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The Name of the Wind is the first in Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicles. I heard of the author when wishing George R.R. Martin would hurry up and finish the next book in A Song Of Ice And Fire - I googled "authors like GRRM" and found an interview with him asking who fans should read while waiting for him to get his bum in gear - Patrick Rothfuss was one of his answers.
The Name of the Wind opens in a village tavern, where the regulars are doing their usual drinking and storytelling. When one of the villagers appears with a strange bundle and an even stranger story, this sets in motion events which bring to light (for the readers) the fact that the innkeeper, known as Kote, is in fact Kvothe Kingkiller. A scribe known as the Chronicler persuades Kvothe to tell his story, and so the Kingkiller Chronicles begin. Kvothe takes us back to his childhood, to his years living rough on city streets, and his admission to the University to become an arcanist.
The first thing that strikes you about The Name of the Wind is that Rothfuss has, like all good fantasy writers, created a world in which to set his story. Unlike some fantasy worlds, in many ways it is quite recognisable - although there are different languages, people are all just people, with no other creatures such as elves. The towns are generally recognisable as being similar to our own, although a few centuries in the past. There are some fantastic creature, but the elements which make this world different are the magic and religion.Rothfuss has created a whole world of magic (or arcanism) which is very important to the story, as Kvothe heads to the Univeristy. The religion is less important, but I found it a bit distracting as it is immediately introduced into the narrative in the form of curses and exclamations, but is not really explained until later on.
Kvothe is a difficult main character. While a lot of the time he seems to have amazing luck and always lands on his feet, things also go badly wrong at times. He is very intelligent and makes his mark at the University from day one, but he is also very naive and can't see things for what they are even if they hit him round the face. This naivete is teamed with recklessness, which invariably leads to him getting in a mess.. I found him frustrating; he is one of those characters that I want to shout at, tell him to get a grip and stop being a tube and just get on with things. He is not unlikeable though, and despite being frustrating you do always root for him.
The story is gripping, although it has a slightly slow start and does drag a little bit at times. Rothfuss focusses on detail, and while this makes for a wonderfully well-rounded story and setting, it does occassionally make you wish he'd get to the point. I felt that a bit too much time was spent on Kvothe's years as a beggar; clearly the experiences he had then helped shape who he became, but I think it could have been condensed a little bit.
Once at the University, the pace doesn't change, but the story feels a little different, as if we have now reached the point of the introductory sections. The events which happen at the University aren't momentous - Kvothe isn't riding off to war and saving the kingdom singlehandedly or anything like that - but they are exciting and fun to read about, and a definite step up from the scrapes he got into while living on the streets.
For me, The Name of the Wind doesn't even come close to the brilliance of George R.R. Martin, but it is a highly enjoyable and well-written story, absorbing and exciting. It is the right kind of gripping yarn to keep me ticking over until GRRM finishes book number six, and I'm looking forward to reading the next installment in The Kingkiller Chronicles.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Passed along a string of friends who felt it was the best thing since George RR Martin, by the time a tatty, dog-eared copy of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss made it into my hands, I had pretty high expections.
In On Writing, Stephen King says, "Do not go lightly to the blank page", but as those who've read my review of George RR Martin's A Storm of Swords will know, for me it's more like "do not go lightly to the fantasy novel". Martin's greatness has spoiled me for all other fantasy, but based on reputation I decided to give this a try.
And it's good. It's not as hard hitting as Martin - there's no gratuitous sex, limited violence and limited swearing, but it's not quite the fantasy by number that everything from Terry Brooks to Robert Jordan and back again seems in comparison to the great George RR. But, it's good. Here's why.
While not quite breaking down that fourth door of literature (talking to the audience) it comes close - The Name of the Wind is narrated by its hero, AFTER the events have passed, and we can initially assume, concluded. Kvothe, now called Kote, is a lowly innkeeper keeping shop for a handful of bumpkin locals in a nowhere town, when one day a scribe, known as Chronicler, shows up, having somehow tracked him down. Kote, 'fessing up to his true identity, sits Chronicler down and decides to tell him his life story over three days. The Name of the Wind covers the first of these days.
Kvothe, who only seems to be about 25 in real time, narrates his story from young childhood through to ending up at the realm's famous University. Starting out as the son of a band of travelling performers, after his parents are killed by a sinister group led by a guy who is supposedly one of the legendary - not to mention evil - Chandrian (this happens so early on that I'd not really consider it a spoiler but sorry if you do...), Kvothe ends up homeless on the streets of big city called Tarbean, before later getting into the University mostly by wit and luck at the age of fifteen. The remainder of the book, perhaps 60% of it, revolves around his adventures while a student, from the daring - stuff like facing up to a drug-addicted dragon, saving a girl from a burning building, and getting repeatedly flogged - to the mundane, such as trying to keep up with his tuition payments.
All in all, it makes for pretty interesting reading. The plot, loosely based around Kvothe trying and mostly failing to find out more about the Chandrian, a group of evil sorcerers of some kind (it's not really that clear from the book what they are), is mostly linear with no real conclusion - I'd say it reads like a soap opera, one set-piece followed by another. It is to Rothfuss's great credit that each set-piece is interesting and keeps you following the story because you really have no idea what's going to happen next.
