The Name of the Wind is the first in Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. I heard of the author when wishing George R.R. Martin would hurry up and finish the next book in A Song Of Ice And Fire – I googled “authors like GRRM” and found an interview with him asking who fans should read while waiting for him to get his bum in gear – Patrick Rothfuss was one of his answers.
The Name of the Wind opens in a village tavern, where the regulars are doing their usual drinking and storytelling. When one of the villagers appears with a strange bundle and an even stranger story, this sets in motion events which bring to light (for the readers) the fact that the innkeeper, known as Kote, is in fact Kvothe Kingkiller. A scribe known as the Chronicler persuades Kvothe to tell his story, and so the Kingkiller Chronicles begin. Kvothe takes us back to his childhood, to his years living rough on city streets, and his admission to the University to become an arcanist.
The first thing that strikes you about The Name of the Wind is that Rothfuss has, like all good fantasy writers, created a world in which to set his story. Unlike some fantasy worlds, in many ways it is quite recognisable – although there are different languages, people are all just people, with no other creatures such as elves. The towns are generally recognisable as being similar to our own, although a few centuries in the past. There are some fantastic creature, but the elements which make this world different are the magic and religion. Rothfuss has created a whole world of magic (or arcanism) which is very important to the story, as Kvothe heads to the Univeristy. The religion is less important, but I found it a bit distracting as it is immediately introduced into the narrative in the form of curses and exclamations, but is not really explained until later on.
Kvothe is a difficult main character. While a lot of the time he seems to have amazing luck and always lands on his feet, things also go badly wrong at times. He is very intelligent and makes his mark at the University from day one, but he is also very naive and can’t see things for what they are even if they hit him round the face. This naivete is teamed with recklessness, which invariably leads to him getting in a mess.. I found him frustrating; he is one of those characters that I want to shout at, tell him to get a grip and stop being a tube and just get on with things. He is not unlikeable though, and despite being frustrating you do always root for him.
The story is gripping, although it has a slightly slow start and does drag a little bit at times.Rothfuss focusses on detail, and while this makes for a wonderfully well-rounded story and setting, it does occassionally make you wish he’d get to the point. I felt that a bit too much time was spent on Kvothe’s years as a beggar; clearly the experiences he had then helped shape who he became, but I think it could have been condensed a little bit.
Once at the University, the pace doesn’t change, but the story feels a little different, as if we have now reached the point of the introductory sections. The events which happen at the University aren’t momentous – Kvothe isn’t riding off to war and saving the kingdom singlehandedly or anything like that – but they are exciting and fun to read about, and a definite step up from the scrapes he got into while living on the streets.
For me, The Name of the Wind doesn’t even come close to the brilliance of George R.R. Martin, but it is a highly enjoyable and well-written story, absorbing and exciting. It is the right kind of gripping yarn to keep me ticking over until GRRM finishes book number six, and I’m looking forward to reading the next installment in The Kingkiller Chronicles.
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