Because all of life is stories.
How haven’t I done this one yet?
It’s a book about…no that isn’t right.
It’s an epic tale of…no not that either.
Hold on a minute.
Oh that’s right I haven’t forgotten, I’ve been putting this one off.
Now don’t go running just yet, yelling into the wind “Why is he reviewing a book he obviously doesn’t like!?” The truth is I do like The Name of the Wind. I love it. It honestly may be my favorite book of all time, excepting maybe Ender’s Game, and it depends on the day. This is one of the reasons I’ve been putting off writing an honest to God review of the thing. It’s one of the few books I’m genuinely terrified of screwing up. Other than that, this isn’t your typical tale of great heroes and wars and battles against the darkness. It doesn’t follow the path of Tolkien or Jordan or Lewis or even relative newcomers like Sanderson. It sees that path and acknowledges it, then says “But look at this other path here! It’s different and kind of weird but think of all the cool stuff I might find!”
Alright, let’s try this again for real.
The opening of The Name of the Wind is quiet and unassuming. It is told in the voice of a character we may never meet. Perhaps it is Rothfuss’ own voice introducing us to his protagonist. What the opening reveals is that something is wrong with the world. There is a silence, three of them in fact, that is somehow foreboding. We get the impression that they are not things of mere existence, but that they are pressing in, that they are unnatural.
That they are waiting.
In due time we are introduced to the man who calls himself Kote. He is the keeper of the silent inn we find ourselves in, and it is his story that we are reading. Or rather it is and it isn’t. It all depends on who Kote really is. We learn that there is a war in the land, though the fighting has yet to reach the small hamlet in which Kote’s inn resides. As the day moves on we meet many minor players, people that live in the town, Kote’s young and enigmatic assistant Bast, and finally, Chronicler. Chronicler is the man we care about most for the moment, and if we don’t we should. He is the man that is going to get the real story out of the man who calls himself Kote. The one about fire and magic and music and the true names of things.
It is quickly explained that names are an important thing in this place. The first time we are given that lesson is in discovering that the man who calls himself Kote is really Kvothe. Or sometimes he is. Or was. If this sounds cryptic, congratulations, you’ve caught on. Names in this book are important. And every time our protagonist is referred to the name he is called by is important to note. Is he Kvothe? Or is he Kote? Or is he the man who calls himself Kote? I promise you they are all different, though it may take more than one reading for this to become apparent to the reader. Rothfuss is subtle in the hints and bits of meaning woven into the story, as if by afterthought. It may be possible to glean all of the meaning out of these books in one reading, but I doubt very much that anyone ever will.
The rest of the story I will not get in to here. It has already been written once, and does not need to be expounded upon in this review. Suffice it to say that the real story takes place in the past, told through the mouth of our protagonist, recalling and reciting his life to Chronicler. There are adventures and mysteries, there are heroes and villains and damsels, there are moments of triumph and despair.
And they are full of wonder and beauty and just in general pretty damned awesome. Rothfuss has a way with words. It’s rare that an author can make me feel as invested and on the edge of my seat for a musical performance at a pub as he can for a death defying rescue. Rothfuss writes everything with poetry, with purpose. Hidden meanings and hints and clues are everywhere in his books, and he has promised that there are more we won’t be able to decipher without the 3rd book in hand.
Now this is not to say that his book is without faults. It is biopic, which in and of itself is certainly not bad, but it does lead some to think that the story isn’t exactly going anywhere. And once you’ve read the second half I’m sure you’ll agree that the plot does slow down a tremendous amount compared to the first half of the story. Many reviews I’ve read have also taken issue with Kvothe. He is prideful, he is stubborn, he is quite simply a little bastard at times. And for all his life changing experiences nothing about his life seems to change much. On the second point I grant them their complaints. They are right. I will however tell them that the second book steps in and corrects this somewhat. The character however is one I found endearing. He is a wunderkind that I would love to have a drink with by the fires of the Eolian. And sure, he is a little shit, but he sure does take a beating for it at times. In the end, I think he’s still a great character.
Another frustration I’m sure isn’t mind lies in another character that we see far too little of and hear much more about. The love interest. Denna. We don’t actually know Denna’s real name, or if she has one beyond those that she gives out. She switches names as other girls switch outfits. I find her infuriating. She has so much potential to be amazing but she is flighty. She moves around, comes and goes and doesn’t seem to really have a purpose in life other than to be a foil for Kvothe. Or a reward, but that remains to be seen. I hope she is a more consistent presence in the 3rd book, as she doesn’t get much more screen time in The Wise Man’s Fear than what she gets in this first installment. I hope the waiting for her true character is worth the build and false flags.
Rothfuss is one to watch in the future. He is establishing himself as one of the preeminent masters of fantasy. Hell of storyteller in general, no matter what the medium. His words are poetic and powerful, he hides more hints and mysteries in his words than I have ever seen in a novel. Read The Name of the Wind over a few times and you’ll see the form of the second book start to emerge, and then that of the third. And he switches back and forth from 1st to 3rd person with the clarity and artistry of a true master. It is something that while not exactly rare, is almost never done as well and Rothfuss does it.
Pick it up. Enjoy it. Read it several times and then several more. It’s one that stays with you, and leaves you begging for more.
I’ll see you on the Road to Tinue.
Oh wait, one more thing! If you want a recap of the whole thing, or a brief spoilerific plot summary, the man himself and illustrator Nate Taylor put together a play/comic of sorts. Yes, it’s a comic about a play about a story about a man telling a story. Try not to get lost in the meta of it all.
**SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT**