The Name of the Wind, the first book of Patrick Rothfuss’s series The Kingkiller Chronicle, has been compared by some to the works of Tolkien, Rowling and George R. R. Martin, and I would heartily agree. Although you’ll find no elves, dragons, or royal battles, this story is alive with fresh fantasy figures such as scrael, demons and the Chandrian. Rothfuss uses this first book to introduce his primary character, Kvothe, with whom he weaves layer upon layer of stories and legend while letting him remain as familiar as a friend. The Name of the Wind is like Kvothe’s trusty cloak: woven with storytelling, surrounding him with adventure and each of its many pockets filled with mystery.
The book opens and closes with “a silence of three parts” that fills the Waystone Inn, an inn owned and run by a man who calls himself Kote but about whom nobody really knows anything. This inn is where the story of the legendary Kvothe is told in full for the first time: his adventures, his fears, his learning, the beginning of his legendary status, a lot of which he admits comes from fabricated stories that he spread to build up his awesome reputation. The Name of the Wind covers the first day of three that Kvothe uses to tell his story to Chronicler, the scribe.
Kvothe begins with his childhood, as most (auto)biographies do. We follow him as he travels with his family – skilled court performers known as Edema Ruh – then leaves them and travels alone to fulfil his quest of being admitted into the University. There he learns all manner of things including Naming and Sympathy – skills confused with magic by the uneducated – and searches for the truth about the elusive Chandrian. It is here at the University where Kvothe’s fearsome reputation begins, and by the time we are interrupted in the penultimate chapter we are wholly engrossed in the story. As Kvothe draws the foundation of his story to a close, the reader begins to understand the magnitude of the legends surrounding Kvothe while simultaneously feeling lost at the thought that this is simply the beginning.
Rothfuss is a master storyteller who infuses that same trait into his characters. The overarching story of The Kingkiller Chronicle told to us by Rothfuss is written as a story told by Kvothe, himself a storyteller, who tells stories within his stories and about whom stories are passed down through generations. The elements of The Name of the Wind are woven together to create a layering, similar to the dreams within dreams in the movie Inception. Although the majority of the book is Kvothe’s life story, Rothfuss interrupts this with interludes that bring the reader back to the present where the older Kvothe and Chronicler sit in the Waystone Inn, reminding us that there is more to come. Once we know his background, what then will Kvothe do? Will he bring light to the dark and troubled times that have come upon the area in which he now lives? Or will he retire and simply wait to die as he seems wont to do?
The Name of the Wind is given to the reader as the introductory part of the plot that will span three (or perhaps more) books, and it is simply that: an introduction. A fantastic, tantalising introduction, one which leaves you feeling as though you know the characters well, but at the same time feeling vaguely unsatisfied because nothing much has really happened in terms of advancing the plot. The novel cannot stand alone and, thankfully, is not intended to. The reader is forced into turning to the continuation of the story or made to wait until Rothfuss is ready to release the remainder of the chronicles.
Rothfuss himself seems to be as mysterious as the innkeeper, Kote. He appears to have come out of nowhere but seems to have always belonged as a permanent, competitive member of the genre. He is warm and friendly, yet mysteriously secretive, much to the frustration of his fans who wait with bated breath for the third book. He is an author who writes what his readers want to read.
With The Name of the Wind, Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle is shaping up to be a journey of epic proportions and legendary renown, placing Rothfuss firmly in the company of the fantasy greats. We wait with great anticipation for the remainder of Kvothe’s story, to see how the legend was created, what mysteries were brought to light, and what will happen next to the innkeeper called Kote.