The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle #1) by Patrick Rothfuss

Told in Kvothe’s own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen. The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature. A high-action story written with a poet’s hand, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that will transport readers into the body and mind of a wizard.

Rating: 5/5

If you had asked me a week or so ago who I wished I could write like, I would have said Steven Moffat or Kim Harrison, or any myriad of other related writers. I probably wouldn’t have had a definitive reason (although I could make a strong case for Moffat).

Patrick Rothfuss is a genius.

The dust-jacket description of this book really doesn’t do it justice, but I understand why it is so sparse. Much more would have risked detracting from any particular reader’s experience—and this is truly a book for creating unique and memorable experiences. I am 100% confident that this a book everyone will walk away from with a different takeaway, which I personally think is a wonderful thing in a book. It means I will look forward to reading it again, and I’m confident that at some point I will. Probably prior to the release of book #3.

This book was just plain good. It was well written, the characters all shone, and it was an interesting and unique concept. The world worked, and I have no holes to poke at. There were some obvious themes and some more subtle themes—something I don’t normally care overmuch about but something that I truly appreciate when it’s there.

I loved this book so much, in fact, that it’s going to be difficult to write this post without getting into spoilers. To aid in that, you’re going to at least let me level-set you with some background not provided in the dust jacket description. If you’ve read the book, you won’t get the specific examples that I have sticky-marked (yes, I was so into this book that I put sticky notes on pages with something particularly exceptional—what’s so strange about that?). But if you haven’t read this book (and you absolutely 100% should—I mean this as emphatically as I meant it with The Fault in Our Stars), you will have just enough information to be able to guess at where I’m coming from.

This book is written as a story within a story. A famous author, The “Chronicler,” is taking down the history of Kvothe’s life over the course of three days. This book is “Day 1” of the story-telling, and Kvothe (“pronounced nearly the same as ‘Quothe'”) takes us through the early stages of his life in some 600+ pages. We learn about some of his younger decisions that have influenced his motivations in later situations, hereto unknown. Interjected in this story-telling is the present-day, and we get glimpses of what has happened post- the story we’re hearing now. And, as we learn towards the very beginning and ends of the book, the present isn’t exactly dull either.

I’m going to start my assessment with this: It is extremely difficult to write a good book with a story-teller format. I’ve tried several times, because I do find something extremely elegant in the format. It is incredibly difficult to juggle the present with the past, to be able to make you feel informed in the present-day without giving too much information about what we haven’t learned yet. Rothfuss has a spectacular knack for this format, and he is a master tease—he gives little bits of information and lets you stew over them before finally resolving (or not) the tension. So good, in fact, that this deserves a whole paragraph when we get there. Suffice to say for now that I am simply impressed in the elegance with which this story has been presented, and I am envious of the skill it took to do so. I may make another attempt at this format in the very near future.

Now, if you’re a regular reader here, you know I spend an awful lot of time talking about characters and emotions. There is a part of me that doesn’t want to spend much time talking about characters here because they weren’t the major selling point of the book. That’s not to say that they weren’t great—everything that I’ve said about books with good characters in the past 100% applies here. I loved Kvothe, and I loved all of the supporting characters. What I mean, rather, is that this book stands on its own for so many other reasons it would be an insult to focus only on the characters. So we’ll get my rave about Kvothe out of the way early on.

I loved him. He has such a singular personality, and while I’m not sure that we would be best friends if I ever were to meet him (we probably would, but I’m afraid he would make me feel stupid, which is not something I’m used to), he sang off of the page, quite literally.

I saw some reviews prior to writing this that expressed how much of an ass he was and how they couldn’t understand how anyone could like him. To that, I have one thing to say: the fact that you thought he was an ass means that he was written well. This is an example of what I meant when I said that I think every individual will have a starkly different experience with this book. Kvothe had so much depth that every person who reads about him will almost certainly have a different reaction, connect with him on a different level. I cannot express enough how three-dimensional he is. The supporting characters aren’t too shabby either, and every single character, even those who only have minor roles, reveals a different truth about the world if you’re open to seeing it.

