Patrick Rothfuss’ debut fantasy novel “The Name of the Wind” was a huge hit when it was released in 2007 so there was a great deal of anticipation about its sequel, the middle book in the Kingkiller series. I thought the original book was highly entertaining although also with some flaws so I was curious about whether Rothfuss would be able to improve on it in book two.
I'm convinced that someday Patrick Rothfuss is capable of writing a superb fantasy series. However, I am increasingly doubtful that it's going to be this one. That's not to say the book isn't great fun to read, because it is - Rothfuss is a fantastic writer of prose and dialogue and even when not much is happening in the plot (which is quite frequent) the book is still entertaining to read. The plot has a lot of potential but ends up being a bit underwhelming and at times Kvothe's adventures do start to feel a bit formulaic. The overall plot of the series does have a compelling premise as Kvothe tries to track down the near-mythical Chandrian who killed his family, but despite the book being 960 pages long very little progress seems to be made towards that goal and at the end of the book little seems to have changed for Kvothe other than him learning a few new talents. Much of the first novel took place at the University where Kvothe was studying and arguably too many pages had been spent on his escapades there which were fun to read but increasingly repetitive and it is a relief when Kvothe leaves the University (albeit temporarily) a third of the way through the novel to go travelling. During his travels he is thrown into poverty for what feels like the hundredth time in the series, becomes an adviser to a powerful nobleman who wants help to woo a potential bride, attempts to find and stop a ruthless group of bandits, is kidnapped by an amorous faerie woman and is trained by the Adem, a civilisation of secretive martial arts experts. Some of the subplots along the way are definitely entertaining and occasionally surprising (for example, the extent of Kvothe's potential ruthlessness when dealing with the bandits or with a rogue band of travelling players) but few of the characters Kvothe meets on his travels are as interesting as some of the characters back at the University, although the enigmatic Count Bredon is one of the more interesting characters in the series. Kvothe’s time in the faerie world and his time among the Adem both seem to go on a bit too long and seem to rely on reusing a few fantasy clichés (particularly the Adem’s warrior culture). Kvothe is a slightly frustrating character as well due to his combination of being brilliant at most things he tries to do and being irritating foolhardy and prone to doing the worse possible thing at times. Despite that, he is charismatic and reasonably likeable, although I like the Kvothe from the framing story more than the one from the main storyline. Kvothe’s love interest Denna is also a frustrating character with her own secrets, I don’t find her to be a very likable character (I suspect she isn’t meant to be likable) but I can understand why Kvothe could become so obsessed with her.
When the series is finished I think there is some potential for this book to seem better when re-appraised. There are quite a few hints that Kvothe may not be the most reliable of narrators and the story might become more interesting if it turns out that he hasn’t been entirely honest with some of his accounts of various events. Close inspection of the story does reveal quite a lot about the mythological background of the series that isn’t necessarily immediately apparent, and even if Kvothe doesn’t seem to learn much about the Chandrian through the book there are quite a few semi-hidden hints as to what their plans and motivations are. The potential unreliability of Kvothe’s narration does tie in to one of the main themes of the series, the process of storytelling and how the storyteller can shape the story to match what they want to say and their perspective. It is an interesting theme, although it is questionable whether it is interesting enough to justify three very long novels exploring it, and it is slightly frustrating when Kvothe doesn’t spend any time on some of his escapades because he claims that they weren’t important to the overall story he is telling.
This is a good book that's a lot of fun to read, but it's also a bit disappointing because I think it had the potential to be a great book and a lot of that potential wasn't realised. Superficially it seems to be lacking in depth, closer inspection of the book does reveal more depth than is apparent at first glance, however I’m not sure there’s quite enough substance here to justify nearly a thousand pages.
Rating : 7½ / 10
Patrick Rothfuss is an American fantasy author whose debut novel is The Name of the Wind, the first novel in the Kingkiller Chronicles trilogy. The novel begins with a man who calls himself Chronicler on a journey through bandit-infested lands. His target is a small inn in a rural village which a source has told him has a very unusual innkeeper. The innkeeper claims to be called Kote but Chronicler manages to make him admit that he was once called Kvothe – a name instantly recognisable throughout the civilised lands and the name of a man who although still young has already become a legend in his own lifetime. The Kvothe of the popular tales repeated by storytellers throughout the land is meant to be a great sorcerer, a genius, a master songwriter, a dragonslayer and the man who once killed a King. It is also said that there was a woman he loved, and a tragedy, and now he is in hiding with a price on his head. Chronicler is determined to persuade Kvothe to tell him what really happened so that the truth of Kvothe’s life can finally be known. Kvothe reluctantly agrees, but insists that he will only tell the story himself, with no interruptions, and he declares that it will take three days to tell. The Name of the Wind is the first day’s story.
