With the start of my blog, I figured I would review one of, if my not my single favorite book of all time, The Name of the Wind, Book One of The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss.
“I have stolen sleeping princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and returned with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from he 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 Name of the Wind, and with it, the story of Kvothe. Patrick Rothfuss’s debut novel, it instantly catapulted him to the forefront of the genre, along with such heavy hitters as Martin, Sanderson, and Abercrombie. And it’s easy to see why. With that paragraph, Rothfuss instantly tells us everything we need to know about the story. So why bother reading?
A large portion of it is because of the way it is told. Years after the events of The Name of the Wind, and having faked his own death and gone into hiding (even taking on a new name: Kote) for reasons the reader does not know, Kvothe dictates his own story to a man known as “Chronicler”. The story is interspersed with what is referred to in the book as “interludes”, in which the story briefly returns back to real time, with Kvothe, Chronicler, and Kvothe’s young student, Bast, who is far more than he appears to be.
Rothfuss’s prose is among the best I have ever had the pleasure to read. One gets the feeling that each sentence in the entire book (and it is not a short one!) is meticulously crafted for maximum effect and beauty, and the result is stunning. I have heard it said that each and every sentence of this book could be quoted, and people would moon over its beauty. While this is clearly an exaggeration, it gives you an idea of the sheer genius of the writing. This book is full of truisms and idioms, many of which Rothfuss created himself, such as this one:
“My granda always told me that fall’s the time to root up something you don’t want coming back to trouble you.’ Kote mimicked the quaver of an old man’s voice. ‘Things are too full of life in the spring months. In the summer, they’re too strong and won’t let go. Autumn…’ He looked around at the changing leaves on the trees. ‘Autumn’s the time. In autumn everything is tired and ready to die.”
The craftsmanship of this book is palpable, and each sentence urges you to read on.
Kvothe is an excellent main character, and we feel his early loss keenly as we sympathize with him. As he begins to grow, we begin to see more of a three-dimensional character, with his wit and talent at everything balanced with his arrogance and moral grayness. His motives are almost always understandable (although considering he is the narrator, why wouldn’t they be?), and we always root for him. One of the most interesting aspects of this book is the possibility that, with Kvothe himself narrating his story, how much of it is biased? How easy would it be for him to try and boost his sullied reputation by leaving out a few facts, or adding a few choice lies in? I do believe this will be discovered upon the release of Book Three.
Each character in this book (with one exception, and I’ll get to her later) is as masterfully crafted as the language. Kvothe is fantastically three-dimensional, full of flaws and moral grayness that complement his wit and fantastic talent at everything. The supporting cast of Wil, Sim, Ben, and others are all equally brilliant, just as flawed (though Kvothe’s friends are often more morally white than other characters, we also see them fail quite often) as Kvothe is. Ambrose Jakis and Master Hemme, the mundane antagonists of this series, are realistic villains with believable motivation. And then there is Master Elodin. The mysterious, elusive “Master Namer”, Elodin flits through this book like a hummingbird, never settling in one place for long, and never quite showing a good view of himself. Though he tries to give the impression that he is completely insane, one feels there is more to him than just insanity (though he is a bit touched in the head). To this day, Elodin remains one of my favorite supporting characters in any book.
The problems with this book, though few, are unfortunately pervasive. Kvothe is somehow amazing at everything he does, often outstripping masters who have been practicing X, Y, or Z for years longer than him. This can become annoyingly unrealistic, especially when one begins to wonder how Kvothe gained all this knowledge anyway. Not to spoil anything, but for the most part, his childhood was not spent in an environment conducive to learning. The second, even more prevalent problem is that of Denna. Quite simply one of the most boring, inane characters I’ve ever read, it bemuses me how such a wordsmith as Rothfuss contrived to write such a poorly-written character. And Kvothe’s doe-eyed obsession with her doesn’t help, for the reader recognizes that each time Denna enters the story, at least four chapters will follow of Kvothe describing the perfection of her gait, the smooth curve of her spine, the way her hair dances in the wind when a slight, warm breeze blows from the northeast, and she is standing in the town square, facing south-southeast… you get the idea. She slows the pace of the book down quite a lot. However, for me, neither of these two problems were sufficient to deprive me of enjoying the book, rather they simply prevented my complete enjoyment of a masterpiece of a novel.
The Name of the Wind is a beautifully written book, full of intricately detailed settings and characters. Patrick Rothfuss fully deserve his reputation as one of Fantasy’s leading lights, and he will certainly have a long and prosperous career ahead of him, if this book is any indication. Read this book. That’s all I can say.
Final Rating: 9.5/10