Anyone who reads this blog extensively knows that I’ve spent countless hours of my time championing the cause of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle books. After my exhaustive scholarly analysis of the first two novels I was, along with the rest of fantasy fandom, left desperate for more of Kvothe and his unique, fascinating world.
Perhaps I should have expected it due to my tireless advocacy of his work, but I was still astonished when the Master Namer himself contacted me and asked if I wanted to take a look at the as-yet unpublished Doors of Stone. Of course I said yes.
And so I can offer you, dear readers, a world-exclusive first review of the final book of the Kingkiller Chronicles trilogy!
Right off the bat I knew that this would was something hardcore fantasy readers would love. The PDF I was given opens with not one, not two, not even three or four, but five prologues before we even get to the main story! A large chunk of the back of the book is taken up with a full glossary for our esteemed author’s various conlangs along with the full text of multiple poems, song lyrics and (my favourite) various ancient prophecies. I was assured that the finished novel will include even more vital world-building material, such as maps and (be still, my heart) a currency conversion chart. I continue to be amazed at how reading and writing fantasy turns you into a modern-day renaissance man!
As excited as I was by all of this, I was even more thrilled to dig into the main story. Following the earth-shattering events of the previous book Kvothe picks his story back up with him attending the University at Imre, dealing with money problems, verbally sparring with Ambrose and wooing Denna. Then it’s off to Felurian’s woods and Ademre- just like in The Wise Man’s Fear, the book cleverly comments on the cyclical nature of storytelling by having Kvothe repeat the events of the previous book for the first 90,000 words or so.
It’s clear that the Master Namer has decided to pull out all of the stops for the grand finale of the trilogy by giving his readers more of what they liked the first two times- more moonlit walks with Denna, more verbal sparring with a cast of quirky mentors, more delving into the nature of his unique and original magic system. In fact if that last one makes your ears perk up you’re in for a major treat this time around, as the Master Namer has included multiple novella-length side-plots dedicated solely to exploring the nature of magic in Kvothe’s world. You’ll get to see every possible facet of this fascinating subject inside and out!
And it must be said that the grittier aspects of the story have also been enhanced. Kvothe kills a lot of people in this book in displays of righteous violence worthy of Richard, the great objectivist hero of our times. And he also gets plenty of opportunities to put the skills Felurian taught him to the test, particularly when he must infiltrate the House of Bosoms in order to learn the ancient art of Ardouromancy. This is normally a female-only establishment (just think of what these luscious ladies get up to behind closed doors) but Kvothe’s prowess at the manly arts so impresses the Ardouromancers that they immediately elect him their leader. He even gets into a relationship with Regalia Petti’Forte, head matron of the House of Bosoms, in which he melts the icy exterior of this mature but vivacious woman.
If I may for a moment temporarily cease speaking as a fan and actually criticize the story (this lapse in judgement will be temporary, I assure you), there was one aspect of the Master Namer’s “more is more” approach that didn’t quite sit well with me, and that was a rather long extension of the side-plot from Wise man’s Fear regarding Denna taking in and sheltering fallen women from around Imre. It was a bit… well….. girly for my tastes and seemed to include some alarming elements of a radical feminist agenda, no doubt mandated by the publisher after pressure from Social Justice Warriors. Thankfully, later in the story the Master Namer gets to show his true feminist credentials when he puts Denna back into her proper context as a character- after having been kidnapped she throws Kvothe his sword so that he can dispatch the villainous Lord Ash once and for all. It was a truly stirring moment, easily worthy of the best of Joss Whedon. I sincerely hope conventions looking to diversify their lineup think of inviting these two stalwart champions of progress to appear together onstage (nerdgasm!).
I think it’s at this point I have to put in a [spoiler warning], as I don’t feel that a proper discussion of Doors of Stone could possibly omit some important plot points. Reader, beware!
Anyway, this is of course the book where the elegant tapestry of plot threads the Master Namer has woven must come to a head. Unsophisticated readers of prosaic fiction are no doubt expecting a dull, conventional ending, and they’re going to be disappointed by how our esteemed author cleverly avoids wrapping Kvothe’s story up in a neat package- just as our own stories don’t end in a “satisfying” manner in real life.
The Chandrian finally show themselves only at the very end, after Kvothe has killed King Ambrose(!), to explain that he has been playing into their hands from the very beginning. During the discussion of the long list of coincidences needed to explain this, it’s very cleverly pointed out that in a story this would seem contrived and unbelievable, but, of course, to the characters the story is real life. Then later, when it’s revealed that Kvothe’s old mentor Ben is actually Lord Ash, Kvothe shakes his head and grins while pointing out that this seems like something out of a story- but, of course, it actually is a story. It’s intellectual flourishes like this that truly elevate the material into the realm of greatness.
Of course it’s not all awesome swords and magic (although there are a lot of awesome swords and magic). One of the most touching aspects of the last two books was Kvothe’s relationship with Auri, and that continues into the finale, as our hero uses his newfound Ardouromancy powers to heal Auri’s broken mind. Our rugged, manly protagonist gently embracing the innocent, child-like Auri is truly a beautiful image, the scene written with the tenderest of prose.
Speaking of tender, you might just shed a tear (get ready to hand in your man card) during the scene where Kvothe forgives Denna for leading him on all these years and agrees to her desperate pleas to be accepted as his wife. He even graciously overlooks the fact that her purity has been tarnished by her decision to work as a prostitute and sleep around before she met him. A protagonist who’s badass and has a kind nature? As much as I’ll always love gritty antiheroes like Conan and Richard, I can get behind that. Regardless of how you might feel, it’s nice to see Denna finally settle down and find her place as Kvothe’s loyal woman.
Doors of Stone is the complete package- a gritty fantasy novel that’s long, has tons of violence and complicated world-building and offers readers of all kinds the things that they want- lots of masculine action and lots of beautiful women! Really, what more could any true fantasy fan ask for?