Let’s have a little fireside chat about this book before I even get into the review. When you bring this book up around any member of the “literary community,” they really just about lose their shit. After hearing more than a dozen fellow book fiends swear up and down that this book simply could not be passed by, I figured maybe I could, I don’t know, check it out one of these days.
The reason I had a hard time taking their reviews seriously for so long is because of the cover, I’m embarrassed to say. The cover gives me this 10 cent fantasy vibe that made me unsure about committing to such a lengthy book. I don’t generally tend to gravitate toward anything with shadowy figures, ominous landscapes, or sword wielding heroes, and god forbid it have a dragon on the front.
I’m also pretty skeptical about starting a new fantasy series. Reading a fantasy series is getting married. You’re committed. Through the good times and the bad, you have to see yourself through, or feel like a failure because you couldn’t make it work. I mean, that’s why I trudged through Game of Thrones. There was good, there was bad, but I couldn’t give up on it. It was hard, but that’s a blog post on its own.
Anyway, the raves were too much to ignore, so I checked the book out from the library, excited to read it. My copy was well loved (aka practically falling apart) which, again, reiterated all the “you have tos” I’d heard from fellow readers.
It only took me 7 days to finish.
GET TO THE REVIEW ALREADY
Alright, enough dragging my feet. I’m nervous about even putting this review out there because I don’t have a lot of bad things to say this book. I loved it. I absolutely could not put this book down. I ignored work, household chores, and my cats to finish this. I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did, and if anyone tells you to go pick this book up for fucks sake listen to them.
As always, this review is free of spoilers. I will be discussing the characters, world, pace, etc., but I will not reveal any details of the plot.
As we all know, world building is a huge part of a fantasy novel’s success. It’s very tricky to create a world that is believable, that sucks the reader in without burdening them with too many details or leaving them high and dry with too few. Rothfuss’s world is so naturally constructed it feels like there’s a country on planet Earth or a period of time where roaming bands of performers entertained whole towns for a few days (oh wait, that’s real) or where magicians practice this very grounded, logical form of magic. It’s just the right balance of real and magic, of our world and his, all blended up into where ever this place is.
Another tricky part about world building is handling the exposition. A lot of fantasy series spend way too much time front loading the exposition, turning the reader off within the first 100 or so pages, if they even make it that far. There are some novels that strand you in the desert of their novels, leaving you no clue where you are, how you got there, or where to go from there. Utterly confused, the reader feels like they can’t follow and eventually gives up.
In The Name of the Wind, Rothfuss drops you in the water and slowly warms up the pool, allowing his exposition to unfold little by little as the story progresses. His style is incredibly natural, and we are exposed to more pieces of his world as we go, usually learning right along with Kvothe, the main character. For example, we learn about the nuances of sympathy as he learns it’s principles from Abenthy, an arcanist that becomes his friend and teacher on the road.
I also love the structure of this book, although it isn’t anything new or groundbreaking. The book is Kvothe’s story, told to a scribe who wanders into his inn. Kvothe promises to tell him his story from the beginning if the scribe can give him 3 days to do so.
And so, we start from childhood on, occasionally interrupted to come back to what’s happening in the bar. These breaks are a refreshing change from the linear structure of the plot, allowing us to see more of the Kvothe of the present and how different he is from the Kvothe of the past.
The 3 days of storytelling also gives structure to how the series as a whole is going to pan out. The first book ends with the first day, meaning that the second and third books should correspond to the second and third day of Kvothe’s tale. More about the series a bit later…
A crawling pace is the downfall of many a great series, and is usually the result of over detailed world building. Rothfuss, again, knows what not to do when writing a great story. The pace of The Name of the Wind is perfect, with time moving steadily along. Like traveling performers, the narrative doesn’t stay in one place long. It doesn’t stagnate or focus on one scene beyond what’s necessary.
So as you may have guessed, our main character is Kvothe, who has fiery red hair and the ability to pick up any subject, skill, or language with impressive ease and speed. At times dark and mysterious, at times hilarious, young, pompous, and humble. Kvothe as a child is forced to grow up much too soon, forced to learn how to survive on his own in the cruel streets of a bustling town, and driven to become an arcanist. His quick wit gets him out of trouble about as much creating problems for him, especially while studying at the University. He’s incredibly relatable, especially as a teenager with no sense of mortality or consequence.
Sometimes, however, I feel like Rothfuss stretches him a little thin in his attempt to deepen Kvothe’s character. What I mean is, some aspects of his personality seem to fall to the wayside. His lute playing, for example, is described as a burning passion that helped him through heartbreak. He holds it close to his heart, but at the same time we see him lose that passion, only to regain it. This may be explained away by the fact that he doesn’t have much money to buy a lute, but there are periods of the story where music isn’t mentioned. Then, it becomes this huge part of the plot, only to be lost again after some event or problem occurs.
His motivations can also be confusing and muddled at times. He cares so much about his education, and has worked so hard to get to the University, be accepted as a student, pay his tuition, etc. but is consistently doing things he knows will jeopardize his opportunity to study there. He goes on about how he’s always wanted to be there, but sometimes it seems like he doesn’t care at all. Maybe that’s a teenager for you, but it can be really frustrating if you, as a reader, are invested in Kvothe becoming what you know he could be.
As far as other characters are concerned, Rothfuss really knocks it out of the park. The supporting characters run the gamut from hilarious and loveable to horrible and terrifying. Wil and Sim, university friends of our beloved narrator, are typical teenaged boys, more concerned with dicking around or meeting pretty girls than their education. The are ever faithful, supporting Kvothe in his endeavors and talking some sense into him when he’s acting like an idiot (for the most part).
His professors are complete on their own, with Kilvin the “shop” teacher being a burly, happy, and truly caring mentor. Elodin, an insane and confusing Master Speaker, seems to be the only one capable of posing the questions Kvothe can’t answer.
Deoch, the warm but complex doorman at a local watering hole, is full of the perfect real life advice and young man needs as he faces the complexities of love and success. He’s the drinking buddy you needed after your first heartbreak.
It took me way too long to finally read this book. I should have picked it up years ago. To be honest with you, this may be my favorite modern fantasy series. While people drool and fawn over Game of Thrones, The Name of the Wind sits on the shelf. An absolute gem sitting in plain sight, waiting for you to pick it up and get sucked in. While writing this review, I went back through the book, rereading various passages, looking for anything I could critique. I didn’t find critique, but I did find myself rereading the book. Having other books to read and review, I reluctantly put it back down, ready to write this review.
This book is incredible. I will be reading the rest of the series, and I know I will love each book as much as the other.