The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Oh, The Name of the Wind. Nearly universally praised, my copy came to me via one of my favorite microaggression stories to tell. (Moral of the story: don’t randomly tell people you hated a book because the protagonist was gay—you will run into a queer woman eventually.) With the release of its sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear, in March, the book blogosphere has been overflowing with praise for Patrick Rothfuss. While my copy languished on my shelves for the better part of ten months, I did finally get around it—after I’d built up a substantial buffer, eying its seven hundred plus pages warily. But I needn’t have bothered; I tore through this marvelous piece of work in a handful of days.
The Name of the Wind starts when Devan Lochees, known as the Chronicler, finally tracks down the man known as Kvothe—Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe the Arcane, and Kvothe Kingkiller—in a small town called Newarre, where Kvothe is lying low as an innkeeper with his protégé, Bast. As dark forces make themselves known even in this remote part of the world, Kvothe agrees to tell Chronicler his story over three days. On the first day contained in The Name of the Wind, Kvothe tells Chronicler of his childhood among traveling actors, his years living on the streets, and his training at the University at an age most boys only dream of it. Through sheer wit and pluck, Kvothe puts himself on the track to making a name for himself—and what a name it will be.
I have to admit to being a little impatient with The Name of the Wind at first. By now, its frame story has become, well, storied; I couldn’t wait for Chronicler and Kvothe to interact and for Kvothe to tell his story. But that’s not the book’s fault, that’s hype’s fault—and, in any case, it’s fifty-nine pages before Kvothe takes over and begins his story. And I really enjoyed the small interludes Rothfuss sprinkles throughout the book, showing how hard it is for Kvothe to deal with telling this story again. Bast’s motivation, in particular, for helping Chronicler is fascinating, and I can’t wait to see more in the next book. But I get ahead of myself…
The Name of the Wind is a stellar marriage of the traditional bildungsroman and traditional fantasy; I’m utterly astonished by the fact that this Rothfuss’ first novel. Out of the entire book, my only quibbles were the lack of establishment for one character, Auri, and Kvothe’s skill with horses—both are believable, but look a little weak next to the fantastic development for everything else. Kvothe’s early life has become the stuff of legend almost by accident; for instance, the legendary burning of the city of Trebon involves skills Kvothe learned when an accident broke out at the University. Of course, Kvothe’s flair for the dramatic also helps—he was trained as an actor since birth.
In a bildungsroman (and, indeed, in any novel centered around one character), you need to like the protagonist, and Kvothe is fantastic. (I will admit to some trepidation based on the loving detail paid to his flaming red hair and brilliantly green eyes—that change color due to his emotions—due to visions of Mary Sues dancing in my head, but it works. Don’t ask me how, but it works.) Kvothe is a remarkably clever theater kid whose dire poverty and status as an ethnic minority (the Edema Ruh, a fantasy version of the Romani) has forged him into a formidable force—although he’s often caught unaware by the world of wealth and privilege that he’s never experienced and overwhelmed by Denna, the woman he falls in love with. In short, he’s human; too clever by half and brimming with potential, but human, as well as bitingly funny when he wants to be. But as an older man with his adventures behind him, Kvothe is a downtrodden man with a death wish; it’s an interesting contrast, and I look forward to watching the young Kvothe grow into this man.
The world-building is solid and well thought out; I always appreciate a solid and interesting magic system. And the draccus—the herbivorous, fire-breathing basis for the mythical dragon—is great fun and adds to a rather unique (but familiar!) climax. But ultimately, what I liked about The Name of the Wind was the emphasis on stories; how stories make us, change us, and help us. Kvothe, as an actor, is highly aware of this—he even starts rumors in University to cultivate his reputation. But Bast understands this more and explains how stories shape our identities, Kvothe’s patrons blithely tell stories about him in front of him (assuming him to be a mild-mannered innkeeper), and Kvothe constantly calls attention to the fact that he’s telling this story from a wiser, older vantage point; he occasionally laments over the things he did not know then. Even Kvothe’s love for music (which has, mysteriously, withered in the interim) ties into this theme; he sings stories for his supper. He’s surrounded by them. I found that wildly satisfying. I do have to say that The Name of the Wind leaves you wanting more, but that’s just because I want to know the rest of the story right this very minute. Luckily, I don’t have to wait for the sequel.
Bottom line: The Name of the Wind is a stellar marriage of the traditional bildungsroman and traditional heroic fantasy, with a compelling and fantastic hero, Kvothe, at its heart. Believe the hype.
I bought this book at Books-a-Million.