He also has a certain wit about him that just pulled me in and wouldn’t let go. He is an ass, but he’s a funny ass. He’s brilliant, and sometimes brilliant people are just a little bit difficult to relate to. When Chronicler is trying to convince Kvothe to let him record his story (I promise this is not a spoiler—nothing on page 50 can possibly qualify as that), Chronicler argues that he has a “nearly perfect” memory and that nothing Kvothe says would be mis-represented when the story is finally recorded. Kvothe says that nearly perfect isn’t good enough, and when Chronicler says he can write fast enough to keep up with anything he says, Kvothe tests him by spouting random words quite rapidly. Among them are expressions including “I, Chronicler do hereby avow that I can neither read nor write,” words in foreign languages, and even made up words. When all is said and done, Chronicler can do nothing but ask “What does eggoliant mean?” Truthfully, I’d been wondering that myself. Kvothe’s response? “Hmmm? Oh, nothing. I made it up. I wanted to see if an unfamiliar word would slow you down.” He then demands to be taught the entirety of the shorthand Chronicler used to record so quickly, and in a matter of fifteen minutes he can write it fluently himself. This is a tame example—most of the particularly funny ones require too much background to share in a single post, or would get into the realm of true spoilers.

I was just beginning to get invested when I reached the end of Chapter 10—that’s when the real world finally slipped away for me. Kvothe started taking lessons from an arcanist, and most of the lessons involved strengthening the power of his mind to hold multiple beliefs at once. One exercise he did was called “Seek the Stone,” where one side of your mind hides a stone in an imaginary room, and then the other side tries to find it. Kvothe shares with us that one time he looked for the stone for almost an hour before he asked the other side of his mind where it was, only to find out that he hadn’t hidden it at all and had just been waiting to see how long it would take for him to give up. He follows this up with the comment: “It’s no wonder that many arcanists you meet are a little eccentric, if not downright cracked.” I swear, and you may think me strange for this, I laughed for a solid ten minutes before finally turning back to the book and continuing on. This page, by the way, is when I decided I wanted to put sticky notes on my favorite parts.

I’m spending so much time on this topic for a reason. The wit in this book, and more importantly in the characters, is incredibly important. This book has a lot of darkness in it. It is not for the weak of heart. Kvothe had a rough childhood, and his turmoil will become your own if you invest the time in these pages. The wit and sarcasm alike serve as a much needed comedic relief. It was not unheard of for me to range from crying to laughing to both within a single page. I honestly don’t think I could have made it through Chapters Eighteen through Thirty if I didn’t have enough positive emotion to keep me going. As it was, I’m glad I got through all of that in one sitting or I might have been hesitant to even pick this book back up.

That said, I think it’s time to talk about emotional investment. I’ve tip-toed around this subject in the past, partially because I haven’t been able to pinpoint anything in particular about the writing that elicits such emotion from a reader. I think in this book I was, at least a little bit. I mentioned earlier that Rothfuss is a giant, ingenious tease. He toys with our emotions throughout this entire book. There were moments where (in hindsight) I felt like I was a contestant on one of those shows where you get voted off, and where the judges make it seem like you’re the one who’s going to lose this week, and then they tell you you’re safe. Of course, I didn’t think that at the time—at the time all I could think about was my utter relief that the bad thing didn’t always happen (oh, how I wish I could give a spoiler right now).

Part of the reason Rothfuss is able to play with us thusly is his skill with suspense and tension. Personally, I think it’s very difficult to build suspense when there isn’t something inherently suspenseful going on. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the times when I felt most strongly about it, there truly was something inherently suspenseful about the story. But there were other times where that wasn’t necessarily the case, and I was just as on-edge. He does this through word choice and timing. You remember one of your high school English classes, where they have a discussion about word choice and how you can change the mood of your story by choosing certain words? I have never seen such a good representation of that as I have in this book (with the exception, perhaps, of Poe). But more importantly, Rothfuss just doesn’t let you get settled and comfortable. Every time the narrative begins to get comforting, he says something that warns you that the comfort is going to break. Again, no examples because of, well, spoilers.

And part of the reason that this works so well is because of the format of the story. Kvothe is telling us about his own life, not Rothfuss telling us about some random person. This is a real person we are getting invested in, and it’s his autobiography. And even more importantly, we have enough hints about the present/future to leave us wondering how we get there. In some ways, it makes it all the more believable, even though we have some interjection conversation that casts doubt on the events.

