Sunday, 15 September 2013

Review: 'The Name of the Wind' by Patrick Rothfuss

“My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me.”

The Name of the Wind is the debut novel of American fantasy writer Patrick Rothfuss. It’s the first in a projected trilogy of fantasy novels known as The Kingkiller Chronicle, wherein each book represents one day of autobiographical first-person storytelling by the main character, Kvothe.

This first instalment of the trilogy follows Kvothe’s early life, beginning with his childhood amongst the Edema Ruh travelling performers, including his mother, father and mentor, Abenthy, who first introduces him to the world of the arcane. This idyllic life cannot last, however, and a devastating event plunges the young Kvothe into a life of hardship in which he is forced to use the only tools he has at hand – mainly his wits and the skills he learned as a child – to survive. During the course of the tale we find out the truth behind some of the legends that have come to surround him – for example, how he earned the nickname ‘Kvothe the Bloodless’ – and witness the first stage of his development: from gifted child to self-reliant university student.
Let me start by saying that this book has everything I look for in a fantasy novel:  an entertaining narrative voice, a well-built world with a wonderfully extensive lore, and an original magic system, as well as a generous mixture of humour, action, intrigue, rivalry and tragedy. At the centre of it all, however, are the incredible characters; and chief among them is our rebellious flame-haired protagonist, Kvothe.

My first impression of Kvothe was based solely on the extract given as part of the blurb:

‘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.’

Although intriguing, these accomplishments are not why the reader comes to admire Kvothe. The everyday obstacles he continually has to overcome as part of life – usually his age, lack of money, or talent for acquiring spiteful rivals – serve to make him a much more sympathetic character than ‘heroes’ from other tales. We are given the impression that although, with the right resources, Kvothe would probably have become the most powerful man alive, his lack of these resources means that he grows and develops more as a character. It also means that we as readers celebrate his achievements – however small – all the more because he has not only worked hard for them, but needs them in order to survive.

Kvothe is an immensely likeable protagonist; and even though it’s clear he is something of a child prodigy, he is never quite as annoyingly precocious as you might expect. The author has shaped his voice to be dry and humorous, as well as frequently poignant and moving; and it is always, always entertaining. We are regularly reminded that Kvothe spent much of his childhood amongst travelling performers: much of the prose is very poetic, often self-consciously so. For example, our protagonist preludes his tale with the following words:

“Do not presume to change a word of what I say. If I seem to wander, if I seem to stray, remember that true stories seldom take the straightest way.”

It’s not just the occasional rhyme that makes the language entertaining. The descriptions of Kvothe’s music are beautiful and often genuinely moving, and serve as a reminder of the character’s sensitivity in spite of his otherwise self-assured and over-confident demeanour. I really came to empathise with Kvothe, particularly during the moments of tension in his story: I found myself with white knuckles and bated breath while he was being interviewed for the university, when he attended his first disciplinary meeting, during his performance at the Eolian . . .

I was actually surprised how much I enjoyed the frame narrative/flashback format of the novel. I had expected the regular interludes to become annoying; however, the easy banter between Kvothe and his mysterious apprentice, Bast, provides pleasant intervals of comic relief, and the events at the inn piqued my curiosity by raising even more  questions that I wanted answers to. These interludes do not detract from the story: they are suitably brief, and serve to gradually build a picture of events that are occurring in the present day, events that I look forward to seeing developed further in the rest of the trilogy.

My rating: 5/5

An extra two pennies' worth:

Favourite character: Kvothe (obviously), although Denna and Elodin come joint-second.
Favourite place: The University: a lovely combination of Pratchett and Rowling, but with its own uniquely dark aspects.
Favourite moment: The draccus. I could see the scene on the hilltop playing out in front of my eyes.

2 comments:

  1. This sounds like an amazing book. Makes me want to read it right now. Thanks for such a deep insight.

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  2. Thank you - you should definitely read it!

    ReplyDelete