Reading Time: about 13 hours
I’m three years late to the party that began with The Name of the Wind, and what a party it has been. Winner of the Quill Award, on most people’s best new book and best new author awards for 2007, and with hyped anticipation for a sequel that was released this month, The Name of the Wind certainly has its champions. I picked it up from Borders back in 2008, but it has languished in my ever-expanding queue. With reviews praising the sequel as an improvement in every way, I knew it was time to find out what all the (Roth)fuss was about.
The story is a coming-of-age tale about a boy named Kvothe, who appears to be brilliantly gifted in almost anything he learns – music, acting, magic, studies – you name it, Kvothe is good at it. Kvothe goes from beloved son to orphan to street rat to university student to legendary hero in the book. Whenever roadblocks pop up, Kvothe always seems to find a way past them. He spends much of the book poor, looking for ways to get money to keep a roof over his head, food in his mouth, and paying tuition for school. Kvothe’s ability to overcome obstacles reminds me of MacGuyver or other TV heroes such as Sydney Bristow from Alias.
There is, however, a caveat or two, because Kvothe has flaws just like anyone else. Kvothe admits freely that he doesn’t know a thing about women. He also has a stubborn attitude and refuses to lose or back down from a challenge. While such an attitude sees him through many difficult situations, it also has consequences that contribute to making those situations more difficult than they need to be.
This is most evident in his dealings with fellow student Ambrose, the son of a noble. Ambrose and Kvothe start out on the wrong foot, and it escalates from there. Unlike Hemme, an instructor that Kvothe clashes with but has no teeth, Ambrose has the wealth and influence to make life difficult for Kvothe. Given that Ambrose is truly unlikable, I found myself both rooting for Kvothe and shaking my head at the same time, because it is soon apparent that every time Ambrose is insulted, he’ll find a way to strike back at Kvothe. Still Kvothe cannot resist pushing back against Ambrose’s arrogance, and seems surprised at the results, underestimating Ambrose each time.
The beginning of the book almost has a David Eddings’s Belgariad feel to it. It then moves into something you might find in Dickens, or Robin Hobb’s Assassin Apprentice series. Most of the book, however, has a Harry Potter-like feel, as it takes place in a university. It is, however, a darker Harry Potter, targeted at adults rather than children. I was surprised to find out later that Orson Scott Card had already voiced these same sentiments, as I hadn’t read this in other sites’ reviews.
I love stories told in the first-person narrative. All my favorite authors follow this style: Zelazny’s Amber, Hobb’s Assassin Apprentice, Cook’s Black Company, and Delaney’s Last Apprentice. The story of Kvothe is told in first person as it jumps back and forth between present day, told in third-person, and Kvothe’s storytelling, which switches to first-person. Rothfuss has an easy, engaging style that makes reading The Name of the Wind a joy to read. He has an ability to weave words into story with enough detail to picture what is happening, without so much detail that the story bogs down. In this way, Rothfuss’s narrative style is much more appealing than say Robert Jordan or Steven Erikson. At the same time, it doesn’t have a simplistic feel as The Last Apprentice or Harry Potter does. There’s plenty of things happening in the story. It is not swords-and-sorcery action, but rather overcoming obstacles through clever means – though there is a sort of battle with a dragon.
Supporting characters are consistent and well-defined. In addition to Kvothe’s antagonists, he has a couple of good friends in Simmon and Wilem, a handful of instructors, and a couple of potential love interests in Denna and Fela. Denna is a strong female character, flawed in a few ways and intriguing in others. I would prefer that Kvothe was attracted more to Fela, who has some intriguing qualities herself, but she isn’t fleshed out enough to know why Kvothe doesn’t even consider a relationship with her. The magic system, called Sympathy, is detailed and well-thought out, although I still don’t have any idea how much power someone is capable of by simply knowing the true name of something.
I do have a few problems with the story. As I stated above, after a chapter or two of the University, it began to feel slightly derivative of Harry Potter at Hogwarts. This leads to my second issue with the book: the story spends so much time at the University that the plot struggles to move forward. It feels more like an “I did this, I did that” recounting, rather than a story with a clear and well-defined plot, although I am sure that is by design since Kvothe is relating the events of his life. And the ending is so abrupt, so unresolved, that it is a disappointment. I feel for those who have been waiting three years for the sequel. We also don’t have any idea yet why the series is titled “The Kingkiller Chronicles.”
The truth is that these are minor issues that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story. Once reaching the last third of The Name of the Wind, I found it difficult to put down, my measure of a great book. While some of the praise and hype of The Name of the Wind is deserved, and some of it is overdone, I can’t deny that this is one of the best books I’ve read in some time. If The Wise Man’s Fear is truly better in every way, I’m looking forward to it with great anticipation, although my fear is it won’t live up to my expectations, which are now quite high. The Wise Man’s Fear is now on its way from Amazon, so I’ll find out soon enough…