Bookman has been after me for quite some time — a few years — to read The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. It’s the best fantasy I’ve read since Lord of the Rings, he says. I’m pretty sure that was a bit of hyperbole to get me to read the book because now that I have read it I’ll say it’s really good but not the best thing since Lord of the Rings good.
Part of my reluctance to read the book was that it’s one of those multi-book epic fantasy sagas and while those are enjoyable from time to time, I much prefer stand-alones. But now I find myself working through all the Game of Thrones books (only have one more before I’m caught up and waiting for the next one with the rest of the world) and now I’m committed to the Kingkiller Chronicle of which Name of the Wind is the first. The second in the series was published in 2011 and a short side story book was published in 2014. It’s a good thing the second book is even fatter than the first one, I will have plenty of time before I find myself caught up and waiting for the next book.
So what’s Name of the Wind about anyway? It’s about a big red-headed man named Kvothe (pronounced like “quothe”). He’s an innkeeper in a backwater farming town. Except he’s not really an innkeeper. He’s in disguise. He’s actually a hero who has songs and stories written about him. We aren’t quite sure why he’s masquerading as an innkeeper but he’s been at it for a little over a year. Except things are starting to happen, rumors filtering in and strange, huge spider-like creatures attacking people on the roads.
One day Chronicler arrives at the inn. Chronicler is a very famous historian-type person come to find Kvothe and get the true story behind all the songs and legends. Kvothe reluctantly agrees, and so begins his tale of when he was a boy in a troupe of traveling players. His father was head of the troupe and they sang and performed plays and did all sorts of things that traveling troupes do. Kvothe is an extremely bright boy and picks things up faster and more easily than anyone else. One day an arcanist joins the troupe. An arcanist is someone who has trained at the university, knows magic and other things. Ben had healing skills and could also do some great things with lighting which made him a welcome addition to the troupe. He began teaching Kvothe math and chemistry and history and eventually, magic. By the time Ben met a woman and decided to marry her and leave the troupe, Kvothe was more skilled than a good many students who had been studying several years at the university.
Kvothe’s idyllic childhood comes crashing to an end when he returns to the caravan one evening, after having been sent out by his mother to gather some herbs and told to take his time, to find everyone in the troupe killed and all the wagons burned. The men that did the nasty work were still there, sitting by his parents’ campfire and saw Kvothe. He would have been a goner too but was saved by the approach of some mysterious something or other approaching in the dark night sky.
Orphaned and alone, Kvothe eventually ends up living on the streets in a mean city for several years before he finally manages to come into enough money to allow him to travel to the University and attempt to become admitted. Of course he is even though he is only fifteen at this point. And of course he is still poor and he makes friends and enemies and has adventures and gets into trouble. He is still at university when the book ends, but it ends in a good place, one that leaves you feeling satisfied but also wanting more.
Now, if you decide to read this book you should know that this is one of those stories where the first hundred pages are slow going and sometimes downright boring. It’s a slow build. But by the end it fairly barrels along at near breakneck speed. The writing is at times a bit uneven, especially in the first half of the book. Once the momentum gets going the writing improves too and everything eventually clicks together for a great fun read that I had a hard time putting down. I’ll be taking a little break before I venture into the next book, probably during the summer months. I do, after all, have that Games of Thrones book to read.