Review: The Name of the Wind

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.

17 thoughts on “Review: The Name of the Wind

  1. I loved the Name of the Wind. Yes, it was overhyped, yes it doesn’t sound like something that should work, yes it’s a framed story that you *think* is just going to be another one of those fantasies, just like everything else.

    but it isn’t. because it isn’t really anything of those things, not at its heart.

    and don’t worry, Auri gets a little more attention in the 2nd book.

  2. THE NAME OF THE WIND really is about stories. I didn’t realize this until a friend had finished reading it and I had finished reading the sequel, THE WISE MAN’S FEAR. There are some stories that Rothfuss has put so much folklore around that he’s said he intends to someday release a book that’s nothing but the myths and tales Kvothe hears about. The main reason is that so many of the stories he tells and hears are actually parts of a larger story, the pieces altered through time and regional distortion.

    Since Redhead already said that Auri gets more attention in book 2, I’ll ask this: What did you think of Elodin?

  3. Ew, who told you they hated the book because the protagonist was gay? I can’t believe someone would say such a thing out loud in this day and age.

  4. I had some reservations about this book too and held off, may have been the hype causing it, but can’t say for sure. Might be time to take another look at it.

  5. Len – I would also buy that book in a heartbeat! in fact, Rothfuss needs to write it RIGHT NOW so we’ve all got something to read while we’re waiting for book 3 to come out.

  6. RE MarySue: Apparently, Rothfuss was on a panel with Christopher Paolini (Eragon) at one point, and someone asked Paolini if his character was meant to be a Mary Sue. Paolini just looked at them with an “Uh…” expression, and Rothfuss piped up “Hey! Mary Sues are Awesome! Everyone should write them!”

    There was also a Penny Arcade comic that commented on the Mary Sue-ness of Kvothe that Rothfuss apparently loved and okay’d ahead of time, but I won’t link it as it has spoilers for book 2 in it.

  7. Name of the Wind was a great reprieve. I’d begun to get seriously gunshy of trying anything new after trying one of the few names that kept endlessly being repeated on various review sites. My way of thinking was that if I didn’t like Martin and Abercrombie and reviewers who liked him also liked Rothfuss, Bakker, Lynch and Martin.. I wouldn’t like those others either.

    I guess 1 out of 5 isn’t bad.

  8. Pingback: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss | Capricious Reader

  9. Pingback: Book Review #14 – The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (audio) | Let's eat Grandpa!

  10. iTHIS BOOK IS EXACTLY HOW A FANTASY BOOK SHOULD BE!!! The moment I saw this book at the bookstore months ago, I knew it!!! and your review fortifies my intuition hehe… A great read… But im having a hard time finding the second one here in Malaysia. I guess i’ll have to buy it online then… well, it’s definitely worth it… Excellent review.

  11. Pingback: Review: The Mist-Torn Witches | The Literary Omnivore

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