The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is an up to date classic fantasy tale that captures the heart and imagination through honest storytelling. The main character, Kvothe, is a bright young man, stumbling through the world as he attempts to support himself alone, and pay for his education. Where other fantasy books would not focus on the suffering of the main character and his very human needs, Rothfuss wants the reader to know that real life is messy, and even if you are a gifted individual, it does not mean you won’t have your shares of set backs. We have a main character that we can relate to because our life isn’t perfect and even though Kvothe is our hero, neither is his life.
This is a character based story, my favorite kind. We learn about the world as Kvothe learns about it. There is very little exposition that doesn’t seem natural and Rothfuss succeeds admirably in that regards. The story is about a hero that everyone talks about but few know the real story. Chronicler, a historian, finds Kvothe, and asks him for his actual story to set the record straight. The chapters are mostly told in first person while Kvothe is telling the story but changes to third person in the scenes where Chronicler is transcribing the story.
It is very much an origin story, which I love. Kvothe was a part of a travelling troupe with his parents where he learned all sorts of things, especially from an arcanist that traveled with them as well. An arcanist is Rothfuss’ version of a wizard but more a scientist than anything. They are the keepers of knowledge that study at a place called The University. The magic system in The Name of the Wind is called sympathy where you form links with elements by using a small focusing piece of that element and an energy source. Learning about sympathy as a reader is delightful. Anyway, Kvothe ends up homeless, and alone after a group of men kill his entire troupe. For three years Kvothe is living on the street and his existence is so meager and disheartening. The reader becomes attached to Kvothe because of the pain he suffers. We want to see Kvothe overcome his obstacles. Eventually Kvothe ends up at The University and begins his studies. He can barely pay his tuition and living expenses, he makes mistakes and angers the wrong people, and is too strong willed for his own good. The story turns into Kvothe’s adventures and hardships at The University where one thing will go right but two things will go wrong. It is an amazing opening narrative to the Kingkiller Chronicles because we are living the story through or with Kvothe. At some point in the story, Kvothe becomes our friend, and that friendship is what powers the book.
I absolutely loved Rothfuss’ prose. He puts wise sayings that can be applied in our own life into his story as he applies it to Kvothe’s life. There are poetic and extremely quotable lines all through this book. In fact this is one of the most quotable fantasy books I’ve ever read. Here are some examples:
“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”
“Perhaps the greatest faculty our minds possess is the ability to cope with pain. Classic thinking teaches us of the four doors of the mind, which everyone moves through according to their need.
First is the door of sleep. Sleep offers us a retreat from the world and all its pain. Sleep marks passing time, giving us distance from the things that have hurt us. When a person is wounded they will often fall unconscious. Similarly, someone who hears traumatic news will often swoon or faint. This is the mind’s way of protecting itself from pain by stepping through the first door.
Second is the door of forgetting. Some wounds are too deep to heal, or too deep to heal quickly. In addition, many memories are simply painful, and there is no healing to be done. The saying ‘time heals all wounds’ is false. Time heals most wounds. The rest are hidden behind this door.
Third is the door of madness. There are times when the mind is dealt such a blow it hides itself in insanity. While this may not seem beneficial, it is. There are times when reality is nothing but pain, and to escape that pain the mind must leave reality behind.
Last is the door of death. The final resort. Nothing can hurt us after we are dead, or so we have been told.”
“Music is a proud, temperamental mistress. Give her the time and attention she deserves, and she is yours. Slight her and there will come a day when you call and she will not answer. So I began sleeping less to give her the time she needed.”
Also the stories and songs within the story are remarkable. Usually I don’t care for songs in a fantasy book but the songs in The Name of the Wind are on another level. Using songs and spoken-word stories was an ingenious way to talk about the history of the world without resorting to unnatural exposition. The best scene in the entire book is at the Eolian when Kvothe performs for his pipes. That was the highlight of the entire book because it was written so well that it moved me emotionally. The weakest part of the book was in the forest outside of Trebon. The scenes with Kvothe and Denna near Trebon didn’t hold my interest like the others.
I highly recommend The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss for those people that grew up on sword and sorcery fantasy books, people that want more character in their books, and people that want a break from grim-dark to experience classic fantasy told in a modern way. I enjoyed this book enough for me to order a signed hardcover that will be arriving in the mail. I cannot wait to read A Wise Man’s Fear. Kvothe is up there along with some of the great fantasy characters I have ever read. It does not hurt that Rothfuss is one of the best personalities in the fantasy genre today. I love his comments on everything from writing to the fantasy genre and when he is invited to panels he answers straight-forward.