Patrick Rothfuss – The Name of the Wind: a.k.a. Solving my #bookfails part 1

‘I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me’As some of you know I started my new job a few weeks ago. When I went out to lunch one afternoon carrying my lunch box and my copy of The Name of the Wind one of my new co-workers asked to see what I was reading. Upon seeing the book she immediately said ‘Oh that’s fantastic, I’ve read that about ten times!’ At first I thought she was pulling my leg, seeing as most of the people I’ve worked with in the past are more likely to read books from the Booker long list or its Dutch equivalent than to read SFF. But she was completely sincere and told me she even followed Patrick Rothfuss’ blog. She’d read the book after seeing a really positive review in a Dutch newspaper in 2007. Which taught me two important things: A) Don’t assume people’s reading habits and B) I was really having a major case of #bookfail because I hadn’t read the book yet!

To be honest I have some major #bookfails. Aside from not having read a lot of the classic fantasy works, my more recent fails include anything by Joe Abercrombie, China Miéville, Mark Charan Newton or Ian McDonald. But in the past week I solved two of them! Not only did I finish The Name of the Wind, but I also read Spellwright by Blake Charlton, the review for which I’ll post at the end of the week. But I’m pretty pleased that I’ve finally managed to catch up on book one of the Kingkiller Chronicles and that unlike the early readers I won’t have to wait for three years for book two (knock on wood!).

Having heard all the rave reviews and lavish praise for the book, I went in with pretty high expectations. Luckily, Patrick Rothfuss didn’t disappoint. The Name of the Wind delivered on all fronts: intricate story telling and world building and beautiful prose.

From the first paragraph of the book I was gripped by the pure word-smithing quality of Rothfuss’ writing. I kept re-reading pieces not because I missed something or didn’t understand, but just to savour the words. For me this is really rare and it placed Rothfuss firmly among my favourite writers. Added to the lovely prose, I really liked the structure of the book. The bookending with the mirroring prologue and epilogue was really well done. I love that in the prologue the silence in three parts is mysterious and draws the reader in, while in the epilogue we understand the silence and it serves to put the reader in a sort of contemplative pause mode to wait for the next book. The story within a story is a tried and treasured storytelling mode, but it really works in this novel, sometimes pausing the narrative to give Bast and the Chronicler (and the reader one supposes) time to react to what happens in Kvothe’s story. It also shows the effect this retelling of his life has on Kvothe. Plus, giving your characters time for a potty break and to make a cuppa before continuing on with the story is just genius!

One of my favourite scenes in the book is the scene where Kote’s regulars come in for dinner and start telling each other Kvothe stories. It was a great way to show us how some of the stories we’d just heard from the man himself are garbled, changed and embellished into the mythologized versions which the world knows and loves.

The magic system, or sympathy as it’s called in the book, is very interesting. In a way it’s almost scientific in adhering to the first law of thermodynamics with a twist. I love how we get to slowly learn alongside Kvothe how it works, and the different applications and dangers of it, culminating in the brilliant scene in which Kvothe teaches his first impromptu class.

We get to see a lot of Rothfuss’ world through Kvothe’s travels with his family and in the latter part of the book. Still there’s a sense that this is just the teeniest part of this world and that there is still a lot left to discover. But all that is yet to be discovered by the reader, is already present behind the curtain of Kvothe’s story, whole and entire instead of feeling as the misty elsewhere you sometimes encounter in books.

Kvothe as a character is likeable, even though sometimes he’s a bit smug in his know-it-all teenager attitude. The smugness is earned and thus often excusable. He’s surrounded by a host of interesting characters, both in his narrative and in the encompassing story. Both Bast and the Chronicler are very interesting, with the sense that the Chronicler isn’t just the available ear in which Kvothe pours his story (even though Bast suggests that’s all he is meant to be), but that he also has a different reason to come find Kvothe. It’ll be interesting to see whether this suspicion will be confirmed later on in the series.

The character that interests me most though and whose back story I hope we get to see in the next book is Auri. Where did she come from and how did she end up living in the Underthing? I love how Kvothe draws out this wild, little girl and gets her to trust him and even joke with him at one point. So I really hope we’ll see more of her!

Up until August 1st this has to be the best book I read this year and I know it’s going to end high in top ten for 2010, if not the number one spot. If you haven’t read this book yet, what are you waiting for? If you have, join me in waiting for March 1st and the publication of the second book in the series The Wise Man’s Fear.


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