‘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…My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me.’
As someone who reads a lot of fantasy, there is a danger that all the books I read can become a bit samey (eg. a lot of LOTR rip offs). So its been pretty refreshing lately that I’ve not only read the uniquely wonderful Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson but also The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (the first in The Kingkiller Chronicle), which was another pleasant change from the usual fantasy fare.
The Name of the Wind begins with a seemingly inconspicuous innkeeper named Kote and his assistant Bast serving a group of regulars as they tell outlandish stories of magic and demons and brave deeds. However, when a scribe by chance comes to the Waystone Inn and recognises the red haired innkeeper as a figure of legend, Kvothe Kingkiller, he persuades the reluctant man to allow him to record his story, and the reader is transported into that very world of magic and demons and brave deeds…
On the surface, the book could be seen as a classic example of fantasy: a young, and extremely gifted boy shows resilience in the face of extreme hardship, and sets out on a quest. However, the book is a lot more character driven than a lot of fantasy, the body of the novel being Kvothe’s own telling of his story as he sets out to avenge his family’s murder by the legendary Chandrian.
Although to a certain extent the framing of the main story (Kvothe’s life story) with the goings on at the Waystone Inn slows the story down, I found myself really liking this format. The emergence of sinister forces in the present day adds a feeling of foreboding (especially in light of Kvothe’s past) and leads you to believe that Kvothe’s story is far from over yet. It also adds another level of intrigue, as the Kvothe of the story seems very, very different from the amiable innkeeper who tells it, and it makes you wonder how he ended up there.
As for the character himself, I found myself really liking him. At the beginning he’s a young boy travelling around with his parent’s performing troupe, so it’s interesting to see how his character develops following their horrific murder, his time on the streets of Tarbean and his time at the University. His development from a happy, curious boy to the tough, resourceful and fiercely intelligent University student is incredibly convincing considering the hardships he faces, and you really find yourself rooting for him. The hints about his future self we receive in the parts set in the Waystone Inn also intrigued me. He is known as ‘Kvothe Kingkiller’, which begs the question of what king did he kill, and why?
There was also a lot of other interesting characters in the book that I really liked. Denna, for example was a great character as Kvothe’s love interest. The fact that she’s unpredictable, independent and resourceful makes her very different from a lot of the usual ‘damsel-in-distress’ type women you see in a lot of fantasy. At the same time she is also infuriating in her elusiveness, being almost impossible to track down, and never quite making her feelings towards Kvothe clear.
The masters at the University were also an interesting bunch, ranging from the petty meanness of Master Hemme, to the sternness of Master Lorren and the inherent madness and unpredictability of Master Elodin. Kvothe being constantly in trouble meant he spent a fair amount of time in front of the masters whilst they decided his punishment, and the outcome of these meetings were always hard to gauge, what with the different personalities clashing.
I also liked Kvothe’s University friends Wilem, Simmon, Fela and Auri, and whilst I hated Ambrose I enjoyed their mutual hatred of each other, in a relationship reminiscent of that of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy.
As for the world of the story, it was rich, vivid, and well developed. Kvothe’s story begins amongst villages and small towns as he travels far and wide with his parent’s troupe, whilst his later adventures reveal the bustling, crime-ridden city of Tarbean, the University and the nearby town of Imre. I particularly liked the University setting, and all the different parts of it, such as the Fishery, the Archives and the Crockery (which despite what it sounds like is actually an asylum).
I also loved the magic system used in the book, as it was a lot more subtle than in many fantasy books. It’s known as ‘symapthy’, and involves the naming and manipulating of things (hence why the book is called The Name of the Wind), and the transfer of energy from one source to the other. I liked the air of danger about it, with Kvothe nearly killing himself in one of his early experiments, and his trip to the Crockery with Master Elodin showing it’s possible effects on the mind.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable read. It was certainly far different than anything else I’ve read, and I’m incredibly intrigued as to how Kvothe’s story will continue, as the book raises so many questions. I particularly liked the book’s unusual structure of having one character essentially relate his autobiography to another, and I’m certainly wondering how the University student Kvothe becomes Kvothe Kingkiller, and subsequently the innkeeper of the Waystone Inn. Hopefully I’ll be reading the second book soon, and will find out!