Nov 26 2008 12:11pm

The Name of the Game is The Name of the Wind

I recently read The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.  I’d heard enormous buzz about this book for months prior to its release, and following that release the buzz seemed to increase a hundredfold.  Since epic fantasy (done right) is my favorite form of speculative literature, it goes without saying I was rather curious about this one.  But I also went in keeping my expectations in check, because I tend to hold the epics to a higher standard.  I’ll admit that these days it’s rare for an epic fantasy to meet my expectations.  It’s even rarer when those expectations are exceeded.

That The Name of the Wind blew me away and it is also the author’s debut novel is an absolute testament to Mr. Rothfuss and his skills.  This is one of the best debuts I’ve read in a very long time, and with this one book I’m more than willing to admit (quite happily at that) that Rothfuss has already established himself as a writer who we’ll be hearing from for many years to come.

There is a wonderful blend of new and classical elements that make this book fresh and exciting while still managing to press so many of your epic fantasy buttons.  As with many epics, this one is quite the brick.  The good news is there is a decided absence of filler.  The author has a lot to say, whether it is through character development, carefully constructed plot lines unfolding, or introducing us to a world that is absolutely brimming with detail.  When you witness the amount of knowledge he wields concerning things such as alchemy, music, herb lore, and countless other topics, all you can do is admire his devotion to telling this tale right.

One thing a bit unusual about this book is that the majority of it is told in first person.  While this isn’t unheard of, most epic fantasies don’t go this route.  I tend to prefer it this way.  IMHO, one of the great appeals of proper epic fantasy is that you never know who might die next.  Telling a tale in first person often (though not always) lets you know the narrator is going to be all right, which can ruin the suspense.  Fortunately, I didn’t run into that problem here.  There are a number of reasons why.  Part of the reason is that the author’s voice is so strong he just keeps pulling you along, dropping you ever deeper into the rabbit hole.  And I did mention that the majority of this story is in first person, meaning that not all of it is.  This choice went a long way toward overcoming my usual dislike for first person epics, as the back and forth between POVs and storylines created a certain suspense of its own.  

As to the story itself, I don’t want to ruin it by dropping any serious spoilers, but I should nibble around the plot at least a little.  One thing I like about this story is that it deals a lot with names.  I don’t know if I can tell you why exactly, but I love it when stories deal with names, especially epic fantasy stories.  It just feels ...right.  And the way Rothfuss plays with names—and also the presentation of his magic school—reminds me, without being derivative, of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series.  This story is much grittier though, perhaps taking its cue from the modern master of epic grit, George R. R. Martin.  And there are really two stories going on in this book, both of them equally fascinating.  One is the story of the protagonist, Kvothe, as he tells of his origins and the beginnings of his fame, but there is another story going on as well, which we read about whenever the author veers away from the first person POV.  This other tale is far more mysterious, hinting at far darker and vaster things that are coming to a head.

The combination of all these various elements leads to a nearly flawless novel that has left me eagerly anticipating the sequel (The Wise Man’s Fear).  To all of you epic fantasy fans who’ve yet to read this one, I urge you to bump it to the very top of your list.  You won’t be sorry ...until you reach the end and realize there isn’t more to read. :)                     

Nick Mamatas
1. Nick Mamatas

what's this book about?
Nick Mamatas
2. saj14saj
I don't know if it your article, but I just went to Amazon, and they are saying they won't have any copies for 2-4 weeks.
Nick Mamatas
3. Simon Owens
Didn't you read the review Nick? He clearly states that this book is one that "deals a lot with names." And he gives the name of the protagonist. How much more of a plot summary do you want?
Nick Mamatas
4. Richard Campbell
Nick, here's what the book is about:

"I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me."

