Finally, the day has come: the book that’s been sitting on my shelf for what feels like forever, that countless friends have recommended to me over the last couple of years, has finally been conquered. I’ve finished The Name of the Wind.
And even after years of anticipation, it did not disappoint in the slightest.
“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.”
The Name of the Wind is the first novel in an epic fantasy series following the life of Kvothe, once a hero with names such as “Kvothe the Bloodless” and “Kingkiller”, now an innkeep, telling his story in full for the first time. This book follows his life from his childhood as part of a troupe of travelling performers, to his quest to join a legendary school of magic, with all the adventures, tragedy, and action in between.
The thing that really drew me into this book is the writing. I mean, just look at this paragraph from the first page:
“The Waystone was his, just as the third silence was his. This was appropriate, as it was the greatest silence of the three, wrapping the others inside itself. It was deep and wide as autumn’s ending. It was heavy as a great river-smooth stone. It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.”
This captured my attention immediately. The prose is elegant and beautiful, at times like this a little melodramatic, and always dripping with suspense and intrigue. This instantly set the perfect atmosphere for a fantasy tale. And somehow, despite these occasional snippets of dramatic, atmospheric language, it never feels like Rothfuss is overdoing the language: it never feels flowery, or self-congratulatory, and the metaphors are well-balanced amongst the rest of the book’s prose, which feels more straightforward. This really made the book for me, since if I’m going to invest in a 650-page book, the writing style needs to work for me. It definitely did.
This brings me to the fact that this book never felt too long. Sometimes fantasy books can have trouble with pacing: they often favour a slow build-up, which can result in a mind-blowing payoff at the end, but that can mean getting through the first couple of hundred pages of an epic fantasy book can feel like wading through treacle. The Name of the Wind is long, but it never felt difficult. Everything in this book serves the story or the characters in some way, and even the slowest parts of the book (which I couldn’t pinpoint if I tried) are never dull.
This is partly thanks to the rich and intriguing plot. The blurb of the book makes Kvothe’s life sound pretty exciting. And it’s not wrong. Kvothe’s story has all the traditional fantasy elements: travel and adventure, magic-learning, conflict, and a hint of romance. What surprised me about his story is the tragedy and struggle within it. There are some points in the story when Kvothe’s life seems almost unbearable, and it’s actually painful to read about. There were moments when each time I saw the slightest bit of sunshine on Kvothe’s horizon, I was sure he was about to fall further than ever before.
“Too much truth confuses the facts. Too much honesty makes you sound insincere”
Kvothe himself is an interesting character. Since the story flicks between present and past-Kvothe, this gives an interesting contrast. I enjoyed Kvothe’s character development throughout the book: even in this first book, it feels like Kvothe lives several different lives, and we can see how each of these has influenced his character. I also liked reading about the secondary characters, and there are two in particular that I would love to read more about: Bast, who we’re introduced to early on in the book, and Auri, who appears later on, and is an endlessly fascinating and unusual character. I suspect Rothfuss is going to make me wait before he reveals more about these two.
The magic system is another element of this book that I have to talk about. In The Name of the Wind, magic has a cost. This is one of my favourite mechanics in fantasy, since it increases the stakes and means that actions have consequences. It also limits the power of magic-users so that they never feel overpowered. This mechanic works really well in this book.
Overall, I was really impressed by this book. It’s exactly the kind of fantasy I like to read: exciting, unpredictable, and a little bit gritty.
I would highly recommend this book to fans of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, and Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings books. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.
“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”