Kvothe’s story begins as Epic Fantasies tend to begin with a young boy with talent and great potential living a simple life with a loving family and a wise mentor. His parents are the head of a caravan of travelling entertainers, his father is a master storyteller but his latest ambitious project to write a new story based on the legends of the Chandrian, the mythical supernatural beings who according to legend brought devastation to the entire continent, brings Kvothe’s comfortable family life to an end. When travelling through a forest Kvothe’s family’s caravan is attacked by mysterious assailants, Kvothe is the only survivor as everyone else is brutally slaughtered. Traumatised by the experience Kvothe first lives off the forest for several months then finally makes his way to the huge city of Tarbean where he lives on the streets, scavenging what he needs to survive. It is a hard, brutal life but Kvothe eventually manages to use his wits to escape and get a small amount of money which he uses to travel to Imre and its famed University. Kvothe was well-educated before his family were killed and he manages to pass the entrance exam, but although he finds academia fascinating his real goal is to gain access to the University’s library to find out whatever he can on the Chandrian so he can one day get revenge on his family’s killers. Kvothe makes both friends and enemies at the University, particular enmity coming from Ambrose, the son of a wealthy and powerful nobleman who gets involved in a series of escalating quarrels with Kvothe. The University Masters are also divided in their opinions of Kvothe, he is obviously a prodigy who despite being younger than his peers is clearly one of the best students the University has ever seen. However, his lack of common sense and patience leads him into difficulty getting him repeatedly into trouble and also getting him banned from the library he is determined to gain access to. Meanwhile his lack of money means he has to be inventive if he wants to pay the necessary tuition fees. Outside of the University he meets a beautiful young woman named Denna singing in a theatre in Imre. Kvothe quickly falls in love and Denna also seems fond of him, but she also had a lot of secrets and frequently disappears from Imre without explanation. Towards the end of the novel Kvothe encounters Denna again in a rural town where both are investigating the slaughter of a wedding party that bears some resemblance to the possible Chandrian attack that killed Kvothe’s family. The story is punctuated with occasional chapters back in the Inn as Kvothe, Chronicler and Kvothe’s unusual barman Bast reflect on Kvothe’s story.
The first thing to be said about Rothfuss’ writing is that is easy to read and entertaining. The prose and dialogue are both of a very high quality and both the more serious and tragic bits of the story and the more humorous or light-hearted parts of the tale are very well written. Rothfuss is a skilled storyteller and even when not much of consequence is happening in the story it is still very entertaining to read, which is a good thing since for much of the second half of the book nothing much of consequence happens in the story. The plotting is at times frustrating, although the early stages of Kvothe’s life are done well (despite being a bit clichéd at times) once he gets to the University the pace slows and although Kvothe’s escapades are entertaining it starts to get repetitive and formulaic after a while as Kvothe repeatedly manages to gain some money to pay off his debts but then loses it all and his repeated petty feuding with Ambrose seems a bit tame compared to the elder Kvothe’s reputation and his quest to defeat the legendary Chandrian. Kvothe is an undeniably likeable character but the combination of his being a genius whose talents seemingly extend to being brilliant at everything he tries to do and Kvothe’s huge lack of common sense that repeatedly lands him in trouble starts to get a bit annoying after a while. It also seems a bit unbelievable at times that someone who had lived in grinding poverty in Tarbean for several years would be so spendthrift with their money and it does start to feel like Kvothe’s repeated slide back into poverty is just a plot device to stop things being too easy for him. The framing story back in the Inn does add a bit of depth to the book as it both suggests that Kvothe may be an unreliable narrator at times and also allows for some commentary on the process of storytelling and how people’s memories colour their own story – Bast at one point comments that according to Kvothe’s story every woman he met was stunningly beautiful.
The supporting characters are mostly reasonably good, with Bast and the brilliant but extremely deranged Master Elodin probably the best of the characters, but there are occasional weaknesses with Ambrose in particular being a fairly bland and unimaginative bully who with the Chandrian off-screen for most of the story struggles to be a compelling antagonist for Kvothe. Kvothe’s love Denna is also fairly unlikeable, although Kvothe is devoted to her she is manipulative and clearly lying about several important matters, this may be deliberate on Rothfuss’ part since it is not unrealistic that an inexperienced teenager might be unwise in falling in love.
Overall this is clearly only the first part in a bigger tale and there is little real resolution to the novel, an extra subplot near the end with Kvothe and Denna investigating the potential Chandrian attack and then encountering a vicious monster laying waste to the countryside may be an attempt to inject a bit more action to the story but although reasonably entertaining it feels fairly peripheral and it’s frustrating that after 650 pages Kvothe is still in the early stage of his stories in the University and seems to be no closer to finding out anything useful about the Chandrian. The backstory and mythology surrounding the Chandrian is intriguing but they are still little more than mythical beings by the end of the book.
In summary, The Name of the Wind is a very entertaining read but also one that could have been much better if the pace hadn’t slowed so much in the second half of the novel. When taken as a whole the trilogy may turn out to be a great story but the first book on its own is frustrating in how little it reveals of the overall tale.
Rating : 8 / 10