Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss

In 2006 the biggest début of the year in fantasy was without a doubt The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. The following year saw the rise of another new star in fantasy. The Name of the Wind, first book in the Kingkiller Chronicle, by Patrick Rothfuss made a huge impact and the second book, which will be released in March, has been on many a list of most anticipated releases for the last couple of years. Although the second volume had already been written by the time the first book was published, Rothfuss rewrote the entire book after realizing what professional editing did for the first volume. After such a successful début, the pressure was on to deliver a second book. I suspect Rothfuss was right taking his time to revise it. The first volume has certainly created high expectations on my part.

The story opens in a tavern in the village of Newarre (read: nowhere), where innkeeper Kote is trying to lead a quiet life, accompanied by his student Bast. The first sign that he may not be allowed to do just that is what a huge spider-like creature appears and attacks one of the locals. Fortunately for him, the creature is crushed under a horse of the local and he brings it in to the village for inspection. Although he doesn't tell the villagers, Kote knows what this creature is, how dangerous it is, what drew it to Newarre and that it is most likely not alone. Without telling the villagers or Bast, Kote sets out to kill the rest of the creatures.

While looking for the creatures in the darkness outside the village he runs into a lonely traveller. This man, known as The Chronicler, has been chasing a rumour that the great Kvothe, a man of legend and presumed dead, is living in Newarre. He recognizes Kote instantly. After they return to Kote's inn, The Chronicler convinces him to let him write down his story. But only on Kvothe's terms. He will need three days to tell it and The Chronicler is not allowed to change a single word. On this first day, Kvote tells the story of his youth, his parents, his first teacher and above all his time at the university. The tale of his brilliance and mistakes, his first love and his brush with the mysterious Chandrians. In short, the real story behind the legends that have sprung up around him. It does not need the embellishments associated with rumour and the creation of myths, the truth is quite exciting enough.

It's very easy to see why this book has such an appeal. It is not the most challenging of reads, neither is the setting the most original in modern fantasy but it is without a doubt a triumph of storytelling. When Kvothe tells us about his life the reader is sitting in that inn with him, hanging on his lips. Good storytelling is an art and keeping it up for the better part of 600 pages is very impressive indeed. Not to mention Rothfuss planned two more books in this style. He's set himself quite a challenge by choosing this limiting format but in The Name of the Wind at least, it works very well.

That is not to say the book is without weaknesses. The way he tells his story can come across as a ramble at some points. Rothfuss must have realized it because he lets Kvote warn the reader early on in the book when the author has him say:
"If I seem to wander, if I seem to stray, remember that true stories seldom take the straightest way."

Kvote to The Chronicler, Chapter Seven - Of Beginnings and the Names of Things
He is quite right here of course, the story does not take the straightest way. This being the first book, it is not easy to say what is foreshadowing and where Rothfuss genuinely wanders, but I can't shake the impression that he does from time to time.

Whether he is rambling or not, Kvote is a memorable character. He brags, he's overconfident and can be a bit of a drama queen. He's also brilliant and he knows it. In fact, that is what gets him in trouble most of the time. Too sure of his own capabilities and too impatient to wait, he frequently takes rash action. Because of this the story can change direction very quickly and in unpredictable ways. Although Rothfuss has already revealed some of the feats Kvothe has yet to perform, how he will get there is still a mystery. The flow of Kvothe's successes and disappointments in this books makes for some very good reading. It does not really lend itself well to a climax in this book however. The event that will close this story is known early on in the novel and when this event does occur, it feels a bit abrupt. Kvothe may be ready to call it a day, but as a reader you are for from done with this book. A curse and a blessing I suppose, given the years that have passed waiting for the second volume.

The Name of the Wind is one of those books that capture that sense of adventure many are looking for in a fantasy novel. We get to see a complex and to the reader brand new world through the eyes of a young protagonist (Kvothe tells about the first sixteen years of his life in this volume) and explore it with him. We see the world through the eyes of a young man full of possibilities. It's fresh, exciting and even bad luck does not stop Kvothe from going for it. Rothfuss also offers the reader the more mature, depressed and brooding Kvothe The Chronicler gets to see. It's a very interesting contrast and it raises quite a few questions. After this first book I am by no means sure how Rothfuss means to unite these two very different Kvothes. I do think Rothfuss has managed to create a character that will keep the reader turning pages for the full trilogy. A theory I am certainly going to check once I get my hands on The Wise Man's Fear.

Book Details
Title: The Name of the Wind
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Publisher: DAW Books
Pages: 661
Year: 2007
Language: English
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 0-7564-0407-9
First published: 2007


  1. Good post. I'm more into science-fiction and not much of a modern fantasy fan, but I'll bite when the story telling is good. This book sounds very promising. Cheers to a thoughtful review!

  2. Thank you. If you do decide to read it, let me know what you think!

  3. I was waiting to see your review on this. Glad it's a good one. I really enjoyed this book, it's one I've actually bought for other people I'd recommend it that much.

  4. I think this is one of the few books that actually lives up to the hype that surrounded it. Can't wait to get my hands on the second book.