That is to say, the book is about awesome in a Zelazny sort of way.
Nick Mamatas
5. Nick Mamatas
Thanks, Richard. You could excerpt jacket copy professionally! ;)
Jo Walton
6. bluejo
Nick: It's about this awesome guy called Kvothe and his adventures in a weirdly interesting fantasy world, including his childhood with a troupe of actors, his adolescence at an arcane university... and his retirement running a country pub. The bit where he's a hero will be in the other two books, one suspects. It's a lot more original that this makes it sound, and it's brilliantly written. I started reading it rolling my eyes and by the time I finished it I couldn't wait for more.
brightening glance
7. brightglance
I just bought and read this at the weekend, having heard no advance buzz whatsoever (or else having forgotten it). Like the others, I was suspicious at first that the path the story followed would be too well-trodden, but it soon developed many pleasing twists and turns away from the danger of cliché. I look forward to the next volume and expect this to be a series (trilogy?) well worth re-reading.

My only disappointment is hard for me to express; the best way I can describe it is that (again in a way like the first Earthsea book) Woman is always very much Other. I suppose I'm a little tired of


wonderful mysterious fascinating creatures whom we are told other women will dislike largely because of their beauty. However the first person narrative is probably the cause of that; the author is skilful enough to have made these choices deliberately and with an eye to avoiding anachronism in the main character's attitudes.
Scott Pierson
8. p13r50n5
I love this book. I tend to avoid most epic fantasy, especially those that are just retreads of the Tolkien model. This was recommended to me and I gave it a try and quickly became an "evangelist" for it, recommending to as many as I can. I love the narrator's 'voice,' his wit and humor is genuine. His writing about love and emotion is moving, without being cheesy; and his writing about music rings true as only someone well-trained musically can accomplish.

I don't know anything about the author's musical background, but as a music teacher, I can tell you that when most novelists try to write about music, they usually get it wrong, and often spectacularly wrong, in a way that pulls me right out of the story. Since music is an important component to this story, this is one of many ways this book is convincing, and feels original while still following much of the classic fantasy models.

It is the book I've most enjoyed this year, and I can't wait for book 2. Give it a try.
Nick Mamatas
9. SimpleTricks
I read a lot of blogger squee about this book back when it first came out... So much so that when I actually read it, I felt let down. Don't get me wrong - it wasn't bad. But I was far from blown away.
Rich Rennicks
10. RichR
Loved it. Thought the telling the tale over three nights structure would sap the book of any suspense, but Rothfuss managed to keep it pretty tightly wound. Liked the way that towards the end of the book he revealed some present day turmoil and conflict, underlining the the tale of Kvothe's education wasn't just backstory, but vital context for an unfinished epic adventure.

Roll on April & book two.
David Lev
11. davidlev
I tend to avoid epic fantasy if only cause it eats up a lot of time to read but I think I may check it out given that it seems kinda interesting
Madeline Ferwerda
12. MadelineF
Does this book End? That is, is it a self-contained story? Or does it just Stop? I've read enough of the latter for now.

Is Kvothe as non-white as that name sounds to me? That'd be a nice break for an epic fantasy.
Jo Walton
13. bluejo
It is not a self-contained story.

The conceit is that it's a retired hero telling his lifestory to a bard, over three days. This volume is the first day. There are also events in the time he's telling it in. It's a complete episode, but it's certainly not a whole story.

And as far as non-white goes, culturally, the universe is similar to medieval/Renaissance Europe, so again, not really.
Sander ​
14. Sander
The Name of the Wind has the honor of being the only hardcover book I ever picked up without knowing anything about the author (never having read a recommendation or even heard of his name; the "buzz" must've happened somewhere where I wasn't) and subsequently immediately bought. It managed to do this in a timeperiod where I've all but given up on the fantasy genre, too.
The excerpt from the book that is the coverblurb is that strong, and the warm humor in the voice of Kvothe is that appealing.

The book completely lived up to my high hopes based on said coverblurb, too. It's still noticeably a first work, with little details that are off and, and, and... but all the same, Patrick Rothfuss immediately catapulted himself to somewhere near the top of my favorite authors, and I've been fidgetting quite impatiently for the next volume ever since.
I also have high hopes that he'll create a following of fantasy authors who'll take a similar approach to the genre of heroic/epic fantasy. That might just get me reading more new fantasy again!

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