The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
This book is the beginning of what is sure to be a very long series. It tells the story of Kvothe, a hero with many talents: bard, arcanist, trickster, lover, scholar, dragon-slayer, revenge-seeker, inn-keeper. It’s a door-stopper, with over 600 pages. I read the audiobook, and it took 28 hours.
The story has a frame: Kvothe is telling the story of his life to Chronicler, a bard, so the bulk of the book is spent in that past time, with occasional interludes to remind the reader of this frame. It takes Kvothe an entire day and 600 pages to narrate the events of his life only up to about age 17. By the time this series is over, the stack of books will probably be taller than I am.
This series is fantasy in the most classical vein. Rothfuss has invented an entire world, with unique creatures, scary villains, an economy, an education system, a mythology, arts. It’s very creative, believable and fully drawn. The rules of the world are explained well, not pedantically, they are contextualized, fair and consistent. They also allow for interesting plot twists and character development, which is what fantasy elements should do.
Kvothe’s story also fits the classic Joseph Campbell mode so far: his parents’ are killed by demonic creatures; he spends three years in poverty, isolation, and denial; he passes a test to enter the university; he has an apprenticeship; he encounters various challenges and trials. Kvothe is only about a third of the way through the hero’s journey as the book ends, setting the stage for the rest of the series to tell about his heroic past.
However, the ending also implies a reckoning that Kvothe will have to face in the present, after he has finished telling the story of his past. And if the story itself leads up to the present, as is only logical, the main question will be answered: how did a hero like Kvothe end up as a humble innkeeper? His current state fits well with the early stages of the hero’s journey: resistance and denial. This makes it seem like there will be two quest narratives: past and present, one nested inside the other. That idea kind of blows my mind–even before I realize it effectively doubles the potential length of an already epic series. Rothfuss is really showing off here, finding an elegant way to do something new with an ancient form.
The story was told with wit and humor, with strong descriptive sentences. Some of my favorite moments were Kvothe’s smart-alecky responses to authority figures, his uncanny ability to get out of just about any scrape, and his ongoing feud with a noble student named Ambrose, who I’d compare to Draco Malfoy. (Like Harry Potter, the book has debts to the British boarding school literary tradition.) A romantic at heart, I also enjoyed the subplot of Kvothe’s constantly thwarted love for a beautiful but hard-to-find girl who is very popular with the gentlemen. I’d highly recommend the series to anyone who likes fantasy and has a lot of time on their hands.
My timing is actually pretty amazing, because the sequel to this book comes out next week. The Wise Man’s Fear picks up with the continuing story of Kvothe. I’m glad I won’t have to wait long to find out what happens next!