Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

I’ve been putting off reading this book for quite a while. As it is the first book in The Kingkiller Chronicles, I wanted to wait until all the books were out (I think it’s a trilogy), but when I stumbled over the book at a sale, I bought it, and once it was on my shelf it became harder to put off. We’ll see how long I can resist reading book 2, The Wise Man’s Fear now that I’ve entered this universe. Book 3 is due for release in 2014.
So I’d heard a lot of good things about The Name of the Wind, and naturally I had quite high expectations. What I tend to love about fantasy literature is browsing the fantasy section in a book shop, choosing one based on the cover, and discovering that it’s actually a gem. I think that when something comes highly recommended, the chance of disappointment is higher. Unfortunately this was partly the case for The Name of the Wind.
The beginning of the novel felt tedious and slow. The characters didn’t intrigue me, the plot felt vague, and I started to wonder if this was what the hype was all about. Once the “real” story kicks in, my enjoyment increased, but it still took me a long time to really get passionate about the story. The more the story progressed, the more involved I became, and towards the end of it, I was really quite hooked.
The beginning of the novel places us at the Wayside Inn, where innkeeper Kote and his apprentice Bast are going about their daily quiet lives. Business is slow, and we learn that there is a silence shadowing Kote. At the same time, dark forces are about, and Kote seems to know something about it. The entrance of Chronicler onto the scene changes the silence hovering over Kote. Chronicler has somehow managed to trace down Kote, whose real name is Kvothe, who we learn is legendary. After some initial resistance to the idea, Chronicler manages to persuade Kvothe to tell his story, to eliminate mere rumours from what really happened, once and for all. Chronicler only has three days to record Kvothe’s story, and The Name of the Wind covers what Kvothe told of his story on the first day.
Kvothe begins his story by stressing that his background as Edema Ruh – a travelling troupe – explains a lot about how his life has turned out. He started his life on the road, wandering from place to place and entertaining people. Kvothe’s first encounter with sympathy – the magic in this world – came through a man who travelled with them for a while and taught Kvothe a lot. A prodigy, Kvothe could pick up anything in record time.
Kvothe’s idyllic life cannot last. One night disaster strikes. As Kvothe returns to the campsite after a night stroll, he finds the whole troupe, including his parents murdered. “Someone’s parents have been singing entirely the wrong songs” one of the murderers tells Kvothe. Kvothe’s father was working on a song about the Chandrian, a mythical group of men known to leave death and blue flame in their wake. Can the childhood horror be true? Are the Chandrian real?
After the death of his parents, Kvothe’s life is thrown into turmoil. After spending months in the wild playing on his father’s lute, Kvothe makes his way to the big city nearby. Kvothe spends three hard years in Tarbean before he remembers his new mission in life, to find the Chandrian and avenge his parents.
Although he is still young, Kvothe decides to try to get admitted to the University. A miracle secures Kvothe’s admittance, but his arrogance and impatience quickly ensures Kvothe enemies among the masters of the University as well as the other students. After being denied access to the Archives, Kvothe realises that the way to find the Chandrian will be longer than anticipated.
The rest of the book focuses on Kvothe’s path from E’lir to Re’lar at the University, his challenges and successes, and Denna, the love of his life.
There is a lot of foreshadowing in this book. Before Kvothe starts his story, he gives a summary of some of the things he is known for, which makes sense considering that in this world, Kvothe’s name is legendary. Rothfuss also uses a lot of fairytale traits. Numbers like 3 and 7 are given significance. Myths and song verses come to have a deeper meaning within the context of the story.
In the middle of Kvothe’s telling, things are still happening at the Wayside Inn, reminding us that we are being told a story, while life goes on in the present time. This comes to a climax towards the end of the book when the regular customers come for their evening drinks and a stranger walks in.
The Name of the Wind is beautifully written and vividly told. Although Kvothe at times is an arrogant, impatient idiot, I come to care for him and in a sense understand him. The hunger to learn more about him is definitely there, so I’m gonna have to read The Wise Man’s Fear soon.

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