Mon
Sep 19 2011 10:43am
Firsts in Fantasy: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

My name is Kvothe.

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.

You may have heard of me.

That little back cover excerpt encapsulates everything that’s wonderful about The Name of the Wind — for my money one of the strongest fantasy debuts of the last decade or so, and a novel I can’t recommend enough to everyone who enjoys fantasy and to many people who usually don’t. It’s high adventure, grand drama and sweeping romance, all told by one of the most memorable and entertaining characters to appear in the fantasy genre in, well, forever.

That blurb is how Kvothe starts telling the story of his life, and it immediately shows you exactly what he’s like. He’s a genius. He’s a hero. He has a gift for the dramatic, and he’s not afraid to use it. He knows how to set up his tale, and he knows how to pull you along with it in a way that makes it borderline impossible to stop reading. He is also, incidentally, a bit full of himself, in a way that’s both charming and infuriating at the same time, and he has a few flaws that he’s only marginally aware of, if at all.

But before you meet this famous — or infamous — Kvothe, you see him in his current situation. Somehow, between the almost unbelievable events that make up his life and the start of the actual novel, Kvothe has become Kote, a quiet, unassuming man who runs a small inn in a small town. He has become a shadow of himself. He has become, as the final words of the prologue sum it up so perfectly, “a man who is waiting to die.”

It’s this tension, between the brilliant young hero Kvothe and the wilted innkeeper Kote, that makes The Name of the Wind such a great novel. The framing story, in which Kote recounts his life in his own inimitable style, constantly casts a slight shadow, but the story is so captivating that it’s easy to get swept away by it. You often forget that the man who is narrating it has become a shadow of himself. How did he get from here to there?

The Name of the Wind is Kvothe’s story, but it’s also the story of an entire, well-realized fantasy world. History, religion, politics, myths — they all play a role in the story. (Explored exhaustively here on Tor.com in the Rothfuss reread.) Even though the camera is solidly focused on Kvothe throughout the novel, the world gradually takes shape as the story progresses. Kvothe’s life is shaped by a horrific event in his early youth, and this will lead him to enroll in a University for magic, become an arcanist, and explore mysteries and myths that may be better left untouched. Kvothe’s personality is so strong, and his flair for the dramatic so infectious, that it’s easy to miss many of the world-building details that Patrick Rothfuss slips into the story. And once you’ve read The Wise Man’s Fear, Book Two in the Kingkiller Chronicles, you’ll realize even more acutely how much information was packed into The Name of the Wind.

The first time I read this novel, I was simply unable to stop reading. I was actually walking around with the book, bumping into things. The last time I experienced a story with such inexorable pull was A Game of Thrones — a book that more or less ruined a vacation abroad because, rather than seeing the sights, I spent the entire time on the couch, unable to stop reading. The Name of the Wind had that same effect on me. Very few authors can move me to tears, or make me laugh out loud. Rothfuss did both, several times. I laughed. I cried. I jumped up and cheered for Kvothe. Several times I closed the book at the end of the chapter for a minute, nodding to myself, just to savor the moment. I am actually jealous of people who still have the chance to read this book for the first time, because by now I’ve read parts of it so many times that I practically know them by heart — and I still get chills, when I do reread them.

There are more original fantasy novels. There are books with more depth. There’s that ending. Yes, The Name of the Wind has flaws, which is only to be expected for a debut. And obviously not everyone will take to Kvothe, if only because he’s such a force of nature that he’s bound to rub some people the wrong way. Regardless of all of this, I’ve read very few books that are as purely entertaining as The Name of the Wind. It’s a sweeping story with an unforgettable main character and much more detail than you’d initially expect. It’s one of those books that grab you and won’t let go until you’ve turned the final page. Whether you’re new to fantasy or a long time reader of the genre, The Name of the Wind is a novel that’s simply too wonderful to ignore.


Stefan Raets reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping. Many of his reviews can be found at Fantasy Literature.

This article is part of Barnes & Noble Bookseller’s Picks: ‹ previous | index | next ›
12 comments
David Thomson
1. ZetaStriker
As a story on its own, I've always felt that these two novels were actually rather weak stories . . . Wise Man's Fear more than The Name of the Wind though, admittedly. It is the framing story - and in particular all the subtext that Rothfuss does so masterfully that it sometimes sound like the re-read topic is becoming an essay in theoretical language - that makes these novels so good. There are so many details hidden in mundane descriptions, that on a careful re-read it's like reading an entirely different book. Character's motives shift wildly with that hidden information, becoming entirely different people than what you first perceived them, and every event seems to have a hidden meaning hiding somewhere between the lines. Rothfuss is a master of foreshadowing and hiding important details in plain sight through absolutely perfect word choice, and I can't help but see him as a genius in his field for what he's accomplished in these novels.
Vitiosus
2. Vitiosus
This review sums up my love for this book pretty sucinctly. There is one thing I want to add though, is that the greatest critisizm that can be layed at this book is its lack of a traditional fantasy story narritive. i.e. there are villians set up, an evidently clear goal, defeat said villians, but neither this book nor the follow up accomplishes this goal. In fact most of the episodes in the book are not really related to that goal.

