I first heard of The Kingkiller Chronicle, by Patrick Rothfuss, when I came across this little song. It was enchanting to listen to, and my curiosity was piqued. When the opportunity arose, I bought the first novel in the series, The Name of the Wind, and just finished it a few days ago.
I have to say, it is not your typical story, fantasy or otherwise.
I mean this mostly in a good way. I enjoyed the vast majority of this book. The premise, the mythological background, the characters, the magic system(s), the style of the narration, the structure of the story, etc. was all very well done and I approve.
Throughout the story, it feels as though someone really is talking to you, telling the story, complete with ruminations and poignant observances. Mind you, most of the story is told in the first-person, the story being the autobiography of its main character, Kvothe. But it begins, and is often interrupted by, the story surrounding a certain scribe’s reception of this autobiography, and that is told in an omniscient third-person perspective. Neither narrative is boring. Sure, we know one person who survives everything, but that knowledge offers very little protection to anyone else in the story. Also, there is a good deal of emotional weight, and some humor, found in the presence of the characters who are hearing this story for the first time alongside us, the audience.
All of this lends itself to varying levels of detail which smoothly draw the reader in and keep us entertained. We are not spared from either the gravity of tragedy or the brutality of reality, yet we also experience such wonder and amazement. Kvothe has lived many different lives within his own normal lifespan, some beautiful, some horrific. He’s had very little for most of his life, yet he’s pursued a goal most would could flat-out impossible. Stories about him have become legends, many exaggerated beyond the truth, but all of them based on facts. He’s been a wandering entertainer, a street urchin, an academic, a wizard and a musician, and that’s only what we have so far, in the first book.
Which brings me to my first complaint: the end of the novel. It was less an “ending” and more of a “to be continued.” It was just the very beginning of the story, the foundation for what is to follow. While I admire that, it reminds me of what I felt when I reached the end of The Fellowship of the Ring way back in Fifth Grade, which was, “That’s where he chose to end it? Kind of a let-down.” And unlike back then, I do not have the next novel to immediately dive into.
Make a series, sure, tell an epic tale that spans however many installments you like… but when you end a novel, end the story that novel tells! It’s the same thing with pretty much any successful series, be it written or on the screen. They tell the story, with all its complications, and when the end comes… they end it! If they end on a cliffhanger, that’s one thing, but they don’t just suddenly stop in the middle and leave you hanging until you can get your hands on the next chapter.
It’s like having a feast: you are sated at the end of the meal, even if you are looking forward to desert, but not when you are interrupted in the middle of it. There’s leaving the audience hungry for more, and then there’s interrupting them while they’re eating, two very different things.
By the way, it is a very foolish person who gets between me and my food. 😉
Now knowing that it may be wiser to purchase all of the succeeding novels at the same time, I’m afraid the rest of Kingkiller Chronicle has been pushed down a few potential spots on my list. There are other novels I can buy, other series I can follow, which will leave me sated at their conclusion, so I won’t have to save up for the entire series all at once, will I?
All that said, it would bother me much less if the story wasn’t so enjoyable. I mean, who’s angry when they’re interrupted from a diet of gruel, eh? No, it’s the better foods which leave us irritated when we are torn away from them. Thus it is with The Name of the Wind.
The characters are interesting, and nigh unto every one of them is useful to the story, even in minor roles. Everyone is important, which is something Kvothe has long known, and it’s what puts him at odds with the antagonists, especially his most long-running enemy, a selfish, spiteful crown prince named Ambrose. The nature of their relationship is simple: Ambrose likes to step on people, and Kvothe hates to be stepped on, so he makes it inconvenient in ways which embarrass Ambrose. Ambrose is despicable and conniving, and he just can’t handle having anything in the universe not revolve around him, so he does his utmost to destroy Kvothe, an effort which, nine times out of ten, backfires on him, a poetic ode to his futile efforts.
The most important person in Kvothe’s life, as he tells the story, is a girl named Denna. There are many pretty girls which he gets along quite well with, but he remains hopelessly ignorant about women anyway. So, naturally, he falls for the girl who is the envy of all the other girls, who has an endless parade of suitors, and she falls for him too. And, of course, they refuse to just admit it and be anything more than dear, best friends.
Yes, I want to smack the both of them too, but I am surely guilty of missing the obvious cues an interested female has sent me, so I can very well relate to Kvothe. In fact, most people can probably relate to Kvothe and Denna, especially as Kvothe describes his anxiety after each of their first several encounters. If, “I must have messed it up and now she hates me!” does not sound familiar, then you have clearly not gone through puberty in any sort of civilized society. 🙂
There are others, of course, including his friends, his family, and his teachers. His teachers are an especially interesting group. They are the masters of the University – the University, not a University – and they possess great wisdom and knowledge… or, at least, a lot of academic facts. As with many who are involved in “higher education,” they are a mixture of wise men and fools who care far too much about their reputation. Well, ok, that might not be fair to say, as it’s only been two or three centuries since the last round of, “Burn the heretic warlocks who practice dark arts and meddle with powers best left undisturbed!” With stakes like that, perhaps I can understand why they are so careful with their public image, but, seriously, they could display a little more humility and deflate their own egos, instead of having Kvothe bruise them. But such is the common state of academia. C’est la vie.
One final thing I want to mention is how fleshed out most of the magic is. There seem to be at least two forms of it. One involves understanding and applying scientific rules, just with a dash of mysticism added in, and that is the primary magic we see for most of this novel. The other involves the Names of things, which, when uttered, gives one command over natural forces, like the wind. Thus the name of the novel. Near the beginning of his story, he sees someone call on the wind, and wants to know how it is done, in essence, he searches for its name. At the end of the novel, he finds it, and utters it. So, one thing I am looking forward to is seeing how these two magic systems relate to one another.
In short, I just really enjoyed this novel. It was gripping and vivid, realistic and fantastic, and just plain fun.
Rating: 8 stars out of 10.