Publisher: Penguin Group DAW
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss harkens back to an old way of storytelling: The oral story. This is the story of Kvothe, a figure who has managed to make himself into a legend, but like many legends, the details get twisted and exaggerated. Kvothe decides to tell this story in his own words to a traveling chronicler over the course of three days. A story like this demands three days. The Name of the Wind is the first book of the Kingkiller Chronicle, representing the first day of Kvothe telling his story in his own words. The legend begins here.
Violence: Violence in the story features large-scale massacres, child abuse of street orphans, thuggery, and a character getting whipped on a post. Violence can be descriptive at times as the author is trying to convey the weight of Kvothe’s experiences. As harsh as this sounds, it is rare and usually reserved for specific plot points.
Sexual Content: Most of the sexual content comes in the form of jokes and innuendos. There is a single, very short reference to homosexuality. There are a few moments where characters in the book are nude, but the author only gets descriptive of a character’s nudity once and she is largely covered by a bedsheet. A few instances of Kvothe getting solicitations for sex, but he rejects them.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Kvothe spends considerable time in taverns and is almost always drinking in those taverns, even as a teenager. There is a street drug in the book that many characters, though none of the central ones, have become addicted to and is a major plot point in the story.
Spiritual Content: There is an organized religion in the story that is largely painted in a negative light, particularly the religious leadership. The organized religion features a figure similar to Christ (the god of the story became a man by being born of a woman). It doesn’t perfectly match Christ, but has similarities. While nobody appears to doubt the existence of this god, characters have differing levels of adherence to religious practices. Kvothe appears to doubt this god’s “goodness” throughout the story and appears to lack any real faith.
Language/Crude Humor: Mild, but rare, profanities throughout the story. Some use of a**, god****, d***, and s***.
Other Negative Content: Bigotry and elitism are alive and well in this story. Kvothe spends much of his time on the wrong end of an elitist society.
Positive themes: Kvothe is the definition of the “overcomer.” Does he always overcome perfectly? No. Does he always overcome gracefully? Not a chance. Nonetheless, does he prove you can overcome even the worst of situations? Definitely. We also see real acts of friendship in the book. Kvothe develops strong friendships you get to see develop throughout the story that really mean something to Kvothe as he builds up his legend.
I first picked up book one of the Kingkiller Chronicle many years ago, 2013 to be exact, but for some reason never got beyond a few chapters. I can’t remember why I made only a little progress because I knew the widespread acclaim this fantasy novel had mustered up. I had several life events happening then and probably had to put it down and never really returned. Let’s fast forward seven years. While under COVID-19 quarantine, I had decided to check the book out from the library and knock it out. Was the book worth revisiting seven years later? Absolutely!
The Name of the Wind (TNotW) is unique among my catalog of books, and here is why: It is very character driven and the story is told in the words of that said character. Most books I tend to read are plot driven, which is a story focused on plot movement and characters fit within that plot. Additionally, many modern sci-fi/fantasy novels feature several points of view, but not TNotW, as it is focused on one perspective: Kvothe’s. Other than a few instances, the story is Kvothe’s story, and the world develops as Kvothe learns more about it or chooses to explain it. This story is Kvothe retelling his story to a traveling chronicler. The words are his, as is the perspective. So, if you like character-driven fantasy plots, then this book was written for you.
Let’s talk about Kvothe for a moment. This story lives and dies by him. He is the protagonist, hero, storyteller, and everything in-between. The story begins with Kvothe as an innkeeper who has settled down from a life of adventuring, even though he is still quite young. He goes by a different name, but is eventually identified by a traveling chronicler who asks for Kvothe’s story. Kvothe is a legend at this point, and most of the stories about him are false or exaggerated. Kvothe agrees to spend three days telling his story, and the events of TNotW are day one.
