The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
(The Kingkiller Chronicles: Day One)
Audiobook read by Nick Podehl
This review is a tour. I am your guide.
Please be advised: this trip will involve vague spoilers. Keep your mouse inside the window at all times.
If you look to the left, you will see the main character introduced, Kvothe (aka, Kote, The Flame, E’lir, Shadicar, Reshi, The Thunderer, Macho Mage, Child Prodigy, Gary Stu, etc) in sweeping purple prose flowers all the way down your field of vision.
As our tour bus takes us into town, we see the inn where Kvothe pretends to be an innkeeper, hiding from his past. If we pause and wait a chapter or so, several beasties will appear and be taken care of, and a man shall be rescued from certain death. At this point, it’d make sense to take a stroll to the giftshop and deeper into this intrigue of hiding and seeking — but no, the tour bus must move on…deep into Kvothe’s childhood as he recounts his life story to a traveling chronicler.
But worry not. There will be rest stops every few chapters — courtesy of Interludes Inc. — and everyone will have a chance to stretch their legs and listen to Kvothe’s apprentice ask pertinent questions about the plot. Why did you stay in that city if it was such a terrible place? or This story doesn’t seem to make sense. Let me give you a chance to explain, o autho– err, I mean, Kvothe.”
It would be remiss of me as a guide if I don’t describe the architecture of this storyland. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is build in three tiers. On the first tier, there is the third-person point of view narrative with a liberal helping of fawning descriptions by pretty much every character Kvothe encounters. On the second tier, Kvothe is telling his life story in first person; there are plenty of rhetorical questions here and heavy-handed foreshadowing to beg you to keep reading. And on the third tier, we have guest appearances of other storytellers within Kvothe’s autobiography. It is a bit like a bad trip to 19th century romantic literature, without that capital L.
The story drags itself through Kvothe’s childhood, his awakening to his own brilliance, the subsequent tragedy of his young life (yes, indeed: his “village” is burned down and everyone he knows slaughtered), and his eventual admission into the magic university. And yes, he is exceptional there too, and has a Potter vs Malfoy dynamic when it comes to acquiring a rich, noble-blood nemesis in the school. There’s even a Snape professor character who hates him! (Minus the greasy hair.)
When the trajectory of a character’s life reads like a tired fantasy cliché, most tourists look to the fantasy sprawl of the world-building for relief.
The world is standard Fantasy. Some small amount of vocabulary is introduced for terms relating to coinage, gypsies and magic-makers, but overall, it is as stock as it comes. To throw out an example, the highlighted religion revolves around a god that saw the sins of men, and asked them to repent. Yes, there was immaculate conception, the god reborn as his-son-the-savior, and a god sacrifice.
I borrowed the audiobook from the library. I broke down somewhere in the middle of an Interlude chapter:
“He’s so young, Chronicler marveled. He can’t be more than twenty-five. Why didn’t I see it before? He could break me in his hands like a kindling stick. How did I ever mistake him for an innkeeper, even for a moment?
Then he saw Kvothe’s eyes. They had deepened to a green so dark they were nearly black. This is who I came to see, Chronicler thought to himself, this is the man who counseled kings and walked old roads with nothing but his wit to guide him. This is the man whose name has become both praise and curse at the University.“
Nick Podehl’s masterful narrative voice, accents, and pacing was probably the only thing that had gotten me to Chapter Thirteen. But with an audiobook, you’re forced to listen to each and every sentence. Sometimes, that’s great. You don’t miss a thing. In this case, the result was that the readers of this blog were treated to a tangential discussions on various types of glass-making methods.
To be fair, I halfway suspect that were I fourteen, and just discovering the genre — and nomming on several fantasy novels a day — I think I might have enjoyed it. But I am no longer so young and innocent (a complaint shared by Kvothe).
I switched over to a book version so I could power-skim my way down the pages. I put the book down half-way through, before convincing myself that my readerly ancestors would disown me for another Did Not Finish.
I am strong. I am a strong canary. I could do it.
And I did. I finished.
Should you read this book? Well, sure, I suppose you can. But it’s best read if…
- …you haven’t read much fantasy and are looking for a dramatic angsty adventure story.
- …you are a relatively young reader.
- …you don’t mind the idea of the first book ending inconclusively; the full story takes all three books (ie, all three days).
- …you enjoy dramatic and sweeping descriptions
- …Eragon has been devoured (or maybe Anne Bishop?), and you’re wondering where to go next.
- …you are a power-skimmer, interested only in the story, to the exception of how a book is written.
- …you prefer male-centric fantasy (most/all characters are male).
- …you want your main characters to be exceptional and larger than life, and for the world to know it.
If this isn’t you, but your curiosity is still piqued, here are a few titles that I would recommend that deal with similar story elements:
- Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb – follows a character’s difficult childhood as the bastard son of a noble. By the end of Hobb’s first trilogy, Fitz is a fantastically tragic hero.
- Bardic Voices Series by Mercedes Lackey – a musically talented youth faces poverty in face of overwhelming odds as she tries to follow her dreams and become a bard.
- King’s Dragon by Kate Elliot – an epic fantasy series with detailed world-building, a variety of characters who struggle through poverty, war, betrayal. As with Rothfuss’ novel, there is a “demons be coming!” undercurrent to the story.
- Dragonquest by Anne McCaffrey – the next dragonrider is found in the most unlikely of places. After the slaughter of her family and friends, she should have been dead.
- Icewind Dale OR The Dark Elf trilogies by R.A. Salvatore – what happens if you are the only honest and good person of your species? These two trilogies follow Drizzt as he grows up and seeks redemption.
- The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan – while the series petered out by the fourth or fifth book, the novel deals with a character’s realization that he must leave his life and take on the world.
- The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula LeGuin – develops the coming of age of a young wizard whose recklessness and impatience with his learning causes him to wreck havoc on himself and the world — something he must fix before it’s too late.
I will leave you with this list, the smell of stale tour-bus seats, and our “no refunds” policy.