That said, one of the things that I love so much about this book is its strong roots in story-telling. When I studied abroad in Denmark a couple of years ago, I took a class on European Storytelling (which was not nearly as much of a blow-off class as it sounds). In it, we studied some of the traditions of story-telling: numbers, themes, imagery, etc. There are these cues in spoken stories that have to be there to trigger our memories of what happened earlier, or to warn us that something is important and we should pay attention now.

Rothfuss/Kvothe got all of this right on the nail. From the significance of numbers (seven is a big one in this book) to the spectacular imagery (I’m pretty certain I could actually hear the music whenever Kvothe was playing his lute). Parallels were drawn between stories told to Kvothe when he was very young and what was going on in his narrative flawlessly. The numbers and lines from stories he had told countless times became significant in his love life (including the old wive’s tale about there being seven words that can make a woman love you).

Most importantly, there wasn’t a single wasted word. Hard to believe in a book of this size, I know, but every single detail mattered. Even ones that seemed like they could be written off as little more than mere world-building turned out to be highly significant. This book expected a lot of its readers, and it gave a lot in return. That said, I could go on for hours, but I don’t think I should.

Please go and read this book for yourself if you haven’t already. It is my new favorite ever. As you might have guessed, Patrick Rothfuss is my new role model when it comes to writing. And now I’m left with two questions:

  1. When do I get to actually read book 2 when I have two books that I have to read by the end of the month?
  2. Why in the world did it take me so long to get around to reading this book? Seriously, Dad told me I should read it four or five years ago …

Posted on July 20, 2013, in High Fantasy and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. reading7mandy

    This book is so AMAZING! I’m glad you liked it, I’m reading The Wise Man’s Fears super slowly since Book 3 only has an expected release date of 2014, but I wish I could fly through it like I did The Name of the Wind. If Rothfuss doesn’t release book 3 next year, I’ll die. it’s probably a good thing you can’t read 2 yet, the longer you put off reading it, the less wait you’ll have till book 3 (hopefully).

    • Oh my god, thank you for telling me to read it. BEST DECISION EVER! I’m probably not going to manage to wait too long to read The Wise Man’s Fear… I’ve been resisting the urge to pick it up right now. I’ll probably read it in early August, and then re-read them both before the third book if it takes too long to come out. I don’t think I can wait much long to read “Day 2.” As it is, thinking about this book is making math homework very difficult! I want to know what happens so badly — I mean, between all the teasers we have from Chronicler, and then all of the little tidbits yet to be resolved from the actual story … Ugh! How is The Wise Man’s Fear going so far? Wait, don’t tell me or I won’t be willing to read my book club books …

      • reading7mandy

        Hahahah, The Wise Man’s Fear is good, but it’s not The Name of the Wind, still, I’m enjoying it almost as much. I’m about halfway through it and it’s finally starting to pick up. They took a turn I wasn’t expecting and I’m anxious to see where it goes, but I’m trying to read it very slowly to prolong it and not miss anything by reading too fast.

      • Gosh darn turns and twists and things unexpected. 😛 I definitely lost sleep during The Name of the Wind. Which is even more reason for me to take a break between Day 1 and Day 2. I’m not sure I can handle another week with as little sleep as I got last week. And, more importantly, I don’t think that my work can handle it. By Friday I was doing little more than staring at the computer all day. Everyone at work also thinks I’m crazy for abusing my body so much over little more than a book, but they just don’t understand! I mean … It’s like, the best book ever… (I will eventually settle down about this) Have you read the Georgina Kincaid series by Richelle Mead? This reminds me of how she only reads 5 pages a day so that there won’t be a huge gap between finishing the book and the release of the next one. I don’t think I could bear to read that slow …

      • reading7mandy

        I’ve never read anything by Richelle Mead. I’ll look into them. I’ve been doing about 3-4 chapters a day since some of Rothfuss’s chapters are no more than a page or 2. I actually haven’t been doing a lot of reading at all lately. My brain is just kind of blocked lately focusing on everything else going on in my life. I’m hoping it’ll get over it soon as I miss getting lost in a book.