Of course, this being a story within a story, as the reader you can't help wondering if we're only halfway through with Kvothe's tale. Every few chapters there is an interlude chapter, where something will happen in real time - someone will come bursting into the inn with tales of demons on the roads, etc - and this has a double use - it makes you want to get back to the main story while bearing in mind that it might not all be #over#, so to speak. Despite the simplicity of it all, it's quite clever really.
A lot of fantasy novels require a certain amount of suspension of belief. In The Name of the Wind however, it is quite easy to believe that Kvothe could become a master lute player, or extremely good at "magic" (what is referred to in the book as "sympathy", and has a very original take on it compared to a lot of fantasy books) simply by studying hard. You can believe that he became adept at survival from living rough for three years, or be an exceptional liar from his days as a member of a travelling troupe of performers. This realism certainly sets it apart from most fantasy. Slightly less believable, though, is the fact that despite being only 15/16, ginger, and possessor of only threadbare clothes, is the amount of attention he gets from women. But I guess it is fantasy after all!
What The Name of the Wind has which most fantasy novels don't is that something that most writing classes try to iron out of you - those little moments of foresight which hint at to the next part of the plot. I've mentioned the little interludes (which always seem to appear at an important point in the story) but the novel also has little teasers like "I had no idea how bad it would turn out" (paraphrased) at the end of the chapters to keep the reader interested.
Kvothe is obviously the central character, but the others are also well written and described. The various masters at the university, from hateful Hemme to scatterbrained Elodin, all have their own distinct voice. The central female character, Denna, is similiarly well written, although her eternal elusiveness and the fact that Kvothe never seems to get anywhere does become a little frustrating. The other female characters, such as fellow student Fela, moneylender Devi, and nutjob Auri, at times seems just there to even out the sexes a little, although Auri in particular is very well written. You do have to wonder why, with Denna being consistently elusive and often seen with other men, Kvothe resists the advances of Fela and Devi. He is fifteen, after all, and I'm pretty sure that the reaction of most fifteen/sixteen year olds in some of the situations he describes would have been, "Why the hell not?".
The story does seem to lack a major bad guy. There is the unseen Chandrain, of course, but in his/her absence we have to make do with the bitchy lord's son, Ambrose, and Master Hemme, who seems to have it in for Kvothe. In a way it's quite refreshing that while in a sense there IS the immortal dark lord always on the horizon, there are other, closer to home and more real bad guys to deal with. In fact, there are some pretty dark moments in the book. Some happen to Kvothe, some he witnesses. One scene in a dark alley in Tarbean is quite harrowing. At the other end of the scale, though, there are some good lighthearted moments, such as when they meet the dragon, for example, and the section with the bumpkin pig farmer.
Okay, I'm going against my own brevity rule here so time to close. It's good, read it. If you like fantasy you'll love it. It's way better than Brooks, Jordan, Goodkind, et al, and is close on Martin's heels. And more good news - my friend says book two (A Wise Man's Fear) is even better, so having recently received it down the chain I'm looking forward to getting stuck in.
Read and enjoy.
Published by Daw Books (2007)
This is a brilliant well written book. It mixes first and third person narrative as the main character tells his story to a scribe. As the first book in a planned series the novel sets out the childhood and early teen years of the hero, Kvothe.
Kvothe tells of the death of his parents at the hands of the mysterious Chandrian, an event which sets him on a journey to learn more about them. The novel follows Kvothe through a period of living rough to his early acceptance into the University where his intelligence and natural aptitude ensures that he rapidly progresses. Along the road Kvothe makes many enemies who attempt to kill him and thwart his endeavours.
His constant struggle for money leaves him indebted to a loan shark. In a bid to pay back the loan shark and continue to pay for his education he begins to play the lute again and his exceptional playing earns him his talent pipes. He falls in love with the mysterious Denna who regularly disappears and reappears on the arm of a different man.
Kvothe cultivates a reputation which is the beginning of the legends about him. He follows stories of the Chandrian, defeats a "dragon" and saves a town from burning. He saves a friend from certain death in a laboratory fire and is whipped without bleeding.
The next installment of the chronicle is due to be published in April 2010.
The Name of the Wind is a book about a man named Kvothe, now that is a name that grabs the attention, how many of today's authors would use a name like that? It starts after the events that the book describes in a rather boring and uneventful town called Newarre, more specifically in the waystone in where an inkeeper named Kote tends a bar.
Of course the mans name isn't really Kote, its Kvothe, as the back of the book says, "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. My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me."
What Follows is a masterpiece of fantasy writing, in which you follow kvothe as he goes from son of a troupe leader, to street urchin to student at the university, a place where people learn about magic.
To describe this book as good would be an insult, it is brilliantly written, it has a great plot and although it does get a bit long winded at times, there is always something going on.
This book doesn't focus solely on the action and adventures that the main character experiences, it also focus on how he becomes what he is, in fact the greater part of the book is about him learning how to do what he has to do. For me this is great, I was getting tired of reading about a person that goes on an adventure, does something important then lives happily ever after, without doing anything but what they need to do to further their quest.