April 24, 2008
Book Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
* Genre: Epic Fantasy, Coming of Age Fantasy, Literary Fantasy
* ISBN: 0756404746
* ISBN-13: 9780756404741
* Format: Mass Market Paperback, 736pp
* Publisher: DAW
* Pub. Date: April 2008
* Read an Excerpt
The Name of the Wind is a book that has been on everyone’s lips ever since its release last year. Patrick Rothfuss’ debut novel has become the standard by which a lot of other books are being judged, an unusual event for a writer who had only published a few short stories before writing a novel that in the mass market paperback edition amounts to over 700 pages. But these accolades are well-deserved, as I found out to my own great joy when I was given the opportunity (and I was to find, privilege) to read the paperback edition of The Name of the Wind.
The primary character of the story is Kvothe, an epic hero, a powerful fighter and wizard. But Rothfuss, rather than simply relating his tale in the traditional third person omniscient, has instead decided to relate the story as a history (a memoir if you will) of Kvothe himself.
Kvothe has risen from the mean streets to the highest levels of power, and all before his thirtieth year. Born to a family of traveling performers, Kvothe shows his genius early. After a tragic event occurs to his family, Kvothe is forced to survive on the mean streets of Tarbean, begging for his food. But an opportunity opens up, and he is able to seek an education at the University. Overshadowing all of this is Kvothe’s desire to find the Chandrian; evil beings who he believes had something to do with what befell his family. Intertwined into the narrative are a love story, petty rivalries, and the troubles the overconfidence of a young boy can cause.
Rothfuss novel is exceptionally written. The prose is never dull, pedantic, or obvious. The story flows naturally from Rothfuss’ pen, and its large size seems almost too short by its end. The Name of the Wind is the first book in what appears to be a trilogy, or perhaps a quartet of books, and readers should know that its ending leaves more questions than answers.
Some of Rothfuss transitions were difficult for me as a reader. They tended to be short and abrupt, with little or no foreshadowing of their coming (In a way, much like real life, but unusual for a story). In particular, the transition from Tarbean to the University, and then the transition from University to the events surrounding the dragon and back again all seem disconnected from each other. It’s as if the story of Kvothe at the University is a completely separate story from Kvothe of Tarbean and the dragon. The former is like a Harry Potter schoolyard coming of age novel, and the other, an epic fantasy in the Arthurian mold. Rothfuss has tried to mesh the two, and done a decent job of it, but the reader’s conception of Kvothe the student and Kvothe the hero are disconnected. This is something Rothfuss will need to address in the sequels.
But the strange transitions and slight disjointedness of the two sides of Kvothe’s character are the novel's only real flaws. Kvothe is a compelling character, the type of genius we all wish we could be. Rothfuss hits all the popular elements of epic fantasy. He has a gypsy corollary in the Edema Ruh, Kvothe’s people (always popular among epic fantasy readers). He has the poor boy living in squalid conditions learning street smarts and toughness. He has the schoolyard, an element that has become very popular since the Harry Potter novels. He has dragons (although their form is quite different that what you might expect) and he has magic.
The magic system Rothfuss has created is exceptional. Rather than trying to ignore science, as many epic fantasists do, or make magic an inborn ability where power is easy and comes cheap, Rothfuss has instead meshed the two into one. Magic in The Name of the Wind is a blending of science and miracle. Logic and skill play a large part, but there is also a sort of inborn ability which must be trained and honed to be able to do magic. Rothfuss uses scientific fact about chemistry, technology, and biology with mystical powers to allow his characters to have a systematized and codified magic, rather than a wild magic that happens at random. Magic is a learned trait, not the result of accident of birth, and Rothfuss’ magic system is a unique one, and makes the reading of The Name of the Wind a breath of fresh air among the sometimes repetitious and trope filled epic fantasy subgenre.
I highly recommend this book. I’ve already mentally added The Name of the Wind to my best reads of the year list, and it will take a truly exceptional work to supersede it. None of this novel really disappoints. It is full of adventure, intrigue, a complex love story, and a powerful magic. Its supervillians are truly evil, and although they appear but rarely in the story, Rothfuss has intertwined so many other plots filled with rivalry and jealousy that Kvothe never lacks for an evil to fight. The book has so many subplots and containers for the narrative that the reader never lacks for an exciting event. And Rothfuss writes so smoothly that your mind glides over the words like a swan through water. Don’t miss this one. In fact, put aside whatever you are reading now, and read The Name of the Wind. Everything else can wait.