I want to point out that this is what I like about this book. It is not a book about defeating some great evil, or getting revenge for some evil deed. Instead it is the story of Kvothes life. His life may include those prviously cited actions and deeds, but it is not the focus or naritive arc of these books. So if you are looking for satisifying conclusions to these threads, you won't find them, and if that would upset you, you might not like this book.

However, if you are looking for a refreshing, highly enjoyable tale about one of the best characters in fantasy ever written this book is for you. It is about Kvothes life, his deeds, and his misdeeds, his loves, and his hates. His adventures, his struggles, his studying, and his music. This is the story of the man, not of the evil that he fights. And that is the very reason why I love this book.
Vitiosus
3. Vitiosus
This review sums up my love for this book pretty sucinctly. There is one thing I want to add though, is that the greatest critisizm that can be layed at this book is its lack of a traditional fantasy story narritive. i.e. there are villians set up, an evidently clear goal, defeat said villians, but neither this book nor the follow up accomplishes this goal. In fact most of the episodes in the book are not really related to that goal.

I want to point out that this is what I like about this book. It is not a book about defeating some great evil, or getting revenge for some evil deed. Instead it is the story of Kvothes life. His life may include those prviously cited actions and deeds, but it is not the focus or naritive arc of these books. So if you are looking for satisifying conclusions to these threads, you won't find them, and if that would upset you, you might not like this book.

However, if you are looking for a refreshing, highly enjoyable tale about one of the best characters in fantasy ever written this book is for you. It is about Kvothes life, his deeds, and his misdeeds, his loves, and his hates. His adventures, his struggles, his studying, and his music. This is the story of the man, not of the evil that he fights. And that is the very reason why I love this book.
Bobby Stubbs
4. Valan
Hmmmmm. This book is awesome. I agree. But what exactly, if anything, in this story is a First in Fantasy? This book is basically all of the old fantasy ideas told damn near perfectly. But's its still the old ideas.
Alice Arneson
5. Wetlandernw
Valan - First book of a (fantasy) series. If you look at the series of posts on "Firsts in Fantasy," it's part of a collaboration between tordotcom and Barnes & Noble; this sequence is (as I understand it) all about first-in-a-series fantasy novels. At least, it includes Mistborn, The Eye of the World, Gardens of the Moon, and A Game of Thrones; I don't know much about the rest of the list. I don't think they were after "this is something never done before" because that's much too subjective a criterion. It's more about finding a new series to get started on, I think.
Vitiosus
6. DarrenJL
@4... It's a first novel, Valan. And it's a fantasy.
Ashley Fox
7. A Fox
And this happens to not only be a first in a series, but also Rothfuss first book. Which makes it more awesome.

The odd thing with this, is that a put off buying it for a long(Relatively) time. Becuase when I flicked through the first few pages to get a taste i stumbled across the Skraelings and thought 'oh no another cheesy D&D style fantasy. Sigh'. Eventually I trusted my first instinct and bought it. And am now so very glad as it is one of the best fantasies Ive read since Robin Hobb. And for a modern fantasy? Bloody excellent. The bits in the frame that put me off work perfectly when juxtaposed to Kvothe's narrative.

This book can certainly be a fun, easy read. But if you care to scratch the surface....so much more lays beneath. Go read it now.
Joe Vondracek
8. joev
It’s this tension, between the brilliant young hero Kvothe and the wilted innkeeper Kote...


Do ya mean that he is like a cut flower?
Vitiosus
9. Seamus1602
Loved this book (and the next one). As previous posters have said, the greatness of this book and series is not in a wildly original plot, but rather in how that plot is told. Rothfus' prose is all wonderful, but I think my favorite parts are when you'll be reading and suddenly realize that Rothfus' (or his characters, depending on your POV) has slipped into full on verse, and it totally works. A close second behind those moments is his concept and his ongoing execution of the 'seven words to make a woman love you.' It's this attention to detail not only in the story itself, but in the presentation of the story, that makes Kingkiller a true treasure.
Stefan Raets
10. Stefan
Do ya mean that he is like a cut flower?



Yessir. And patient, too.
Vitiosus
11. Geckomayhem
He doesn't meet Falurian until The Wise Man's Fear, and yet we hear about it in the synopsis. Interesting...

And I have one thing to say about this series: it. is. epic. One of the most amazing pieces of fantasy I've read in my life. Absolutely love the Kingkiller Chronicles and can't wait for the third book!!
Stefan Raets
12. Stefan
I know. We haven't seen the "I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings" bit yet either , even by the end of The Wise Man's Fear (at least not explicitly). I loved the cockiness of that back cover blurb. "You may have heard of me" indeed.

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