The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind by Patrick RothfussI resisted reading this book for a long time. I resisted when people talked about how great it was. I resisted when I discovered Patrick Rothfuss’s blog and found out he was not only funny and interesting but also a really intelligent and good person. I resisted even when Jo Walton started a reread on tor.com. I resisted when the second book finally came out. I told myself that since it was only a trilogy I could just wait. I could just wait until the third one was done and then I would read all of them.

The last straw, the one that broke the proverbial camel’s back was when a friend started telling me about them and he mentioned that there were so many things he wanted to talk about with me, if only I had read the books. This hit me right in the gut because that is basically my modus operandi. That is why I started this blog. That is why I recommend books to people. That is what I hope to get from every book. I want to talk about them, to discuss the various points, why I liked what I like and why I didn’t. I want to discuss the mysteries and the foreshadowing.

If the book is the kind that has mysteries and foreshadowing.

The Name of the Wind is like the perfect book for nearly every fantasy reader. It checks all the boxes. It is long. It has some very subtle foreshadowing. It is filled with mysteries, histories and ancient ruins. It has fantastical creatures, magic and a redheaded protagonist who starts out with a lowly upbringing and rises to lofty heights. It even starts in an inn with people eating stew.

But to sum up The Name of the Wind with those cliches is to do it a great disservice.

Rothfuss wears his inspirations right out on his sleeves, their pretty plain to see. However, unlike other books where tropes and characters and story elements are lifted whole from their inspirations (I’m looking at you Paolini) Rothfuss takes them and weaves them together and makes them wholly his own.

There is a sprinkling of Dickens, a splash of Gene Wolfe, a whole lot of LeGuin and an even mix of Robin Hobb and Peter Beagle as well a smatterings of nearly every other popular fantasy scattered throughout. What holds it all together is Rothfuss’s obsession with words and his brilliant use of poetry.

I like to think that Rothfuss’s writing is like a really good pie crust. You know how a good one is flaky and light and almost has layers of gentle flakes that encase a filling of tart sweetness? Rothfuss has prose that is buttery smooth and yet, flakes away in crispy and delicious layers to reveal that every word has been chosen with absolute precision. Rothfuss doesn’t just throw out details to deliver a bit of verisimilitude. He throws out details because they are hints and bits about the world, about the story being told, about the characters being met. Then inside it all he wraps those words around a story that is part cocky young hero, part beautiful love story and part devastating pain and pounding triumph.

Rothfuss also tells this story in a bit of a break from tradition. He actually created a frame story that is written in third person, while the rest of the story is written in first person. This isn’t unique, but it’s different and seldom done well. Rothfuss pulls it off so well that I’m a little bit confused about how it worked. This is the kind of thing that an author does after several books and a large following of fans that trust that things will get interesting. Rothfuss does it on his first book and sucks the reader in right away despite that obstacle. The frame story was obviously written after the rest of it. The writing is much more mature and almost poetic in it’s precision of language.

That’s not to say the rest of the book isn’t well written. On the other hand, Rothfuss makes even the act of bathing sound poetic and powerful.

The real strength of the story is Kvothe, the main character, and how Rothfuss so seamlessly weaves a pattern of legend and story and song into a narrative so that when Kvothe whispers a children’s rhyme about what amounts to the boogeyman it sent chills down my spine.

In short, for non-spoilers, this is the kind of book you will want to read again and again. This is an instant classic. This is one of those books that people will be reading long after the author is dead. If he never writes anything again, it will still be special and he will still be loved.

Now I will talk about possible spoilers. Skip to the end to miss them.

One of the things I love most in fantasy books is the mysteries and the clues that are planted — and the red herrings that go along with that. Rothfuss litters his prose with little details that feel so important they must be telling me something and I want to know what it is.

Little things like Denna being mentioned always in conjunction with the moon and how it shines, her name is also very similar to Diana, the goddess of the moon. Also, about Denna, the drug Denner that so many people get addicted to, has a very similar name and it is pretty apparent that Kvothe is addicted to Denna in much the same way. He talks about watching a Denner addict begging, being willing to do anything for a fix and he compares that to his music and how he is willing to make financiallt stupid decisions in order to have his music but he is completely blind to the fact that the same behavior applies when Denna is not around and he misses her. Also, whenever Kvothe describes Denna to other people he lapses into verse. Rothfuss writes it out like prose but the line breaks are fairly obvious. Kvothe speaks in love poetry.

Auri, being scared of the moon and speaking in rhyme, must be significant. Also the gifts that she gives Kvothe have to be important, they have so much weight.

Lorren’s behavior implies heavily that he is one of the Amyr from legend. I’m pretty convinced of this.

The point in the book where I finally got it still sticks out to me. Kvothe says at the beginning that, whereas other people struggle to remember things, he wishes that he could forget. When the Chandrian kill his parents and his entire troupe he loses his memory. Trauma forces it out of him. After that he plays his lute until the strings break then he makes his way to the city. There his lute is broken and he lives for three years a street urchin, forgetting his name and his past. The three things that make him who he is, music, name and past are taken away from him. The three things that, in the beginning of the book (the frame story) he does not have.

When I first read this part it bothered me. He goes three years with no memory. Then he encounters a story teller — who is most likely also one of the Amyr — who tells him a story about the Chandrian that forces him to remember. The man then calls him by name and suddenly he gets it all back, his memory his name his intelligence. It seemed too convenient to me. Until I remembered something.

When Kvothe sees the Chandrian the leader tells one of them to make him sleep. The phrase at the time sounds like he means to kill Kvothe and be done with it. However, immediately after they leave Kvothe falls asleep and when he wakes up his mind is asleep for the next three years. Something magical happened in that encounter and it wasn’t until Kvothe was named (another theme in the book) that he was able to wake up.

Shortly after that he borrows a lute and plays a song and starts to heal, his music coming back.

When I realized that I suddenly realized that this wasn’t a book with a hokey excuse to have a Dickensian street urchin. This was a book with detail and hidden features. This was a book to watch because it was tricky.

I speculate, then that the Kvothe of the frame story must get those three things back as well. He is telling the story, so his past is coming back. He has been named, Kvothe, by Chronicler. He just needs his music and he will truly be Kvothe again.

Other things also made me smile. The club where Kvothe wins his talent pipes and meets Denna for the second time is called the Eolian — which is a word that means rebirth.

The heroes journey that Joseph Campbell talks about in his book, the Hero with a Thousand Faces is here but it’s so much more craftily hidden than in most stories that it has to be picked out. One of the stages of the hero, mentioned by Campbell is the threshold, the rebirth, usually signified by water (often total immersion, but not always). Kvothe crosses a bridge to get to the Eolian where he really and truly gets his music back completely and often meets Denna. I don’t think the names or the crossing of the bridge are a mistake.

And I love it. I love all the mysteries and details. I love that Kvothe tells us to always buy what a tinker offers and then he doesn’t and ends up needing all the things that he didn’t buy from the tinker in the next chapters but he never explains that, he leaves it up to the reader to remember that the tinker offered him a rope and a bottle of strawberry wine. I love that he explains that charcoal is a way to dilute the effects of Denner right before he tries to poison an animal that basically eats charcoal and he is surprised when it doesn’t work. What I love about these things is that these are flaws that Kvothe never figures out, or at least never explains in the narrative. Rothfuss trusts his readers to pay attention and he rewards those that do.

Spoilers over.

I love this book. I love the poetry of it. I love the precise placement of every word. I love the story being told and the flawed protagonist who is basically an arrogant and insecure teenager. I love how real it feels and how full it is. I love the whole of it. And that is not something I say often.

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