You know how sometimes a book, or a movie, or a concert gets so hyped up in the press and you have such high expectations that when you finally get around to reading/seeing it, it disappoints? That’s what I was worried might happen when I decided to read The Name of the Wind. I purposely came to it late, hoping to wait until Patrick Rothfuss was nearly finished with the trilogy before I starting it. But, the book has received so much attention that it became inexcusable for me, as the editor of this website, not to read it. So I did — in two days. (It’s a huge book.)
And I’m very happy to report that The Name of the Wind did not disappoint — I was completely enthralled. The pace was quick and never lagged. The plot was tight and had just the right amount of mystery — I always understood what was going on, but Rothfuss regularly added new elements, twists, and layers to keep me wondering where this was going and what would happen next. In fact, by the end of the book, there are more unanswered questions than answered ones. Throughout, the writing style was smooth and pleasant, with enough wit, humor, foreshadowing, and artistry to be intellectually stimulating, but never pretentious. Furthermore, the magic system in Rothfuss’s world is thoroughly explained to us, bit by bit, and it is complicated and makes sense.
Perhaps most important, Mr Rothfuss writes excellent characters. I especially appreciated what he did with his hero. Kvothe’s circumstances are familiar; he’s an exceptionally bright kid whose parents are killed by something evil, nobody cares for him, he manages to get into magic school on long odds, he has trouble fitting in with both students and teachers, he makes two close friends and one rich and handsome enemy from a powerful family, he’s obsessed with finding out about the evil people who killed his parents, he regularly gets punished for his exploits at school, he has no clue about girls, and he actually meets one who lives in the pipes under the school … Hmmm… This does sound familiar.
But I’ll bet that most people who read The Name of the Wind never thought of Harry Potter, because Kvothe and his world are new and refreshing. Kvothe is a product of his liberal education and a lot of time spent trying to survive on his own as a beggar. Sometimes he is selfish, sometimes he is cruel, sometimes he does the right thing. At one point in the book, while Kvothe was living on the streets, he had an opportunity to help someone in distress (a particular distress that Kvothe himself had experienced). I was nervous — worried that Rothfuss would ruin his careful characterization by having Kvothe perform a heroic deed too soon. But, no, Kvothe pulled a Kitty Genovese, which gave me a deeper respect for Mr Rothfuss. During Kvothe’s maturation, we see him make more right choices and fewer wrong ones, but he is complex and inconsistent enough to make us lack confidence that he’s going to turn out okay. And that makes for a very interesting story.
I’m very much looking forward to continuing this mystery; so much so that I’ll pre-order the hardback of The Wise Man’s Fear (something I rarely do).
Patrick Rothfuss is a much-needed bright young star in the fantasy field. Let’s hope that he can keep it up!
Over Christmas break I managed to catch up on some of the books that other reviewers have raved about that hadn’t yet made it to the top of my TBR mountain. The best book by far was Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. Since others here have already reviewed this book, I don’t think much needs to be said at this point about the plot. Instead I want to respond to the other reviews, which I had not read in detail until after finishing the book.
I agree with Kat that Rothfuss has done something special. I can usually spot a Harry Potter knockoff at 20 paces, but even though there are some superficial similarities between the characters and plot devices, at no point when I was reading The Name of the Wind did I think of Harry Potter. Rothfuss has taken the stock ingredients of fantasy and, like a master chef, created something new and surprising with them. For a book of several hundred pages, The Name of the Wind reads remarkably fast, as the story pours out of Kvothe, an autobiography to set to truth all the rumors and guesses.
I had some problems with Kvothe’s development romantically. Boys of that age should be a little bit more hormonal than he is, and I have a hard time believing that someone with his fortitude in other areas — that whipping scene for example — doesn’t have the courage to try for a kiss from a woman with whom he is besotted. I also agree with Angus that the tale would have benefited from more detail about the big baddies, the Chandrian. Right now they are sort of a nebulous evil. The tension would be heightened by knowing more about the antagonist.
Those details aside, Greg is right when he said that books like this are why people read fantasy. I am anxiously awaiting the next installment in the story. If Rothfuss keeps up the quality of this storytelling throughout the next two books, I think the next thing he should write is a letter to Peter Jackson, with the offer of a movie deal. This is epic fantasy at its finest.
You know what you’ve got the moment you catch sight of Patrick Rothfuss’s debut novel, The Name of the Wind. There it is, your standard, big, fat, epic fantasy. If you’re an experienced fantasy reader, you can tell from the cover of the guy with the lute (one of two dust jackets with which the book was published) that it’s heroic fantasy in a world with magic, Faery, fighting and words of power. And, in fact, upon reading the novel you will find that all the tropes are here, from the university where magic is taught to mysterious beasts to the power of cold iron.
