Book Review: The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles 1)
Updated: Jun 6, 2020
The name Patrick Rothfuss meant little to me. The Name of the Wind, even less. I mean, I knew he was a popular and accomplished author, but I had no connection to him or his works. The truth is that at first and even second glance, there was nothing that I found particularly interesting about him or his Kingkiller Chronicles. I do not say that slanderously, he simply had not piqued my interest. I mean, of course I had followed him on twitter, but that was for other far more nefarious purposes— (insert evil laughter here)—to be discussed in a future blog post.
My brother Marcus, who is an avid fantasy reader, told me that he had just discovered this amazing new author named Patrick Roth-something-or-other, and that I really needed to check him out. I told him I knew the name, but hadn't gotten around to his stuff yet, and truthfully I was in no rush. A week or two passed and my brother was telling me how he had finished Roth-somebody's second book in the series, and that I really needed to check him out. I looked at my long list of books to read and I added his name, but to the bottom of course.
A few more weeks had passed and then I stumbled upon a really cool interview between Christopher Paolini and Patrick Rothfuss. It instantly changed whatever perception I had of Patrick and his writing. I can't explain how or why. I honestly don't know what perception I even had to begin with. I just know that when I saw a little bit of his personality in the video, it resonated with me. The tiny bit he mentioned about writing interested me. I still didn't know anything about Kvothe or The Name of the Wind, but for some unexplained reason, I actually wanted to.
I shared the interview with my brother, who also happens to be a Paolini fan as well, and he responded by sending me a second interview of Mr. Rothfuss. I was only supposed to watch about a 3 minute section of the interview, because my brother thought it could pertain to my own writing. I watched the next forty or so minutes. I was sold. I didn't agree with all of Rothfuss's views on life or even writing, but I was intrigued about him and more importantly, the way that he wrote.
Now you may say, wait a minute, I thought you haven't read any of his work? That is correct, but the way he explained his craft in the videos, made the writer in me curious as heck. The truth is, I generally don't care for coming of age stories. However, when I looked at the book itself and saw the gushing endorsements from talents like Ursula Le Guin, I figured it was worth a shot. I told myself that even if I didn't like it, I would read it, as a form of continued education, and I'm glad I did.
Now I will not sugarcoat anything or blow smoke about The Name of the Wind. It is a marvelous book, but it took me quite a while to warm up to it. Despite the fact the the words flow smoothly, with a polish that matches the wooden countertop of the Waystone Inn, it took me quite a while to really get into the story. I really loved the way that Rothfuss decided to use Kvothe himself to retell his whole lifestory, but I didn't love reading about an 11 year old boy. Yes he was exceptionally bright and curious, but I wasn't that intrigued. I also didn't care for the scenes in which a young Kvothe observed his parents romantic moments. They were not lewd or overdone, but they were mentioned more than once and they felt a bit awkward so I was eager to brush past them.
I also had a tiny issue with the Kvothe's superior intellect early on. I get it, he is a child prodigy, but it just seemed that he was able to learn too much, too fast. It did not completely shatter my suspension of disbelief, but I did raise my eyebrows early on a few times. In hindsight, I do realize the necessity of it, but it seemed a bit much early on. Then out of nowhere, the book takes a tragic turn, and ultimately Kvothe ends up living in the city of Tarbean.
The story still hadn't captured my heart or imagination yet, but there was something that Rothfuss pulled off along the way that did capture my attention as a writer. He began to paint portraits, without painting anything at all. Instead of giving you every detail, he sets the stage for the readers then he lets them fill in the blanks. He is an implicit writer. It may sound strange, but he is masterful at doing it. So much so, that unless you are looking for it, you have no idea that he is even doing it. I think the first time I stumbled upon it was when Kvothe was walking through the forest while in a state of shock. The passage was simple and said something to the effect of, "... And he taught me how to walk silently by turning my feet." In reality, I have no idea what those foot steps were supposed to look like, but it didn't stop that line from creating a visual image in my mind. Some writers would have labored on for a paragraph trying to describe this ninja-like manuever, but Rothfuss nails it with a one liner, that most people probably never actually noticed. It was a gem. I cannot express in simple words how wonderfully Patrick does this.
Watch till 30:22.
To illustrate my point, let's examine music in this book. Music is an incredibly important element of The Name of the Wind. Since 99% of all statistics are made up on the spot, I am going to postulate that music is about 30% of this book. Now I am not a musician, so that would not actually be a selling point to me, but let me tell you that his ability to weave music into every element of the story is remarkable. This tale gives us songs and stories told both by and through the rising and falling notes of the music. Your very emotions will be moved by the power of music in this story, but there is something you probably don't know. Mr. Patrick Rothfuss isn't a musician. Yet he paints a portrait that will allow you to hear your own musical score just as perfectly as you can imagine it, free of disappointment. It is masterful, and most people don't even know what he is doing. Not even musicians themselves.
Watch till 34:26.
Even with all this wonderful writing happening, the story didn't realy grab ahold of me until about half way through when Kvothe was at the University. I cannot fully pinpoint why that was. Perhaps it was that we was older, perhaps it was the cast of characters he was surrounded with, perhaps it was the addition of the female characters which added a new dimension to the story and character development. I cannot say for sure, but I know it was worth hanging on. I say this not only because the story becomes quite engaging and exciting, but the character development of Kvothe is so well done. I did not always love, or even like Kvothe, but I enjoyed his journey. I liked his handsome face, his dirty clothes, his perserverence, his impatience, his fiery temper, his boyish innocence, his brilliance, and his maddening ignorance. All these traits create a very human character who is both brave and fearful. Kvothe is a boy that is somehow spiteful and hardened, yet gentle and compassionate. I hated many of the decisions that our young hero made, because many of them were less than noble, but his decisions were believable, because they were the same decisions that most people would make in his shoes. All said, Kvothe is perfectly imperfect. Love him or hate him, you can relate to him.
Rothfuss does a great job of character development beyond just our red headed hero too. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, I wont give names, but there is a certain female character in this book that drove me crazy. You saw from the very begininning that this girl was the kind you stay away from. You told yourself that Kvothe is an idiot, that he should be smart enough to she her for what she is. Yet despite putting your guard up, you too, for some inexplicable reason, become attached to this young lady. You begin to warm up to her. You feel sorry for her. She will still drive you crazy at times, but you will root for her. To that, I say, well done sir.
There are many other little things that Rothfuss does well like foreshadowing, scene transitions, and a fully developed magic system, but I will leave most of those gems for you to discover for yourself. Once I finished the book and took a couple days to reflect on it, I realized that was exactly what The Name of the Wind was, a cache of hidden gems, a trove of literary treasure. All I can say is that I am glad that I didn't give up on this book. Whether you are an avid reader or a fellow writer, I highly recommend reading The Name of the Wind.