YOU MAY HAVE HEARD OF ME
The coming of age tale of a self made folk hero, recounting the story that turned him into a legend.
The Name Of The Wind
(The Kingkiller Chronicle, Book 1)
Genre: High Fantasy
Format: Paperback, 672 Pages
Date: 12th June 2008 (First Published 2007)
There are two ways in which one can approach reading a book that has received such overwhelming praise from critics and readers alike. The first option is to believe the hype; have faith that the book in question is an unparalleled work of literary genius that your life will remain incomplete if you never take the time to read it. Alternatively, the second option is to keep expectations in check; after all, very few books that generate excessively positive feedback are capable of meeting expectations.
For people wanting to read, The Name Of The Wind, the début novel penned by Patrick Rothfuss, the latter approach would be most advisable if disappointment is to be avoided. That is not to suggest the book is undeserving of the high regard in which it is held. It is actually a very well written and crafted story. But there is an inevitability that some people will read the book then feel as though they have been the victims of a “bait and switch”. This reaction being the result of the author beginning his novel by seemingly writing one story only to abandon it abruptly to tell another story just as things are getting interesting.
To elaborate on the novel’s very early change of direction, the story is initially set up to appear to be a cliché dark fantasy tale of a land threatened by an impending evil menace, told by a third person narrator. The protagonist is introduced as an ordinary innkeeper of an inn at the heart of a small nondescript town. It quickly transpires that in spite of the apparent ordinariness of the setting there is something decidedly out of the ordinary brewing. This sense of foreboding is really driven home when the not-so-ordinary-after-all innkeeper spends the night in the woods surrounding the town, battling a swarm of large spider-like demonic creatures; saving the life of an unfortunate highway robbery victim in the process.
It is shortly after this turn of events that Rothfuss diverges from this plot to tell the book’s real story. The man who had been rescued in the woods is a renowned “chronicler” of history. When he regains consciousness at the inn he inadvertently discovers that the innkeeper who saved his life is actually the legendary folk hero Kvothe The Bloodless, living incognito under an assumed identity. At which point the novel essentially becomes a memoir narrated in the first person by Kvothe, dictating his story to Chronicler; detailing the events of his early childhood that set him on the path to enrolling at The University which marks the beginning of his journey to becoming the subject of innumerable folk tales.
Kvothe’s purpose in having his life story recorded by Chronicler is to set the record straight about the man behind the legends, by revealing the true events that inspired all the exaggerated tales that have evolved around him over the years.
It is likely that some readers may initially mistake this change in the direction of the story for a temporary diversion. But harbouring any hopes for a quick return to the narrative that originally lured them in, will be in vain. Such readers will be disappointed to find that Rothfuss does not go back to the mysterious goings on outside the town. Instead, the remainder of the book is given over entirely to Kvothe, inside his inn narrating his story to his companion Bast, and Chronicler who writes it all down; which for the most part lacks the intrigue of what maybe occurring outside the four walls of the inn.
On top of that, by the conclusion of the book it is obvious that only a fraction of Kvothe’s back-story has been told, killing any hope that The Name Of The Wind would essentially serve as an extended prologue, with the sequel resuming the plot that was abandoned early on by its predecessor. It’s safe to assume that the sequel will simply continue Kvothe’s memoir from where it left off.
For readers who aren’t put off by the story not being what it at first appears to be, there is still just about enough intrigue in Kvothe’s story to be enjoyed. Regrettably, the most compelling aspects of Kvothe’s formative years are not given the prominence that they deserve. The defining moment of his life, that provides the motivation for his actions, is the death of his parents as a kid. From that moment forth Kvothe is dedicated to seeking revenge against the Chandrian; a mythological group of seven preternatural beings who mysteriously appear in the world to slaughter anyone who inadvertently discovers that their existence is not merely a fairy tale told to frighten young children.
After an inordinate amount of time is spent dwelling on charting his years as an orphaned street urchin of a major city, Kvothe finally becomes the youngest person to enrol at The University where students are trained to become Arcanists (practitioners of magic). It would have been preferable if the recounting of his early days at The University had focussed principally on his efforts to the master the magic needed to exact his revenge, as well as his clandestine research into the Chandrian, and an ancient order of knights known as the Amyr. Sadly, this plays second fiddle to matters more suited to a high school drama.
The focus of Kvothe’s first year at The University is his struggles to pay for his tuition, finding somewhere to live, the harassment of a rich entitled bully, making friends with some of his fellow students, making enemies of some of his teachers, issues with a loan shark, his dedication to his music career, and most egregiously of all his embarrassing fixation with a girl who strings him along while seeing a host of other (rich, older) men. Though these things aren’t necessarily boring, it is likely that some readers would prefer much less attention on these matters. The latter issue in particular was a real bugbear for myself as I know only to well the ruination brought about by obsession for an unrequited love.
From what has preceded it may be difficult to believe that The Name Of The Wind has garnered as much praise as it has. But the truth is, in spite of any perceived shortcomings in the author’s narrative choices the story is exceptionally well written, as are the characters. In fact, characterisation is the book’s main strength. Rothfuss has created a host of well developed, interesting characters. Even those who have minor roles never come across as underdeveloped, nondescript, disposable creations. Clearly a lot of time and effort was expended on fleshing out the novel’s cast.
The same can be also be said for the author’s world building. It’s apparent throughout the story that a great deal of though went into the construction of the setting in terms of history, geography, culture and the like. And it’s obvious that readers will only glimpse but a fraction of the world that Rothfuss has envisioned. There is surely more being held back to be discovered in future instalments of Kvothe’s tale.
Some have likened The Name Of The Wind to “Harry Potter for adult readers”. As I’ve never read a Harry Potter book, nor am I ever likely to, I cannot speak to the veracity of such a comparison. What I can state is that Rothfuss’ début is in many ways a coming of age tale in the guise of a memoir, charting the formative years of a self-made legendary folk hero who is as foolish as he is brilliant and industrious. It contains several intriguing undercurrents to boot that deserve to be explored more deeply in the sequel.
In closing, it is worth noting that while the book is exceptionally well written from beginning to end, the narrative can at times be best described as meandering so may require patience on the part of some readers; particularly those caught off guard by the story’s abrupt change of direction.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.