I received The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss as a birthday gift from my wonderful friend Pam and devoured the 676 page tome in a matter of days.
The structure of the novel, of a story within a story, is intriguing. The “now” timeline, featuring Kote, Bast, Chronicler, and the Waystone is told in third person, while the “then” of Kvothe’s story is told in first person as though you are listening to Kvothe as he relays the information to Chronicler. It works far more smoothly than one might expect, and the transition between the two is only mildly jarring.
Rothfuss has a beautiful, lyrical quality to his prose that seduced me immediately. Add to that a rich, varied landscape and a marvelous take on magic, and you have a truly unique and engaging read. The magic system more resembles science than magic, for the most part; alchemy and sygaldry (the art of inscribing runes to impart magical qualities to an item) and artificing are very concrete. The closest most characters come to what we tend to think of as magic is ‘sympathy’, however as it is explained, it too has firm, almost scientific, rules.
‘Naming’, however, is a different animal altogether. One of the world’s greatest legends is of Taborlin the Great who “knew the Names of many things”. In Naming, we find magic most like what we would expect to find. For example, a character relates a story of Taborlin wherein he was trapped in a tower from which no man could escape. However, Taborlin knew the Names of things, so when he spoke the name of Stone, the stone broke and allowed him to step free of his tower. When he fell after taking that step, he called the name of Wind which bore him gently to the ground as lightly as a dandelion seed.
The novel opens at the Waystone Inn, which is located in a tiny farming community where a crowd usually consists of half a dozen locals coming in for drinks after the day’s work has been done. Here, we meet Kote, a man who is wise beyond his years and who is the owner/proprietor of the Waystone, and Bast, a handsome and seemingly feckless young man who appears to be a servant.
The truth of these men is, of course, far more complicated than that! Kote is, in actuality, a hero with many names himself including Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe the Arcane, and Kvothe Kingkiller. His deeds, and misdeeds, made him both famous and infamous and he has, for an as yet unknown reason, retired from that life and settled down in this town with Bast, his student.
Kote and Bast’s peaceful existence is upset by the dark events unfolding in the world, many of which only touch us lightly in this book. There are hints of war being waged and of demons walking the land. Still, Kvothe could ignore most of these things, continue to pretend being Kote without concern until another complication enters his life; a man who is known as ‘Chronicler’, arguably the world’s greatest scholar and historian. He recognizes Kvothe for who he is and is able to convince the reticent Kvothe to let him write his story down for the world to see.
And that’s where the story really begins.
Kvothe was a member of the Edema Ruh, a race of traveling performers who were often scorned as thieves and con artists… much like gypsies in European culture. It was a happy childhood which was cut short when his troupe was murdered by a mysterious group known as the Chandrian, They are essentially the bogeymen of the world; everyone fears the Chandrian, but few truly believe that they exist anymore. It’s that loss that sets Kvothe’s journey in motion. From living on the streets of Tarbean to winning his way into the University where Arcanists (magicians) are trained, in Kvothe’s heart of hearts, he’s seeking knowledge of the Chandrian so he can find them and a way to stop them from hurting anyone else.
Rothfuss is a masterful storyteller, gifting us with a world that is complex and as beautiful as it is mysterious. There have been complaints from some that I’ve spoken to that Kvothe is ‘too perfect’ to be believed, that he’s a ‘Mary Sue’ character. I’m forced to disagree with that assessment. Kvothe is far from perfect. His arrogance and tendency to jump to conclusions gets him into trouble constantly. His saving grace is that he’s smart and has many talents so he’s generally able to get himself out of most major problem spots more or less intact. In gamer terms, Kvothe’s bluff and perform skills are maxed out and his Charisma stat is definitely at least an 18!
I highly recommend this novel for anyone who enjoys well-written fantasy, well-crafted worlds, and coming-of-age type stories. It’s more Stand by Me in a fantastical setting than it is Lord of the Rings, but it’s a beautiful story nonetheless.