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The Name of the Wind

July 15, 2019

My adult kids kept asking me if I’d read The Name of the Wind and I kept getting it mixed up with The Shadow of the Wind, which I’d read years ago, a literary mystery by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  Now that I’ve read The Name of the Wind, a fantasy novel by Patrick Rothfuss, I will never get it mixed up with anything else, ever again. It’s a tale full of tales, a fascinating and remarkable layered narrative.

There’s a tale about Lyra, who performs necromancy on her husband Lanre, which has terrible results for him; he becomes a powerful and mysterious villain in the world of Kvothe, the main character of the central narrative. Kvothe’s parents belonged to a troupe of traveling players but are killed by the creature that Lanre has become, one of the legendary Chandrian who kill anyone who mentions their names or tells any part of their story, even in song. Kvothe’s quest is to find out how to avenge their deaths and right other wrongs along the way. He is a smart young man with lots of talents who is eager to learn more. He attends a university where he learns, among other things, how to do a kind of magic–including calling the name of the wind–and he plays the lute. His story, told in first person, is the story of everything he learns and every creature he meets. The actions of the story take place in a remarkably well-crafted and described world, with all sorts of edges that we barely glimpse but which deepen the experience.

There’s a frame narrative to show readers that Kvothe has escaped from all his adventures alive. He tells his story to a chronicler, who is writing it down. So we get his story and also his perspective:
“Over the last month I had pulled a woman from a blazing inferno. I had called fire and lightning down on assassins and escaped to safety. I had even killed something that could have been either a dragon or a demon, depending on your point of view. But there in that room was the first time I actually felt like any sort of hero. If you are looking for a reason for the man I would eventually become, if you are looking for a beginning, look there.”
This comes 651 pages into his adventures.

I enjoyed the story and the stories layered into it so much that I read the second book, The Wise Man’s Fear. Kvothe is still on a quest to avenge his parents and troupe, but when he gets free access to the biggest library in his world, he says that
“even my continuing failure to find anything factual about the Chandrian didn’t sour the experience. As I hunted, I became increasingly distracted by other books I found. A handwritten medicinal herbal with watercolor pictures of various plants. A small quarto book of four plays I’d never heard of before. A remarkably engaging biography of Hevred the Wary.”
Who was Hevred the Wary? We have no clue, he’s just one of the barely-glimpsed edges of this world.

Once, when Kvothe has told a version of a shaggy dog story also known in this world and told a friend that it’s one his father would make up to keep him puzzling, the friend says “that’s a cruel trick to play on a boy.” Kvothe says:
The comment surprised me. “What do you mean?”
“Tricking you just to get a little peace and quiet. It’s a shabby thing to do.”
I was taken aback. “It wasn’t done in meanness. I enjoyed it. It gave me something to think about.”
“But it was pointless. Impossible.”
“Not pointless,” I protested. “It’s the questions we can’t answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think. If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact. But give him a question and he’ll look for his own answers.”

The love of learning throughout these books is a big part of what makes them such a pleasure. Be warned, however. Although I think reading The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear was enjoyable enough to make up for it, the main narrative builds expectations that only subsequent books can realize. What happens to Kvothe between the end of The Wise Man’s Fear and the frame narrative? Why are these books called the “Kingkiller Chronicles”? We don’t know. And Patrick Rothfuss is still working on the third book, The Doors of Stone. “Still working,” my kids say with raised eyebrows, means he is playing lots of D&D and spending his time on other projects, like an animated Name of the Wind. So if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to start a great story knowing it doesn’t have all the endings it promises, don’t start this one.

It is a great story, though. You won’t regret starting it and if you do you’ll get drawn in so deep that you’ll never want to surface.


8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 15, 2019 2:22 am

    Funny, I was just looking for one of these books (Name/Shadow) and got it mixed up with the other. I can’t even remember which was which. They both sound like something I would like to read anyway, which is why I was looking.

    • July 23, 2019 2:37 pm

      This one is a fun read. Shadow of the Wind was a little more thought-provoking.
      We had a whirlwind tour of Switzerland’s high points last week and are now back. Traveling with a group of 8 made it hard to add anything else in. Hope you’re settling in well!

  2. July 15, 2019 4:29 am

    I enjoyed the first of these books but have never managed to get into the second one and it is now so long since I read the first that if I was to try again I would have to go back to the beginning.

    • July 23, 2019 2:41 pm

      They’re the kind of books I love reading on airplanes, although the copy of the second one that Walker lent me was too big and heavy to travel with. The copy we found of the first one, though, is a mass market paperback.

  3. July 15, 2019 6:16 am

    I really liked these but hated that we would have to wait so long for the next book, because they are so complicated. And I know it will mean, for me anyway, having to reread the first two!

    • July 23, 2019 2:42 pm

      Maybe, but he’s still not even finished with school at the end of the second one, so I figure that if the author ever publishes the third one, I can remember enough without rereading. There’s a lot he’s sketched out in between school and being an innkeeper!

  4. August 14, 2019 4:08 pm

    I keep hearing about how great this book is. I will need to read it soon. Glad you enjoyed!

    • August 14, 2019 4:17 pm

      It’s really fun. You’ll like it when you can make time for it!

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