Yeah, it took me a hot minute to get to this one. My bad, y’all. This one’s on me. I mean, I have been putting in work on the Summer of Anime, so there’s that. Also kinda might be working on a short story. So, you know, I’m still doing things. But yeah, I’m gonna try to show this reading challenge (that was supposed to end last year, but I don’t want to quit something else) who’s boss and knock out as much as possible this year. Anyhoo, I polled my peeps on Facebook to see what I should read for this entry. Didn’t get quite as many suggestions as I wanted, but it was still a decent turnout considering the low traffic my social media sites get. Well, three people suggested Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, so I decided that’d be the next one. Didn’t know it was over 700 pages when I made that decision, but hey, fortune favors the bold.
Not much happens in the backwater town of Newarre. Thanks to the war, no travelers ever show up, and merchants bring with them outlandish prices. One day, though, the Chronicler shows up and finds himself at the Waystone Inn. As his name suggests, the Chronicler’s occupation is to travel around and document fantastic stories. Why does this bring him to the Waystone Inn in Newarre? Because the owner is an unassuming man named Kote. At least, that’s what he wants the world to believe. He’s really Kvothe–a legendary figure shrouded in myth and mystery thought to be dead. Since Chronicler’s found him, though, he agrees to tell the newcomer his story over three days, so the world may know what happened to the Kingkiller. It’s a tragic one that will obviously end with our protagonist a broken man, but even now dark forces seem drawn to the innkeeper. He might not be quite as retired as he wants to be.
The Kingkiller Chronicle seems to be Rothfuss’s way of really deconstructing the ace hero of fantasy literature. You know the one. He’s either handsome, from a powerful lineage, possesses latent powers, is great at everything he tries, or some combination of those. Kvothe is all of these. Well, the lineage is a bit in question, but there are hints that it’s there. As we see, though, Kvothe is a broken man. His student, Bast, tries constantly to get him to remember who he was and be the man he used to be, but he’s Kote now. He’s just an innkeeper. So, even though he was blessed with all those gifts, we are getting three massive books on how that would really affect someone in the long run. This book is definitely a good set-up for it. As a youngling, Kvothe is far more clever than those around him. He knows it, too, which leads to impatience and very bad decisions.
Two other important themes of this book are names and stories. Kvothe himself has many names, and all of them mean something. He even chose “Kote” for a specific reason. His main love interest, Denna, goes by three or four different names, at least. The book’s name is about a name! Names give power in this world. Not just real power over the wind and fire and whatnot, but it also shows the mundane in how knowing someone’s name can give you power over their attention when you call for them. It’s odd, but interesting.
The stories part is a biggie, too. I mean, the framing device is a man raised in a traveling troupe telling his story to someone since there are so many stories about him. Within Kvothe’s story, he tells other stories he was told growing up. Even though they go on a bit too long, they set up important elements for this and–I assume–later novels. It’s something a master storyteller like Kvothe would do, and I like how Rothfuss plays with that a bit. Like I said, though, those parts can go for a smidgen too much.
The world-building in this book is top notch. I found myself dying to see Kvothe travel to more places so I could see more of the world. That doesn’t really happen until the second book (from what I hear), though. The mythology is rich and interesting, too. The Chandrian, the Amyr, Taborlin the Great, Tehlu, and so many others are given great care and build-up. I know I said the stories within the story got a little out of hand sometimes, but they did set the stage for so many legends, and I can’t wait to find out more about them.
Don’t know how I feel about magic in this world, though. It’s called “sympathy,” and it’s approached very scientifically…sorta. I dunno. The description of how sympathy works is cool and all, but I guess I’m part of that camp that says, “It’s magic. I don’t have to explain it.” Don’t get me wrong, I like there being rules for magic and whatnot, and there is actually some legit magic in the world with naming, but something about sympathy doesn’t sit right with me.
The characters are great, too. Special shout-out has to go to Kvothe’s best buddies at the University–Simmon and Wilem. They are true, blue bros. It’s good times whenever they show up. The various Masters at the University are a fascinating cast, as well. They’re the nine heads of the school and the various departments, so they’re bound to be a bit odd and/or haughty. Elodin takes the cake, though. He’s the Master Namer, and Kvothe seeks to be his pupil since naming is something he’s wanted to do since he was a wee little lad (he’s 15 here, so I guess he was still a wee little lad in my eyes). Elodin is a straight-up wack-a-doodle, and their encounters are almost always amusing. Ambrose is set-up to be a wonderfully detestable villain, so I certainly hope to see him get his comeuppance at some point. There are so many other wonderful characters, too, like Option B love interest Fela, the money lender Devi, bar-owner Deoch, and the underground-dwelling Auri.
I’m a little conflicted on Denna, though. She’s a great love interest since she doesn’t fill just one role. She drives some conflict, but she also provides a lot of respite. She fulfills as many duties in the story as she has names, but you can’t help but feel she’s a little too…I’m not sure. She’s not flawless by any means. I don’t know how to put it. Something about her just sticks in my craw, though. Granted, that has a lot to do with the man who fell head over heels for her telling the story, so I guess it’s a bit of brilliance on Rothfuss’s part.
I love this book, guys and gals. The world-building is fantastic, the cast is varied and interesting, and everything’s told in such a way that you can’t wait to see what happens next. It is a bit too long, though, and drags at some important parts (looking at you, three years in Tarbean). All in all, it’s a great fantasy book, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.
When next we meet, I’ll be writing about a Pulitzer Prize-winning book. Actually not looking forward to that since it’s way outside my wheelhouse, but eh. What will it be? Stay tuned to find out.