The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss (Published 2007)
Sub-genre: Heroic Fantasy
Completed: June 5 2010
The Name of the Wind is widely considered to be one of the most impressive Fantasy debuts of the last decade. Its renown was sufficient for me to break my rule of avoiding incomplete series (which grew out of the anguish of waiting for the next The Wheel of Time or A Song of Ice Ice and Fire books). I don’t regret the decision at all.
Of all of the Fantasy I have read The Name of the Wind is the book that most deliberately addresses the development of a legend. I use it as an example in my definition of Heroic Fantasy. There are no epic stakes, though a broader scope of events is certainly foreshadowed. Unfortunately, given the lack of epic struggle many fantasy readers will feel that not much happens and, to be honest, about halfway through the book I felt it too. But I didn’t care. It seems that the point of the story is to demonstrate how even mundane events in the main character’s life have been mythologised by the people of his world.
The structure of the story is deliberately designed to explore these ideas. The majority of the book is a first person narrative delivered by the protagonist, Kvothe. It is framed by a somewhat detached third person narrative in which we see the main character, disguised as a simple tavern owner and calling himself Kote (for unclear reasons), lured into telling his story to the aptly named Chronicler. A memorable scene occurs after the climax of Kvothe’s tale in which a group of the tavern’s patrons, unaware of Kote’s identity, retell some of the events which Kvothe has relayed to Chronicler, blowing them out of all proportion. The irony is very enjoyable.
Rothfuss’ language is beautiful and designed to be musical, given his main character’s love of music and performance. The segments of first-person narrative are delightfully lyrical, as befitting the narrator’s training in performance of all kinds. The mysterious and magical elements are very well developed and fit the world perfectly, combining believably with science in a way that gives strength to the wise and powerful characters.
The characters are similarly real, sometimes frustratingly so, with the main character in particular displaying youthful stupidity along with flashes of incredible (and often unbelievable, to be brutally honest) brilliance. There are effectively three major characters in the story – the young Kvothe from the tale, the older, damaged Kote, and the Kvothe of legend. Though they feel real, side characters really are side characters. This just isn’t their story, and they matter to the reader only as they interact with Kvothe. Enough information is presented to show that their lives carry on when they are away from the main character, but with one exception I was never really concerned with what they were up to when absent from the narrative.
Given that the majority of the story is first-person it is of course very dependent on enjoying and relating to the main character and some people won’t like the almost super capable Kvothe. He has obvious human limitations but he frequently proves to have incredible intelligence as well as a singular gift for music. He is a prodigy in every sense of the word, and some readers will get tired of being reminded of the fact. He simply won’t be accessible to many people and many will wonder how the character can grow in the coming volumes.
I would consider this a strength of the story, given that it could be attributed to the boastfulness of the unreliable narrator. However, it seems that the main aim of Kvothe in telling his story is, ironically, to downplay his own legend. This modesty is directly contrasted with the myths that have become so well known in his world.
The Name of the Wind is the first part of a trilogy (the structure is simply but creatively established when Kvothe declares that it will take three days to tell his story). Although there is a climactic event the story is in no way complete or contained. I enjoyed the story but I’m not as effusive in my praise for it as most are. I’m giving it 4 stars. In spite of its undeniable quality it didn’t engage me as much as other books have. I doubt that casual or new readers of Fantasy would find the book particularly accessible but there is plenty to offer experienced readers, particularly those interested in a more literary experience
Read it – to enjoy a powerfully written examination of the way heroic figures become legends
Don’t read it – if it’s your first foray into Fantasy