Saturday 29 December 2018

Book Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Browsing one lunch break from work at my local bookshop, I decided to ask one of the staff there for a recommendation. He pointed out a few books he liked but there was one he positively raved about.  He mentioned that The Name of the Wind was the best book he had ever read, he had read it eight time and had bought it in languages he couldn’t even read.  I internally laughed at his serious fan-girling over the book and decided to buy it.  A week or two later, my office book club met and discussed picking another book, I mentioned that The Name of the Wind had been recommended to me and we went with that (which was good because it saved me buying another book).

So you can imagine I had high hopes for this book.  The Name of the Wind is the first in a trilogy called the Kingkiller Chronicles. The story covers the first part of the life of Kvothe: bard, great warrior and magician, told by himself.  The story has a number of strands. The first of these is about Kvothe’s early life travelling with his family as part of a nomadic troupe.  We see his precociousness and introduction to magic and the tragedy that meets his family.  A second strand is about his will to survive in the world in harsh circumstances, another is about his introduction to the University where magic is taught and yet another about his quest to find out what happened to his family. A final element that runs through the book is how people feel unsafe and anxious in the present as stories of war and dangerous roads filter through to the little inn that Kvothe has retired to.

This book made me think of a cross between Harry Potter and the Poison Study series.  Kvothe is great fun as a protagonist – intelligent, kid, flawed, angry, mischievous and always finding himself in some trouble despite his best efforts to avoid it.  The story is mostly light-hearted, but often touches on more serious issues: The prejudice that Kvothe’s family and clan face as travelers, the trauma of losing his family, the extreme poverty and violence he faces once alone, the way poverty and desperation follow him to the university, even the vulnerability of women in a male world.

I am always interested in the way fantasy writers construct their worlds – from the maps at the front of the book, to the cities, clans and customs that make up a world.  Some writers get it right (Tolkien) and others leave you feeling not quite convinced. In this case, the across the span of the book I started to get a sense of he physical place and nations or groups that inhabit Kvothe’s world, but with gaps, for instance some elements of this world feel medieval and others more modern.  The puzzle didn’t fully fit together seamlessly, perhaps the next two books will rectify this. 

There has been some criticism about the female characters in the book lacking depth and realism.  I found female characters apart from Kvothe’s mother pretty much non-existent until he gets to the university. Once there, the other female students are bright and capable, mainly positive characters, although I agree they do lack depth a bit.  Oh, and they all seem to fancy the scrawny, teenage Kvothe quite a bit – I suppose that’s the authors prerogative though, to make the protagonist desirable.

I had so much fun reading this book, Kvothe is great fun and very down to earth, his story is fascinating, fast-paced and humorous. I liked how the narrative sets his admission that he sometimes exaggerated his greatness, started rumours about himself and his skill as a bard against the epic tale he tells, so that you often wonder how accurate some of the story is.

An enjoyable, interesting and absorbing read, I went to buy the second book after reading this and also a little side story to keep me occupied until the last in the trilogy is published.

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