I actually really enjoyed this novel. Several of the characters and stories reminded me of other fantasy stories, but sometimes it's just as fun drawing connections to influences and making comparisons as it is reading something original and unique. The novel is the first of a trilogy (of course, do people write anything other than trilogies anymore?), and each novel will cover one day. A story teller/biographer comes into a sleepy town, and realizes that the innkeeper is actually the famous (or infamous) Kvothe in hiding. He convinces Kvothe to set the record straight and tell his story, but Kvothe will only agree if the Chronicler remains for three days to record everything.
On this first day, Kvothe tells the story of his upbringing, his family, and how he eventually ended up at the University. Naturally, there is lots of foreshadowing because the Chronicler alludes to several myths and stories about Kvothe as well as various nicknames he has, such as Kingkiller. At this point, all the reader can do is wait and see what actually happened, and in some cases see if certain suspicions are right or completely off the mark. Kvothe grew up with the Edema Ruh, travelling performers, who of course reminded me of a mixture of gypsies and Tinkers or Tuath'an from The Wheel of Time. Kvothe learns to play instruments, especially the lute, and also displays a great memory for texts and plays. At one point, a traveler joins the troop who impressed by Kvothe's precociousness tutors Kvothe and begins to teach him "sympathy" or magic. However, the traveler eventually leaves the group of Edema Ruh, and tragedy meets the troupe as Kvothe's family and friends are attacked and killed by a dark, inhuman force. Of course, this event will be the driving force behind many of Kvothe's decisions and actions in the future, since this is where Rothfuss introduces the dark characters that Kvothe will attempt to find (also similar to the idea of the Forsaken from The Wheel of Time). Unfortunately for him, the only documents that really exist on the Chandrian show them as children's boogiemen, not anything that ever really existed. Immediately after his parents' death, however, Kvothe is focused on his own survival in the city, spending a few years there as a pickpocket before he hears someone tell a story about the Chandrian that inspires him to research them. He decides the University would be the best place to do research on them, given the extensive library, and would also let him continue his long ago studies of sympathy.
The rest of the novel mostly deals with Kvothe's time at the University, his developing friendships, as well as his visits to a local bar which is famous in the area for its musical clientele and performances. Naturally, there is also a love interest, Denna, who appears to be as much as con artist as Kvothe when necessary. Kvothe also finds a life long enemy in one of the richer students at the University. I actually really liked this part of the novel, and it may be because it reminded me of Tavi's time at the Academy in Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series. The second novel in that series was probably my favorite, so I really liked seeing a different character go through something similar.
While the novel may have been a bit derivative of other fantasy, I still thought it was a great way of combining old familiar stories, and creating a new one. I was genuinely interested in both the past and the present as Kvothe, Bast (his faerie friend/apprentice) and the Chronicler sat in the inn discussing these stories while also hearing hints of the current state of affairs. It also helps that he keeps the novel rather fast paced while also giving the readers lot of background information to puzzle over and play with. I'd definitely recommend this one. And the Codex Alera. Seems like everyone's always talking about Butcher's The Dresden Files, but his other series is also highly readable (and may be better in ways since it is only six novels, and he started them when he was already a mature and experienced writer so the reader is hooked from the beginning).