Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
by Tom Ingram
Aside from a single short article on John Scalzi’s website, I had never read anything by Patrick Rothfuss before. But my usual sources for discovering new authors–mostly Scalzi and TV Tropes–all agreed that The Name of the Wind was an excellent novel. Since I’ve read all the Dresden Files novels but the latest one, and finished about a quarter of the Discworld series, I figured it was time to start looking at some new authors, and Patrick Rothfuss was one of the ones I picked. My conclusion is pretty much what everyone else has said. It’s slow to start, oddly structured, and ends abruptly, but is by all rights a very good book and a promising debut.
The story is framed as an autobiography dictated to a scribe by legendary globetrotting hero Kvothe. As such, there are frequent interludes from the main story that are largely irrelevant. In fact, the first seven chapters have almost nothing to do with the main body of the story. I’m not entirely convinced that the framing device is necessary at all, but on the other hand I don’t know how books two and three go. Anyway, I was a little bored during the first fifty or so pages, but I had been warned that it was a slow starter, so I wasn’t too broken up about it. Once Kvothe starts telling his story, things get interesting.
Kvothe had been a member of a travelling theatre troupe. His father was writing a ballad about a mythical group called the Chandrian. Very little is known about them, and what few scraps exist are often contradictory, causing some difficulty in finding information. As Kvothe’s father starts to learn more, the troupe is attacked and everyone is killed save Kvothe, who had been playing in the forest at the time. He returns to see the Chandrian meeting among the burning wagons and corpses.
Kvothe spends several months living in the wild, then he hitches a ride to the city. He lives there for a few years as a street urchin, developing some useful skills and habits, but his real dream has always been to attend the University and learn naming magic. While in the troupe he had an arcanist (wizard) teaching him, and Kvothe was an unusually fast learner. Kvothe comes into some unexpected money and uses it to make his way to the University. There he studies sympathy magic and slowly gleans a few details about the Chandrian.
This novel isn’t without its flaws. There’s not much in the way of an overarching plot. There’s Kvothe’s revenge story, but that plot has advanced only slightly by the end of the book. I have a feeling we’ll see more of it later, but that’s the problem with trilogies. I read seven hundred pages and I’m stuck with the feeling that the real story hasn’t actually started yet. The main story often breaks off as Kvothe, his student Bast, and the Chronicler comment on it. Exactly one of these scenes was interesting (no, not that one). Really, if I wanted a break from the story, I have three other books to read. I could go fly a kite, write a novel, or practise some scales. I don’t need these things built into the text.
Still, Kvothe is a charming rogue that you can’t help but like. The book chronicles the mythos that slowly builds up around him, similar to The Dresden Files. The differences is that while Harry Dresden bumbles his way into being seen as a destroyer of worlds, Kvothe uses his wits. And lies. A lot. We still don’t know anything about the Chandrian except that their leader is a city in Nova Scotia, but I must admit that the mystery is intriguing. And Kvothe’s deadpan first-person narrative is always a pleasure to read.
The ride may have been bumpy, with strange scenery and a sudden stop at the end, but it was definitely a lot of fun. I can’t wait till book two comes out.