CBRIII Maneuver #15 – The Name of the Wind
Profile: Epic Fantasy
Summary: From the back of the book, “My name is Kvothe. I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town ofTrebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the Univeristy 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.”
After Action Report:
I’m deeply suspicious of books that receive universal praise. The NYT Bestseller list has burned me more often than not, (I’m looking at you Dan Brown) and there’s something unsettling to me about taking book recommendations from anyone. Readingis a very personal sort of thing and even my very good friends have proven to be less than perfect in their reading suggestions. So when no fewer than six people recommended The Name of the Wind to me, I was understandably cautious. After literally hours scanning the Amazon reviews, blogs and podcasts, I decided that it might be worth the risk. And it was. I don’t think it’s the second coming of Tolkien that many claim it to be, but I haven’t read a more compelling classic fantasy in a very long time.
One of the reasons The Name of the Wind is so good is that the author, Patrick Rothfuss, has a masterful grasp of real storytelling. I’m not talking about good writing or good ideas but a deep understanding of how a story must flow. The book is basically the autobiography of its main character, Kvothe, who narrates his life with a keen ear for detail and pace. Like Scheherazade’s Arabian Nights, the story layers upon itself, compelling the reader to keep going, hanging on every word.
Hyperbole aside, the book is a solid fantasy built upon a strong, if somewhat vague setting. The story sets up the present day, where a much set-upon Kvothe has taken to running an inn in the middle of nowhere. Chronicler (a name as much as a title) stumbles upon him and arranges to record the story of the literal living legend. From there, Kvothe becomes the narrator of his life, first as the son traveling performers, then an orphan on the streets and finally as a young student of Sympathy (scientific magic) at the University.
The world construction is a little vague at this point, partially because we are seeing it through the filter of the narrator, who did most of his traveling as a child and didn’t recall the less important trivia of his surroundings. The magic system, a combination of applied physics and Truenaming, is well thought out and very entertaining to learn along with Kvothe. And the best part of any world construction, its mythologies and stories, is wonderfully present in the third nested egg of stories that the child Kvothe heard from his family and from other performers.
The only weak point in the entire book is the tendency of the narrative line to flip back and forth between a detailed retelling of literal events, and the broad sweeps of historical summation. There are sections explored in detail that don’t feel necessary (yet) and other parts that I wish were a little more complete. The most telling example is the introduction of Auri, a weird little girl who lives under the University, which happens entirely off camera, but all further interaction with her is done in full detail.
But once again I am picking at nits. The overarching flow of the story more than makes up for the incredibly small flaws. And for a debut novel, Rothfuss has really set the bar high for himself. His freshman work is easily the equal of many veteran fantasy writers at their heights.
It’s hard to talk about The Name of the Wind without mentioning its recently released (and much anticipated) sequel. One of the reasons everyone was recommending the book was because the sequel had just dropped. I haven’t read it yet, and unless I am suddenly gifted with a reading tablet, I don’t intend to until it gets a paperback release. But by all accounts, it even better than its predecessor. One of the major draws of good epic fantasy is the promise of a long string of books that tell a grand story. So you have to take sequels into account when you’re reading. The Name of the Wind was clearly written as a trilogy and any review of it is only going to be partially complete until the entire set is released.