Sunday, 13 March 2011

15. "The Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss

Publisher: Gollancz
Page count: 662 pages
Date begun: February 21st, 2011
Date finished: March 3rd, 2011

The Name of the Wind is an epic fantasy, the first part of a trilogy. Yet it's also mainly the story of one man. It begins with a framing device, where a quiet redheaded man named Kote works as an innkeeper in a little country town, but it quickly becomes obvious that there's more to the man than it first appears. He knows about a lot of things, and is not surprised when nasty spider-like demon creatures are seen not far from town. While out killing these beasties, Kote rescues a traveller, who coincidentally came to the town looking for him. Well, for a legendary man called Kvothe. The traveller is a man called the Chronicler, he prides himself on finding the truth behind legends. He wants Kvothe's whole story, with no exaggerations or embellishments. Kote/Kvothe will only do this if the Chronicler stays for three whole days (longer than he normally needs for a life's story). The Name of the Wind is the first day of the story.

Kvothe's life story is told in first person, and goes all the way back to his childhood, when he was part of a travelling troupe of actors and performers, the Edema Ruh. The Ruh are clearly a gypsy-like people,  and the most skilled performers in the land. His father is the leader of the troupe, his mother is a noblewoman's daughter who left her home to travel with them. Kvothe is clearly a child prodigy, he picks up lute playing nearly instantly, he can memorize whole plays fairly quickly, he learns science and sympathy (a type of physics-inspired magic) from an arcanist (University-educated magic user) who travels with him. What he wants to learn most of all, though, is how to call the name of the wind so the wind does his bidding. Abenthy, the arcanist, explains that he would need to go to the University for this, and that it's not an easy feat. Learning something's true name is not for everyone.

Kvothe's idyllic childhood is shattered once his family and the entire troupe are brutally slaughtered by a  group of demons, known collectively as the Chandrian. Always believed to be merely creatures of legend and fairy tale, the Chandrian turns out to be very much real, and not at all happy that Kvothe's father researched and wrote a song about them, which he performed a little part of only a week earlier. Anyone who heard the song has to die, and Kvothe is extremely lucky that something calls them away before he too is killed. Orphaned and traumatised, Kvothe becomes a lonely street urchin in a nearby city. He stays there until he's fifteen, when an event reawakens his memories of the events that killed his parents. He decides to go to the University, to acquire the knowledge he needs to find the Chandrian again and avenge his family.

At fifteen, Kvothe is really too young to attend, but he is clever and resourceful and not only aces his entrance exam, so to speak, but invents financial aid while doing so. At the University he makes a number of friends, but also powerful enemies, he learns sympathy and artificing (a type of magical engineering) and he falls in love. Even though it is clearly a dangerous and nearly impossible task, he is driven to find the truth about the beings that killed his family.

Kvothe's life story is intercut with interludes at the Waystone Inn, where an older Kvothe is now posing as a harmless and kindly innkeeper. As well as the recent spider demon attack, it's clear that there are all sorts of dangers waiting in the wings, there is a war on, and it's implied that Kvothe may be the reason for the conflict. Kvothe is believed to be dead, and feels it's probably better that way. His young assistant/apprentice, a fairy creature named Bast, clearly disagrees, and will do pretty much anything to get his beloved master out of his funk. The main narrative shows the young, extremely arrogant and brilliant Kvothe, the framing device the older, weary, experienced Kvothe "a man who is waiting to die".

I love this book, and I the way Rothfuss uses his language. When I first read the book, I was upset when I got to the end, because there was no more. I find myself wanting to read passages out loud, because the language is so lyrical and beautiful. In an internet discussion on the book, I saw Kvothe described as possibly the only character who could be described as Too Smart To Live, he's so clever that he frequently trips himself up. A brilliant and clever character like Kvothe could be extremely annoying to read about, but while he picks up things like lute playing and foreign languages very quickly indeed, he's also a teenager, and a hothead, and frequently rushes into things before thinking, as a result making things much harder for himself. If you don't like the character of Kvothe, you're not going to like this book. If you're looking for epic fantasy with a cast of hundreds, and complicated political machinations or a battle between good an evil, this is not your book. But if you want an entertaining read, and a good story and the exploration of how one man can become a myth, then you may want to check this out.

If you listen to internet hype, Patrick Rothfuss is the next George R.R. Martin, or Robert Jordan (he's way better!) or even Tolkien. I'm frankly hoping that he gets his writing done a bit faster than Martin. The second book in the trilogy is on its way to me in the post now, and I reread this in anticipation (and because there was no way I could remember all the things that happened). My next review will be on The Wise Man's Fear. 

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