I personally liked Kvothe and found him to be a fascinating character. His story is filled with tragedy and loss. He started as a talented and intelligent young man with a loving family in a traveling performance troupe. After tragedy strikes, Kvothe finds himself homeless and for many years learns what it means to starve, suffer, and lack power to help anyone. We see some truly tragic scenes during this time. One such scene actually made me put the book down because it was that heavy. Once Kvothe overcomes this period in his life, we see him fight for every single dollar. Nothing comes easy for Kvothe, but he uses his skills and quick wit to propel himself forward off the streets and into university. Kvothe, for the most part, is a good person, and tries to rise above the depravity of mankind, but is still very flawed. He is quick to act and arrogant at times, and he is not above stealing and lying to achieve his goals. He has his flaws, and those flaws come back to bite him. But overall, he cares about others and is a hero character. I always appreciate a flawed hero.
Even though the story focuses on Kvothe, there is still a cast of characters in the story that are meaningful and interesting. I have to give a great deal of credit to Patrick Rothfuss. He managed to bring out some interesting characters when the story is so focused on Kvothe. Kvothe develops some strong friendships when he manages to gain admittance to the university, but also some enemie, including one enemy in particular I loved to hate. Kvothe’s love interest is maybe the most complicated in the story. I won’t say much about her (the less you know the better), but she truly baffled me and I kept wanting to understand her better. However, just as Kvothe was on the verge of learning more about her, she would slip away.
As for the story itself, it was different than most I’m used to. There is a larger mystery Kvothe is trying to unravel, but 90% of the novel is focused on Kvothe just trying to scrape by. There was no great war going on or evil force trying to take over the land, just Kvothe moving himself forward. If this sounds like a turnoff, it shouldn’t be. Kvothe himself is the story, and the story is him creating his own legend. It is also clear there is something big that is building in the narrative, but will likely span the trilogy.
The story actually moves pretty slow, but the storytelling keeps the reader engaged. There are exciting moments, which are rare; but don’t let this dissuade you. Rothfuss writes an engaging and accessible narrative that will keep you interested as you watch Kvothe climb out from the bottom of the metaphorical pit. Additionally, the magic system is fascinating, much more based in science and physics rather than some unexplained mystical force. I would say it is the most realistic magic system out there. It took me some time to understand, but you’ll grasp it more as the narrative advances. One quick thing to note: I love economics. Rothfuss spends a large amount of time explaining the currencies in the story, and I loved every second of it!
Now for my major complaints. While I really liked the story and enjoyed Kvothe, I found that just as Kvothe is about to hit rock bottom, a place he often finds himself, something convenient happens to help him out. It can be nice because so much bad stuff happens to the guy, but it’s almost like clockwork that something will happen that will either a) bail him out or b) he will find a convenient, clever way out of the situation. It becomes a pattern, but it’s a small complaint for a great story. This story will also depend on how much you like Kvothe. If you don’t like Kvothe, then put the book down and move on because it is all about Kvothe.
The story can be a little heavy. I wouldn’t suggest this story for young readers. It features true hardship. It reminded me of the story of Job, as he had it all and then lost everything (Job 1-2). Kvothe was just a child when he lost everything, but he still had it a stable and loving family and did not want for anything. Once he lost it all, he had to scrape to get by. He had to overcome his situation. Job ultimately had everything restored by God and was credited with his faithfulness to God despite losing everything (Job 42: 10-17). Kvothe operates more like a worldly person, who only relies on themselves, and we see how he struggles. TNotW showcases a great discussion point of the difference between relying on yourself versus relying on God. God may not restore everything to us like Job, but he will fill us with purpose and never leave us. We don’t have to live life depending on our flawed selves to get by, like Kvothe had to do.
Overall, TNotW was a fantastic character-driven story and I would highly recommend it for any fantasy fan. It is entertaining and a joy to read. The second book, The Wise Man’s Fear, has already been published, but you’ll have to wait an indefinite amount of time for the third book. Rothfuss writes entertaining stories, but moves at a glacial pace. He doesn’t quite move like Brandon Sanderson, so be prepared to wait if you have already finished reading the existing books.
+Strong character-driven narrative +Accessible +Well-fleshed out characters +Well-developed world +Good balance of serious and light-hearted moments
-Slow moving plot -Enjoyment will depend on the reader's appreciation for Kvothe
The Bottom Line
The Name of the Wind is a strong start to what appears to be a legendary series. If you are a fantasy fan and enjoy character-driven narratives, then you don't waste your time: Pick this book up.