      • I’m so-so on her writing in general, but I’ve really been enjoying the Georgina Kincaid books. I think they’re a little more “adult” than her other books that I haven’t liked as much. I enjoy a lot of YA, but I’m a lot more picky with it, I think. One of the books I’m reading for book club that is getting in the way of The Wise Man’s Fear is her newest book, Gameboard of the Gods. I’m a whole 25 pages into it … I empathize on the reading block—that was pretty much all of college for me. This year I made it my goal (and I guess you could call it a New Year’s Resolution) to get back into reading the way I always enjoyed it. In theory, that applied to writing too, but that hasn’t done so well as the reading.

      • reading7mandy

        Ya I’m a big YA reader as well, but in picky about it too. I was in a car accident 4 months ago and haven’t been able to work or anything so I’ve done pretty much nothing but read, write, watch tv and sleep. I think I’ve just read so many books lately my brain just needs a break. My own writing was going well for awhile but even it’s blocked right now. So I’m giving it a rest and hoping it comes back soon.

      • Sorry to hear about the accident—hopefully things are improving? I hate swings like that, where I’m too restless to do anything at all. I had a bad slump when I was seriously injured figure skating in middle school and I wasn’t able to do anything but sit on the couch. I mean, for almost a month there I couldn’t even get to the bathroom without help (yeah, middle school sucked). At first reading/writing was fine, but after a while everything was just… meh. I got really into arts and crafts for a while, though. And I watched a LOT of HBO … Now I find that cooking helps when I’m in one of those moods, but truth be told, after college it took starting to go to a book club to get back into it again, and it was slow-going for quite some time. That’s part of why I started this blog too 🙂

      • reading7mandy

        Ya lots of Netflix lol. I majored in English so even in college all I did was read, I just go through spurts of restlessness. I’m a failure in the kitchen unless it can be cooked in a crock pot. Depending on the weather I can usually cure it by being lazy outside by the pool or picking up a video game (I get so frustrated I go back to reading haha).

      • Yeah, business and math didn’t lend themselves too well to a lot of reading. Neither did the student orgs and part time jobs that filled the rest of my time. Video games normally send me back to reading pretty quickly though—I’m so bad at them! Although, for whatever reason, the Pokemon gameboy games can keep me occupied for hours, especially if I’m sick …

      • reading7mandy

        Good ole Pokemon, it can keep me entertained for hours as well. I’m pretty bad at video games as well but every now and then I find one with an intriguing plot line and like a book I have to know how it ends.

  2. I gave this book to my brother and he LOVED it! I think I’m going to have to steal it next and give it a read!(:

    • You absolutely should! I still keep thinking about it, even this far out from reading it. I mean, I’ve finished two books since then and just this afternoon a conversation I was having with someone turned into me raving The Name of the Wind. Out of the blue. It is well worth the time and effort. 🙂 You’ll have to let me know what you think once you’ve finished!

      • Wow, that is fantastic to hear! That definitely makes me even more excited to read it!(: Unfortunately it might take me till next summer to get to it, but it is now firmly on my to-read list! And I will absolutely let you know what I think of it(:

      • Haha, I can’t say anything about having to wait until potentially next summer – this was on my to-read shelf for something like five years. I will say that you should prioritize when you get the time, but only when you actually have the time. 🙂

      • Haha I know I should…sometimes I get book ADD where I’ll put a book on my To-Read list and then all of a sudden 6 random ones that weren’t on the list in the first place will jump ahead of it…If I had time during the school year I think I would get to it sooner!(: But I’ll definitely have to commit to reading it now sometime in the “near” future(:

      • Book ADD – I love it! That must be a terribly common illness, because I definitely have a bad case of it myself 😉 Bookstores are really good at exacerbating the symptoms, because you can never walk out of one with only what you went for…

      • Hahaha I agree! I don’t think I have ever walked out of the bookstore with just the one I went for. Find me anyone who can and I will officially be amazed(:

      • My parents totally can — it astounds me. My Dad can because he has phenomenal willpower about such things. And Mom can because she a) has kids presenting enough tempting buys that she doesn’t need to get anything for herself, and b) spends most of her book-time on the kindle freebies so she doesn’t buy much more than just what she wants on bookstore runs.

      • I’m so impressed…I have the absolute hardest time turning down any kind of book that sparks my interest! It’s always nice when you can steal a great book from someone in your family though…that definitely makes bookstore runs slightly less costly(:

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