Series: Kingkiller Chronicle
Published by DAW Books on March 27, 2007
Told in Kvothe's own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen. The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature. A high-action story written with a poet's hand, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that will transport readers into the body and mind of a wizard.
I recently finished reading – or rather, listening to – Patrick Rothfuss’s massive and incredibly rich first novel, and I was totally blown away. The Name of the Wind is a tour de force of fantasy writing, the most amazing and spellbinding book I’ve come across in years.
Rothfuss’s worldbuilding is intricately detailed and seems to cover every aspect of his world: timekeeping and calendar; language, culture, dress, and even currency for several countries; history and myth (often intermingled as in our own world); supernatural beings and creatures; and an almost scientific system of magic. It’s reminiscent of, but in no way derived from, the richness of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. And Rothfuss give it to us not in awkward info dumps but naturally: through a young boy/man’s eyes as he learns about his world, through stories told by various characters, and through events both ordinary and extraordinary.
One result of this approach is that it can be difficult to find your mental feet in the first chapters. Without background information, it is a little hard to understand what is happening. Be patient; let the story unfold. Those first chapters, set in and around an inn, become the framework for the heart of the series. Kvothe, now masquerading as the innkeeper Kote, is a legend in his own time. As he tells his own life story to a man known simply as Chronicler, Kvothe is really telling it to us.
Kvothe is a terrific character. Highly intelligent, often impulsive, and supremely self-assured, he has an uncanny ability to get himself into and (sometimes) out of trouble. Often charming, sometimes infuriating, always intriguing, Kvothe is the hero as well as the unreliable narrator of most of the novel.
A few reviewers have complained that the book is too episodic, that it doesn’t really go anywhere. In a way they are right. The Kingkiller Chronicle is clearly intended as a trilogy, or more accurately, as one very long book broken into three volumes. The overall story arc is not immediately evident in the structure of the first book, though there are a number of hints if you look for them. But of course, life itself is episodic, its overall arc or pattern often unclear until the end — and this trilogy is, after all, the story of Kvothe’s life.
But what makes this such a compelling book is not just the story, it’s the storytelling. Rothfuss’s use of language is masterful: poetic and lyrical, fierce and angry, earthy and even comic as needed. The eloquence of the prose seduces you immediately. Here, from the one-page prologue, Rothfuss describes a “silence of three parts”:
The Waystone was his, just as the third silence was his. This was appropriate, as it was the greatest silence of the three, wrapping the others inside itself. It was deep and wide as autumn’s ending. It was heavy as a great river-smooth stone. It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.
It’s Rothfuss’s language, as well as the magic of the story, that makes me glad I listened to The Name of the Wind, rather than reading it. Listening forced me to slow down, to pay attention to the rhythm, the power of the words. The Name of the Wind is, above all else, a book of and about storytelling and performance. Kvothe is a musician and a trouper, a performer born and bred. His story is a moving, bewitching tale, told by a master bard.
A final note about the audiobook: Nick Podehl does an admirable job with the narration, voices, and accents. His characterization of Kvothe in particular seems just right. I’m currently listening to the second book, The Wise Man’s Fear, and Podehl’s reading is pretty consistent between the books; the one exception is that some of the names are pronounced differently in the second. (Possibly Mr. Rothfuss corrected the pronunciation before the second book was recorded.)