Roads to Safe Places
Kvothe remembers. Kvothe dreams. Kvothe wakes.
How Does it Happen?
This chapter is a return to the quality that I have mentioned before. Rothfuss is back in form.
This chapter is about something while also being involved in that something. What I mean by this is that the chapter is more than the description of what happens. It is a chapter where we can, finally, discuss style, narrative direction, character tension and motive, and other such wonderful things. It is not a chapter where “bob does x, then y, then bob does z”; no, this is a chapter where the events that are occurring are reflected in the thoughts, mannerisms and activities of the main character, and – most important – they are reflected in the writing style of the author.
It’s not enough for a character to say “I am sad”. When a narrative is in first person, the author is required to express that sadness in the tone, the sound of consonants and vowels, the play of words against one another. When a character dreams, the narrative style must be dreamy (or some kind of strange narration, at any rate – remember I am always stating common concepts – true genius writers can do whatever they want, and they certainly do write whatever they want, but this is genre fiction, and has constraints); when a character is excited, the narrative style should reflect that. A character’s strength of personality should bleed into the narrative style, irrespective of how close, or far, the narrator is.
Here, Rothfuss uses the interplay of memory, dream, and grief, to create a kind of quasi-present/past in which Kvothe remembers important moments in time with his deceased family in order to properly highlight his current tragic situation. This is a very fine effort, and it works well. Even better is that Rothfuss introduces a new character in this muddle – Laclith – whom I strongly hope never appears again (or only under such circumstances). This shows that Rothfuss is confident enough to introduce characters whose sole purpose is to propel the strength of the character and style – not the strength of the plot.
I was happy with this chapter. It is a return to form for Rothfuss. I suspect that the previous two chapters might have been written under the influence of a glass of wine or two, because on the surface they seem deep and full of emotion. But critical examination shows them to be sentimental dreck, worth less than a Hallmark card (which is to say nothing at all), and thus entirely without merit or true feeling or understanding of self or other. Writing must – must – go beyond the feel goodery of contemporary pop culture and express old ideas in new and interesting ways. If it doesn’t, what good is it? What does it mean to write the same thing for the billionth time? It means nothing at all, and any old soap opera can kill off a character’s parents. But to examine it clearly, distinctly, without fuss and with complete authenticity of expression and feeling, is a miracle.
Rothfuss doesn’t create that miracle here. I don’t think he can. But what he does is show that he can, when pressed, push his narrative in new and interesting directions. This chapter requires a lot from the reader, and the payoff is large. It’s confident, effective, and rather stylish.
I encourage you to read the entirety of my examination of Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle. Comments, affection and hate are more than welcome.
- Patrick Rothfuss – Author website
- Tor (Publisher) posts about Rothfuss
- Fantasy Book Review