My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Writing a review for The Name of the Wind is kind of like trying to describe the color red to a blind person. You search for words — other lesser adjectives, perhaps — and try to make connections in hopes that at least one will do it justice, but at the end of the day, you’re probably not going to get the blind person to see the color red.
Although, apparently Kvothe managed to play colors for a blind man — but that’s another story entirely. No, wait. It is this story. Because The Name of the Wind is a book about words, about stories – the interweaving of lore, the poetry of one’s life, the strength of names, the legend of actions. And with that being said, Patrick Rothfuss uses words the same way Kvothe plays his music: to tell a story in the most beautiful way possible.
If you haven’t already guessed, I love, love, this book. I loved it before I knew it was famous; I loved it after. I stumbled upon it by accident in 2008 when I was perusing the bookstore for something that appealed to me. After reading the back description and feeling the way the prose read, I knew that it was the one. Six years and three countries later, The Name of the Wind remains one of the few books that makes my “travel companion” cut to new places; it is one of the few books I consistently reread. It is, quite possibly, my favorite fantasy novel of all time.
So now that I’ve more than sufficiently praised it, I’ll actually get into the novel. I should start by saying that I’m under the impression that you will either love it or hate it. It diverges from some traditional fantasy methods; some people complain that there is a lack of concrete plot. Other people dislike Kvothe as a character. I’ll get into that more in a minute.
An overview: The novel is told primarily from the first-person POV by a man named Kvothe. Initially you meet him in a small, practically nameless town, where he hides in the guise of an innkeeper named Kote along with his companion Bast. But The Name of the Wind is not so much focused on what is happening now rather than what has already happened. Kvothe’s story is the story of how a man becomes a legend — all the truth behind the rumors, the clarification of embellished stories, the insider’s guide to becoming heroic (or, in some cases, infamous).
The Character of Kvothe: As already stated, you’ll either like Kvothe or you won’t. Kvothe is smart, curious, proud, a talented musician, poor, magically-gifted, and a slew of other descriptive words. Sometimes he gets lucky; sometimes he gets by on wit. At least you’ll never worry about his survival — but that should be a given, seeing as you meet the current, living Kvothe in the beginning of the book.
Some people have criticized his character as being a “Gary Stu.” And though under normal circumstances, I might have agreed with them, I think the story itself adequately prepares readers for a larger-than-life figure. Every single person knows Kvothe’s name. People tell stories about him around the fire, in inns, on the road. This is a man who has grabbed the attention and fascination of the world. If he were any less than what he is, he wouldn’t be Kvothe.
However, even larger-than-life heroes will have flaws, and Kvothe definitely has characteristics that make him human and relatable. For instance, his pride gives rise to some poor decisions; when there is a certain woman involved, he can be rash. When he’s desperate, he doesn’t always think his actions through (or of the consequences of those actions). As you can guess, this causes problems for him down the road. The fact that he’s hiding in an inn also points to a terrible (yet to be unveiled) decision on his part. So though Kvothe does succeed at most things he does, he doesn’t always win in the long run.
The Story: If you need a concrete plot that goes from Point A to Point B, then you probably won’t like this novel. Kvothe is telling his story, his way, which means he focuses on some parts of his life in detail while glossing over other parts that he finds irrelevant or tedious. This makes sense, at least to me, because one’s life story isn’t going to come out in a line, paced to match the reader’s expectations. Kvothe tells you what’s important to the story — but he also stops to tell you what is important to him.
Some readers have claimed that The Name of the Wind lacks a plot entirely, but I disagree. Though it lingers, meanders, and takes a number of detours, as life is known to do, the plot can be narrowed down to two primary impulses (which often overlap with one another): the desire for revenge and the desire for answers. The majority of Kvothe’s decisions revolve around his need to find the name of the wind and to find information about the Chandrian — a quest that goes far beyond the first novel. So if readers expect instant gratification, then they will be disappointed. Also, given that Kvothe is telling his life story, the book ends, more or less, a third of the way through his tale, don’t expect any kind of resolution tied up neatly with a bow; this just isn’t that kind of novel.
The World and Magic: Sometimes with high fantasy, I have trouble taking root in a new world and finding my sense of place, especially if there is a lot of worldbuilding information thrown at me all at once; however, I had none of these problems with Kvothe’s world. The transition is seamless, the environment is believable, and the world feels real. The stories of past heroes woven into the narrative are a nice touch of lore and culture; the attention to little details (money, customs, words, and other small tidbits of information) creates a more tangible and visual world. And in spite of all these worldly particulars, there remains a great deal of mystery to keep the reader engaged and interested: the Chandrian, the fae, the limits (or limitless uses) of magic and names, the songs and riddles, boxes with no locks, and the truth of stories. Just to name a few.
The primary magic (sympathy) is more or less based on modern theorems and scientific principles. Since I have a penchant for logic, I appreciate that the magic itself is rational. In fact, it’s so rational that the theory of it — even for someone not living in Kvothe’s world — is very easy to comprehend. Even Kvothe remarks on more than one occasion that it is less impressive than he thought it would be, but this just reinforces the ordinary utility of sympathy in the more advanced and modern society. That which is ordinary is often usual, so to say.
Once you get into naming, the game changes a bit and the magic becomes more fantastical, but even naming manages to hold to certain rules: Names have power. Knowing the name of a thing gives you power over it. Not many have the talent for naming.
There are hints to other types of magic — perhaps derivatives of naming — especially in regards to the fae, but these aspects are addressed more in the second novel.
Overall this is a novel for anyone who loves epic fantasy, plain and simple. If you want a world rife with secrets, then the subtly placed, thought-provoking nuances of things to come will most certainly appeal to you. If you like piecing together lore, then you’ll love the legends of Lanre, Taborlin, the Amyr, and the other mythic figures of the Four Corners universe. If you want a novel that sings to you, then the lyricism of Rothfuss’ prose is hard to beat.
The Name of the Wind may not be groundbreaking, as some have claimed, but it brings a certain life to the fantasy genre — something vital and energetic, something magical, something poetic and beautiful. If you haven’t already given this novel a chance, then I recommend it with five big stars. I do not typically give gloating, fan-girl worthy reviews, but this is the one exception. The Name of the Wind is a book I will read for the rest of my life.