rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
You know a thing I really like?

When a person writes a very good first novel, and then the sequel is better.

The first was a glorious dive through conflicting mythologies seen through the lens of one of the most unreliable narrators who ever unreliabled, and I liked it very much but wanted to remove a great many of its adjectives. With prejudice.

This one complicates the mythology, fleshes out the characters even more, has a ton of cool plot stuff, and fixes the adjectives.

I don't want to say too much about the plot, because I know some people haven't read the first one. But Kvothe, our protagonist, is still telling his life story to a scribe-- this is the second day on which he is telling it-- and it's still an interesting exercise to compare the world, and Kvothe, as they are now, with the world, and Kvothe, as they were then. This book has more of fantasy's most insane magical university; a culture where women are much more highly regarded then men, but no outsider has noticed because their men will say things like, to the opponent in a bar fight, 'bring as many women as you need' and everyone takes that for sexism; the creepiest tree ever; the most entertaining sacred tree ever; a metaphysical description of why the moon waxes and wanes, and a story about the man who stole the moon; people speaking in rhyme in a way that does not make me want to throw things, and a character who has an interesting typographical trick that does not make me want to throw anything either; and a man in legends who is canonically described as having 'a cloak of no particular color', which people then sit down and have a conversation about, involving what it might actually have looked like and how they have always seen it in their heads when they hear the story and the obvious questions people in books like this don't traditionally ask.

There is a chapter involving a game of cards and a long con and a lost ring that left me gasping in delight at its structure.

If I have a problem, it's that everything happens within too short a span of time, that things are always happening in weeks that ought to be months and months that ought to be years. The amount of time it takes Kvothe to become reasonable at fighting is, frankly, ridiculously short, I don't care what a genius he is. But this is minor, and at least this isn't one of those books that forgets about distance: travel is messy, inconvenient, dangerous, and takes longer than you want it to (one of the book's most hilarious sequences is about that).

It's also a book that spent a lot of time skirting the edge of my massive embarrassment squick but never, thank fortune, falling over into it, mostly because Kvothe is really, really hard to embarrass.

This is one of those books also that is long enough to have phases, to be extremely immersive. I read it on B.'s Kindle so I wouldn't hurt my wrists, but I read for sixteen straight hours today. That probably puts it somewhere over fifteen hundred pages, and it has comedy, tragedy, violence, unexpected peace, bad puns, good worldbuilding, and the sheer and certain knowledge that next book things are going to get pretty damn dark and I cannot predict how. And enough revelation that I want to go back and read the first one again.

In short, this is a damn good fantasy series doing exactly the things I would like fantasy to do, in an intelligent and interesting manner, and I want more of it yesterday, and now I'm going to go read all Jo Walton's chapter-by-chapter analyses.
rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
Sometimes the universe conspires to throw a book at your head. B. has been suggesting I read this for a while, and then [community profile] papersky started doing a close-reading over at torcom, and the sequel came out and all, and so finally I said to myself all right I will go to the library and I will say to them 'so like basically you've never had a copy of this in ever, how long is the reserve list?' Which I did. And they said you are the first person on it because we just bought like ten copies. So I reserved it. And then I went over, as one does, to the library discard shelving, because it is insane not to go over that every so often.

There was a copy in the library discard shelving. I can take a hint. (Also a book.) Then I had to go cancel the reserve I'd put in fifteen seconds earlier, an odd mental experience.

Anyway, this is officially a Big Fat Fantasy Novel, of the nearly wrist-spraining variety, and it appears that it will be one of at least three. Kvothe, who has done a whole bunch of legendary and near-legendary things, is now running an inn in a small town in the middle of nowhere; this is his life story, as told to a chronicler who's managed to track him down, interspersed with segments showing things going on in the inn, the way the state of the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket, and so on.

This book fascinated me because I really like it on every level except that of basic prose construction. I've heard a lot of complaints that Kvothe comes across as a Mary Sue, because he is basically a salad dressing and a dessert topping-- youngest student in the history of the University, preternaturally gifted at languages, best musician anybody's ever heard, etc. etc. etc. The thing is, he is also one of the most unreliable narrators who ever unreliabled. Of course he is trying to make himself look good in his own life story, while also being the sort of person who does not admit it and possibly does not even want to make himself look good in his own life story. I take everything he says with a salt lick. What he considers to be his virtues are all right out there on the surface, as are what he considers to be his flaws. His real flaws and his real virtues are never stated outright and are really, really not what he thinks they are.

Also, the world of the book looks on the surface like a lot of fairly standard high-fantasy medieval-ish worlds, magical University and faeries and everything, but that's in a lot of ways a superficial appearance over something much more unusual: a world in which there are conflicting versions of the core mythology that is clearly the metaphysical explanation for what's going on, and the versions conflict really drastically, and I don't think we've even heard the right one, because there isn't a right one, unless you ask the people who were there (who will lie to you). The stories here do the thing that folktales really do where you can see how they evolved into each other and what elements of each one got swiped and stood on their heads... pretty much the way Kvothe's life has, both in his version and otherwise. I don't have enough data from just the first book, but if I have picked the correct elements of the various mythologies as things to be paying attention to, this is a pretty goddamn smart and subtle piece of plotting cleverly disguised as a book where the hero is a genius a lot.

However. I realize it may have been necessary for the massive shell-game I suspect this entire trilogy of being, but. Can we stop having descriptions of Kvothe as having hair like fire? In fact, can we stop having-- okay, not the actual poetry, because, and this amazes me, there are portions of this book where people speak in rhyme and meter and it does not suck; it's about the level you get when people do that in real life-- but can we stop having the cliches? Because this book gave me on occasion the desperate feeling of wanting to go through it and chuck out ninety percent of the adjectives, and this is why people think of Kvothe as a Mary Sue, because if you use some of these adjectives in fanfiction nowadays you get laughed at. It was never actually unreadable, but I stared incredulously at various sentences every so often just thinking 'really?' I am going to have trouble forgiving Rothfuss the adjectives even for the sake of the shell-game, because yes, I am certainly not paying attention to the man behind the curtain, but I do not think that horrified incredulity was the distraction that was maybe the best idea. If it is intentional. God, I hope it's intentional.

The details are fun, though, a large and entertaining world full of things like having to kill a dragon because it's hopped up on opiates, a library that is the largest building in the entire city and has no internal lighting system, one of the more entertaining university entrance exams I've seen in a while, and various other coolness.

So, amazingly enough, I found this basically as good as it's been hyped up to be, enjoyed it, recommend it, and look forward to reading the sequel. I can't remember the last time I saw a book so thoroughly disguise itself as basically almost another genre from what I think it actually is. I am impressed.


rushthatspeaks: (Default)

March 2017

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