Book Review: The Name of the Wind

Originally published: March 27, 2007

Author: Patrick Rothfuss

Series: The Kingkiller Chronicle

Publisher: DAW Books

There’s always this feeling of guilt when everyone you know had read something and you’re the only one missing it. So what say you when everyone is actually RAVING about the book?

Well, that was exactly why I had dreaded this tome as it stared at me from my shelf, because people are RAVING about it. Too much hype usually ends up in…well, you know. Either I will be reading a fresh, well-written, thoughtful, smart piece of art, and then run to tell everyone about it while ordering the next volumes. Or, I will be pulling my hair out in frustration at my wasted time and pennies.

The novel starts with an ominous tone and a gloomy atmosphere. Darkness has fallen, weird things are attacking people, infernal spiders are running loose. The protagonist is then introduced; Kvothe, who is a young man hiding in a forgotten town, disguised as an innkeeper. We are led to believe that Kvothe is actually a tremendously popular wizard, who has done some pretty unbelievable deeds (read the blurb and be astonished).

The story switches to first person narrator, as Kvothe recites his life story to a scribe. He tells of his start as a performer in a troupe, where he learned showmanship (something that is very obvious throughout the whole novel). His family is then murdered and he is forced to live as a hobo on the streets of a filthy city, then he manages to make enough money to go to magic school. Why magic school? Because he thinks its archives will have information about the band of mythical murderers who took the lives of his family.

Okay. So let’s start with the good. Mr. Rothfuss has managed to build a deliciously detailed world, full of nations, heroes, outstanding mythology, faiths, languages, and even a calendar. The author had spent nearly a decade writing this book, so we are talking about a massive novel that was just too heavy to print in one volume. The level of detail here is actually smile-inducing at many points, in a good way. His passion and love for storytelling is evident by the many sections where a minor character is narrating a tale from the lore to a bunch of children, revealing more details of this world.

Even though nothing is actually new in this novel, it is still fresh. You cannot blame those who compared the plot to that of an adult version of Harry Potter, and the ingredients here are the same as the next Euro-centric, medieval, sword-and-sorcery book. What makes it differ is the take of the author on those elements, to come out with a balanced book worthy of your time.

The writing comes next on the good list. Excellent, beautifully executed, near-poetic prose. I had come across a short story for Mr. Rothfuss before in the Unfettered anthology, and when I read it, I knew I was reading the work of a very talented author.

Mr. Rothfuss’s fine craft extends to excellent tension-building. I mean, c’mon. When I read that infamous part about the closed chest — how its wood is extremely expensive, and how it’s locked thrice a la Arabian Nights style, I was jumping in my seat to read on. What in the universe could be in that box?

Very well, so what goes on the — let’s say “so-so” list, shall we?

I sympathize with those who put Kvothe’s character on this list. I think — and that is only my guess — that it was intentional for the boy to read like that little arrogant brat, given his age and early days of adversity. We are constantly reminded that he is a teenager who is allowed to make mistakes, but I scratched my head as I read through the hundreds of pages, and it became rather difficult to catch a glimpse of redemption. The boy doesn’t fit the image of neither a hero nor an antihero. He steals, pickpockets, and cheats his way without a moment of remorse. He speaks very easily of these acts, as if they were the norm and the usual for a poor teenager. His moral compass is absolutely nonexistent.

The other problem is how the protagonist perceives himself. He makes it clear many times that none of his peers or adversaries can match his intellect, skill and charisma. Again, this makes it quite difficult to relate to him. But remember, not always are you supposed to love or hate the protagonist. You just need to care about his/her fate, and that is definitely something you will see in this book

While many of the characters surrounding Kvothe are nicely drawn (Elodin, as a very good example), a good bunch is actually there just to shine him out. The good guys gasp in awe at his skills (which are many. Trust me, you’ll feel jealous when you finish this book). The bad guys are bad just because they didn’t like Kvothe enough!

So what’s the verdict? Kvothe maybe an overclocked, mostly amoral, adult Harry Potter, yet his story is a must read as an iconic book of modern fantasy that shouldn’t be missed.

Well done, Mr. Rothfuss.

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