However comfortable the tropes are, though, this book offers something new within a familiar framework. For one thing, The Name of the Wind is so well-written that you will reach page 662 wishing this weren’t the first of an unfinished trilogy (though you’ll be happy that Volume Two, The Wise Man’s Fear, is available). It is written with far greater skill than the usual massive fantasy tome, the interchangeable Lackeys, Brookses and Goodkinds. According to his website, Rothfuss has lived with his hero, Kvothe, for many years, and the effort is obvious. The prose is largely transparent, allowing the story to leap to the forefront, seemingly unhindered by the words. Yet every now and then, a passage is told with sufficient poetry to stick in your memory:
Kote tried to relax, failed, fidgeted, sighed, shifted in his seat, and without willing it his eyes fell on the chest at the foot of the bed.
It was made of roah, a rare, heavy wood, dark as coal and smooth as polished glass. Prized by perfumers and alchemists, a piece the size of your thumb was easily worth gold. To have a chest made of it went far beyond extravagance.
The chest was sealed three times. It had a lock of iron, a lock of copper, and a lock that could not be seen. Tonight the wood filled the room with the almost imperceptible aroma of citrus and quenching iron.
Who can wait to find out what’s in that chest, and where it came from? And why it’s locked three times, once with an invisible lock? Nearly a week after finishing the book, I was still wondering about that chest.
This sort of writing is combined with good, understandable explanations of the mechanics of magic, sharp action writing and strong dialogue. Rothfuss can write.
Framing devices are rarely truly necessary, but the one used here works. Kote is an innkeeper in a tiny town in The Four Corners of Civilization. The Four Corners feels like the medieval England that serves as home for most epic fantasies, no matter what the carefully drawn maps always included in such books call the towns and countries. Unbeknown to his regular customers, he is not really Kote, but Kvothe, a hero of song and story who has “been called Shadicar, Lightfinger, and Six-String. Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe the Arcane, and Kvothe Kingkiller.”As a hero he is larger than life; as a man, he is smaller than his legend, but still an incredibly gifted man, strong, smart, and good.
A man known as Chronicler, a scribe who makes it his life’s work to record histories is looking for Kvothe to take down his story when he comes upon Kvothe in the woods one night. The two are almost immediately attacked by vile creatures whose tale is yet to be told; Kvothe saves Chronicler’s life. In return, Chronicler almost immediately identifies Kvothe after they’ve returned to the inn — he’s had hints in other taverns in other small towns. He works to persuade Kvothe to tell his tale, but little persuasion is necessary once Chronicler agrees to take down every word, for as long as it takes for Kvothe to tell his tale.
The bulk of the novel, then, is Kvothe’s story of his childhood to his mid-teen years. The tale is familiar to most fantasies: a boy bright beyond his years, one who learns so quickly that everyone is unbelieving and, forcing him to prove himself many times over. Kvothe tells Chronicler of his childhood among the Edema Ruh, a troupe of players who roamed the land, and of his early learning at the knee of an arcanist named Abenthy. He portrays the terror and dire poverty of his feral years, when he lived on the streets of a ruthless and ugly harbor town called Tarbean. He hits his stride when he tells of arriving at last at the University, where one who gains admission can study chemistry, mathematics, rhetoric, sympathy (the name for magic here) and the art of naming.
It’s all familiar, yet all new. For instance, Rothfuss formulates a magic that is akin to science, with laws and equations as useful and dangerous as E=mc2. Chemistry in this world is more closely aligned with alchemy than chemistry in our world, though magic seems to follow similar rules, based on the bonding of different forms of matter one to another, or a smaller piece to a larger. While some few fantasy writers have attempted to systematize their magic, Rothfuss is one of the first I know of to have worked out a system that makes a sort of scientific sense. It is not usual to read about the law of conservation of energy in a work of fantasy, but here it is essential to the plot.
Another difference between this tale and the typical fantasy is that Kvothe carefully demythologizes himself. Why is he Kvothe the Bloodless? He explains how he prevented bleeding with a vasoconstrictor when he was whipped at the University for malfeasance. Did he really kill a dragon? The appearance of this creature will initially disappoint the reader; it jars her right out of Rothfuss’s carefully constructed original fantasy and makes her start thinking about Piers Anthony. But Rothfuss immediately saves his tale by having Kvothe explain to his listeners that it wasn’t a dragon at all. Instead, it was a rare creature native to the Four Corners with its own biology; he even offers a possible scientific explanation, based on the creature’s diet and the nature of the digestive process, for why it breathes fire.
And Kvothe neither gets the girl nor loses her tragically. He is her friend. Friendship between men and women is rarely explored in fantasy unless romance is totally out of the question. Kvothe adores Denna, but her circumstances and his poverty make it impossible for them to be lovers, at least during these years. Instead, they talk and laugh and have adventures — not adventures in which Kvothe is always rushing to the rescue of a fainting Denna, but adventures in which she is a full participant. Denna is a creature of her world and her time, not an Amazon who daringly wears pants and wields a sword, but within her framework she is extraordinary while remaining outwardly typical.
These sorts of invention take this book beyond the ordinary. Rothfuss attempts something imaginative while remaining within genre conventions, and he succeeds.
