Book Review: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind is the first in a planned trilogy of high fantasy novels by Patrick Rothfuss that follow the adventures of the improbably named Kvothe. At the beginning of the novel Kvothe is a young boy traveling with his minstrel parents and their trope. Ha ha, sorry, I meant “troop.” Bit of a Freudian slip there. Regardless, Kvothe soon finds himself homeless and scrounging to survive on the streets of a large city. The lad is gifted, though, so he weasels his way into University where he sets about learning magic. Only Rothfuss thinks he can trick us by calling it “sympathy” and talking about it like it’s a science, but we’re not fooled –it’s magic. Anyway, the bulk of the book follows Kvothe through his rapid but trecherous rise within the school’s student ranks. Also, there’s a girl.

I liked The Name of the Wind pretty well as pure entertainment and an example of the genre. It’s a little offsetting that Kvothe is a bit of a Mary Sue character, in that he’s super smart and mature beyond his years from the offset. He learns an entire language in a matter of hours, for example, and more than once he easily grasps advanced academic subjects for the sake of moving the plot along and letting Rothfuss engage in some quick world building. But in the end Kvothe is flawed enough to avoid falling into this trope entirely and he faces his share of genuine adversity. Most of the conflict in the book comes not from swordplay or spell slinging, but from the young student’s struggles against his poverty. He’s constantly living on the edge of destitution and scrambling to not only make ends meet, but save up enough to pay for next term’s University tuition. He works multiple jobs, borrows funds from a convivial but nonetheless dangerous moneylender, launches a career as an entertainer, and scrounges wherever he can. Kvothe is also a bit of a prig and despite his best intentions to make friends and influence people, he can’t help making enemies of a few people in positions to make his life difficult. This was a novel source of conflict for a high fantasy book. You’re used to seeing the youths in these books fight bandits and slay monsters, not pinch pennies and eat out of garbage cans. So if nothing else, it’s unlike other stuff in the genre and it’s very readable even if we do catch ourselves rolling our eyes at Kvothe’s improbable aptitudes.

And while we’re on the subject, don’t let anyone tell you that this book is “like Harry Potter, but for adults.” It’s nothing like Harry Potter except that they both feature young boys learning magic at a school. Past that, there’s nothing alike, neither in character, larger setting, or tone. The Name of the Wind isn’t exactly dark, but it’s not the imaginative, fanciful romp that the Harry Potter books are at their best. I also get the feeling that Kvothe isn’t going to stay at the University once subsequent books are released. And while we’re on the subject, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like the prospect of waiting years before a series is complete and available for reading, you may want to hold off on this one; as I mentioned, it’s only the first of a trilogy, and we all know that those have a habit of blooming into quartets, and then five or six book series, and then so on until the author finally dies. Yes, I’m looking at you, Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin.

Still, Rothfuss is a snappy enough writer and an imaginitive world builder that I was able to look past Kvothe’s “I’m an orphan but I’m totally noble in spirit and can do anything really super effectively” pastiche. As a character he’s kind of “meh” but I’m hoping that Rothfuss moves past that in subsequent volumes. At any rate, I’m along for the ride if he can get them to me before the close of the next decade.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Name of the Wind

  1. I am not reading this post. Branden told his parents to get this book for my birthday because it was reviewed well by the Penny Arcade guys. They did. Then he stole it, which was fine by me (I’m a horrible parent when I read a good book, so I procrastinate getting into books I expect to be enticing). B doesn’t usually go for the Fantasy genre, so I thought it was real cute that he got drawn in. B read your post though, and he grunted his agreement.

  2. Finally read this book. First of all I’m giving you an internet nod of impressed respect (with added golf clap for style) for your deft summary, scratch marks and all! I can totally see all your points, even if I wasn’t thinking them while I was reading. Kvothe’s ability to grasp entire scienti-magical concepts in a single bound and its side effect of moving things along, please… of course. Builds his mystique and saves the reader from getting bored with the minutiae.
    Now as to him being a Mary Jane… I’ll admit, I haven’t heard the descriptor before this post. Is there more to it besides what you say here? Something with a hint of the pejorative? Does it have something to do with the fact that I had to stop reading at points during the description of his torn psyche during the urchin days and de-leak my eyes? Or, is that an incidental personal embarrassment that I didn’t need to mention?
    If we’re just talking about the improbably Mozart-esque ingeniousness and that’s the basis of a “Mary Jane”… Yeah that’s there. I’m drawn in, though. I’m curious as to where his personal break has come from and if it will be mended, as one may both expect and fear from the typical way this genre may proceed. And then there’s all the little details. So many clues, so many open ends that could turn into twists, or maybe not?
    End result, I liked the book and liked it enough that when the second comes out I won’t be waiting to read it. I MIGHT give Branden the courtesy of finishing first. Kvothe as a character didn’t disappoint me… I’m curious about him still. I’ll admit part of me is still withholding judgment until i read more.
    And don’t you dare look that way at George R. R. Martin. The man’s not dead yet and I’ll be quite cross if that changes. I’d rather not tempt fate.

  3. Whoops, I actually meant Mary Sue, not Mary Jane:
    The wikipedia article puts it pretty well:

    A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader. Perhaps the single underlying feature of all characters described as “Mary Sues” is that they are too ostentatious for the audience’s taste, or that the author seems to favor the character too highly. The author may seem to push how exceptional and wonderful the “Mary Sue” character is on his or her audience, sometimes leading the audience to dislike or even resent the character fairly quickly; such a character could be described as an “author’s pet”.

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