – what could this be? Is it a demon? Surprisingly, the unassuming Kote voices that it is a scrael and helps them getting rid of it properly. He also knows that scraelings come in bands and he, alone and quietly prepares for another battle. Kote makes his way into the forest and proceeds to exterminate the scraelings.
A man – let’s call him Chronicler – walks into this scene and finds the one he has been looking for: the mythical hero known as Kvothe. A man who has stolen princesses , burnt towns, attended The University at an early age, talked to Gods, loved women, written amazing songs, killed an angel – and disappeared from public life suddenly. Chronicler, who is a History keeper, wants to document Kvothe’s (pronounced QUOTHE) life and separate the truth from the lies and exaggerations that surround his story. Kvothe is initially against the idea but upon persuasive arguments decides to tell his own story: the way it happened. He offers Chronicler the opportunity of a lifetime – the man whose very best stories about him are the ones HE told is about to tell all – in three days( hence the name of the novel: the Kingkiller Chronicle, Day One).
As they sit down , the narrative shifts from third person to first person (and back again to third whenever the need for a break arises : nature call, meal breaks, demon attack , etc) as Kvothe tells his adventures starting from his childhood as a member of a loving, amazing travelling troupe when he learnt to love music, acting (both define who he is and come in handy several times in his life) and above all about magic when an Arcanist joins the group and teaches him about Sympathy. Until tragedy strikes and alone, he must make his way into the world. This first day follows the story of Kvothe in his early years until he joins The University at the early age of 14 as he seeks Knowledge. But not any Knowledge – Kvothe is fuelled by his need to know everything and anything about the mysterious evil Chandrian (“when the hearthfire turns to blue, what to do? What to do? Run outside. Run and hide”) and learn the….name of the wind. (And if he learns the seven words to make a woman love you in the process, all the better right? )
And this is only but a small glimpse into the world of The Name of the Wind. I LOVE this book with every cell of my being.
The story itself is tremendously interesting. There are mysteries within mysteries, stories within stories, all relating to the Chandrian and to Kvothe’s parents. (I will say no more on the subject. )
The details of the world building with its places (there is even a map ) , peoples, languages, currencies and the magic that in here is called Sympathy and its practitioners, arcanists and all the sympathies and bindings and how they work are EXPLAINED in minutiae. There is History, Chemistry, Religion, Myth , Music and Poetry. And of course, the cryptic power of the namers – those few who can call the name of things.
The characters are amazing. None more than Kvothe – an extremely clever and cunning young boy who gets away from many scuffles with his intelligence and quick thinking and who at the same time is naïve and prone to suffer for his emotional vulnerability. I absolutely ADORE him and I cried and I laughed many times over his story. I loved that Patrick Rothfuss gave him a happy childhood with loving parents who loved him AND each other (and their love was also a very sensual one). I find myself grateful for a Fantasy author who chooses to make love the mark of a hero’s past instead of hate. It is all the more poignant when a hero is grief-stricken with the loss of something GOOD. Isn’t the absence of love as hurtful as the presence of hate? Kvothe’s University friends are good enough to make me want to read about them and of course there is Bast – his student who at the present follows his master as he wastes his life at the Waystone Inn and who worries and waits for something, anything to help his master to be over this god-forsaken, apparently self-inflicted misery. At the end of Day One, there is still no clue as to how the child that was Kvothe became the man that is Kote.
Then finally there is the cherry in the cake: the writing. Patrick Rothfuss’ prose is absurdly stunning, the type that makes me cry at its sheer beauty. To illustrate my point, I present you with a quote from a story within the story. Part of the tale of Lanre (a warrior) and his beloved Lyra (who was a namer and could call the name of things and command them). Lanre falls into battle and dies. Lyra is devastated. This is what follows:
“In the midst of silence Lyra stood by Lanre’s body and spoke his name. Her voice was a commandment. Her voice was steel and stone. Her voice told him to live again. But Lanre lay motionless and dead.
In the midst of fear Lyra knelt by Lanre’s body and breathed his name. Her voice was a beckoning. Her voice was love and longing. Her voice called him to live again. But Lanre lay cold and dead.
In the midst of despair Lyra fell across Lanre’s body and wept his name. Her voice was a whisper. Her voice was echo and emptiness. Her voice begged him to live again. But Lanre lay breathless and dead.”
So there you have it: good writing of an amazing hero’s journey and an in-depth world building. There is only one thing missing here and as Kvothe says himself: no story is a good story if there isn’t romance. And it’s here as well folks, in the figure of a young girl called Denna, Dianne or any other alias she can think of. I will be cryptic again and shut up so you can find and follow Denna along with Kvothe.
Is the book perfect? Of course not – although it’s close enough. Some may think that Kvothe is too perfect a character, the male equivalent of a Mary Sue. One could argue that The University resembles Hogwarts and that the Ambrose-Kvothe animosity is reminiscent of the Harry-Draco one (but hey every hero needs his nemesis) . You can even say that Kvothe’s struggles to get money to be able to remain at the University are repeated too frequently. Even though the critical part of me is willing to acknowledge all of the above, I can honestly say that I did not care one IOTA about these: they are only but tiny droplets in the vast ocean of awesomeness that is this book.
If I had any talent for poetry I would write an Ode. If I could compose songs, I would make one for the lute and call it “The name of the Wind knocked my socks off”. But I don’t. As it stands, the ONLY thing I can do to convey how much I love this book, is to write this review, hoping against hope that it will be enough, and say that whenever Patrick Rothfuss takes Kvothe next, I will follow, blindly and willingly.

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