Nevertheless, one wishes that Rothfuss had taken China Miéville, Steph Swainston or Neal Stephenson as his role models, rather than Robin Hobb, Tad Williams and Kate Elliott. I enjoy books written by the latter three writers, and have spent many happy hours immersed in their meticulously crafted worlds. But Mieville, Swainston and Stephenson take fantasy and stand it on its head, producing stories that are strange and exciting — that obliterate the framework, rather than merely seeking to manipulate the framework in new ways. As Steph Swainston said in an interview at UK SF Book News a few years ago, if more writers didn’t write ‘fantasy’ so self-consciously and follow imagined “rules” of the genre then the whole thing might not be so hidebound and repetitive. It should be the most creative writing around but is frequently the most conservative.
Writers like Swainston make Rothfuss’s imagination look caged, even strangled by convention. Miéville gives us a world previously unimaginable to anyone but him, one that is neither past nor present, this world or another, fantasy or science fiction. Is there any analog anywhere in fantasy literature to Lin, the woman with a human-like body and the head of a scarab, who extrudes the material she molds into art from the back of her head? Where can one find a character like Steph Swainston’s winged antihero Jant, or creatures like the Insects that are destroying Jant’s world? Is Tim Lebbon’s Noreela like any other place you can find on the page? Call it institial, call it New Weird, call it whatever you like, but these sorts of books are the true future of fantasy.
I want to read Rothfuss’s New Weird novel. I want to read the novel where he sets his imagination off to places that I’ve never visited in my worst nightmare or my wildest imaginings. I want something so new that I have to struggle with it, that I am mesmerized by it. I want fiction that makes me no longer recognize my own home for a moment after I stop reading. I long for Rothfuss to set himself free.
Due to the mediocrity that the fantasy genre has been tending towards lately, I most times shy away from a lot of the more recent, big door-stopper, ever-lasting epics.
Then, every few years, a book like The Name of the Wind comes along and reminds me of why I love fantasy to start with.
To me, when fantasy is written well, you almost believe it, like it’s some big historic narrative of a forgotten legend, all dust-covered, yellow-paged, and long-lost among other gargantuan tomes on a shadowy, back-wall-book-shelf in the basement of a monstrous and aging library. The prose, language, setting, creatures, and characters all come together and take you to a place so fantastic it can’t be real, but you almost feel like you’re really there anyway.
If you could just simply time-travel inter-dimensionally, you really could be sipping an evening ale at a table in the Waystone Inn and wondering why the warm fire in the hearth isn’t making you feel as cozy as it did before the man you know as Kote, but is really Kvothe (pronounced nearly the same as Quothe) started telling his story.
That’s how a fantasy was intended to make you feel, and that’s the way Mr. Rothfuss tells his tale.
I came to reading The Name of the Wind much as Kat describes in her review, after hearing a huge amount of positive praise for it from the people around me who read fantasy. Like Kat, I wasn’t disappointed. The Name of the Wind is so full of great characters, setting, emotion, action, mystery, and of course magic that I found it difficult to ever put it down. I read The Name of the Wind with a close friend, and we would eagerly discuss the section of the book we had just finished — and curse the fact that we had agreed to read it in sections together instead of devouring the entire thing. I identify most with Kat’s and Terry’s reviews in that they point out the similarities with other series and fantasy tropes you may find in The Name of the Wind. Like these two reviewers, I found this novel and the world therein to be a creative and captivating fantasy tale despite those attributes that can often be flaws. As Kat states, one – like me – may read the book in its entirety without realizing the Harry Potter parallels until they are pointed out like she did in her review. I found The Name of the Wind to be absolutely gripping. Patrick Rothfuss has earned the praise awarded to this powerful novel, and I can’t wait to get started on The Wise Man’s Fear.
The Kingkiller Chronicle — (2007-2014) Publisher: My name is Kvothe, pronounced nearly the same as “quothe.” Names are important as they tell you a great deal about a person. I’ve had more names than anyone has a right to. The Adem call me Maedre. Which, depending on how it’s spoken, can mean The Flame, The Thunder, or The Broken Tree. “The Flame” is obvious if you’ve ever seen me. I have red hair, bright. If I had been born a couple of hundred years ago I would probably have been burned as a demon. I keep it short but it’s unruly. When left to its own devices, it sticks up and makes me look as if I have been set afire. “The Thunder” I attribute to a strong baritone and a great deal of stage training at an early age. I’ve never thought of “The Broken Tree” as very significant. Although in retrospect, I suppose it could be considered at least partially prophetic. My first mentor called me E’lir because I was clever and I knew it. My first real lover called me Dulator because she liked the sound of it. I have been called Shadicar, Lightfinger, and Six-String. I have been called Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe the Arcane, and Kvothe Kingkiller. I have earned those names. Bought and paid for them. But I was brought up as Kvothe. My father once told me it meant “to know.” I have, of course, been called many other things. Most of them uncouth, although very few were unearned. I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me. So begins the tale of Kvothe — from his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a difficult and dangerous school of magic. In these pages you will come to know Kvothe as a notorious magician, an accomplished thief, a masterful musician, and an infamous assassin. But The Name of the Wind is so much more — for the story it tells reveals the truth behind Kvothe’s legend.