Told in Kvothe’s own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen. The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature. A high-action story written with a poet’s hand, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that will transport readers into the body and mind of a wizard.
In the strangest corners lurk the most surprising discoveries. Who knew I’d find a veritable nominee for most insufferable literary character of all time in a 2007 fantasy novel? Take these three examples, words spoken by Kvothe, a magician wunderkind:
Here, talking to a professor, he compares himself to his classmates:
Master Kilvin, I am better. I learn faster. I work harder. My hands are more nimble. My mind is more curious. However, I also expect you know this for yourself without my telling you.
Here, talking to his love-interest, he tries to woo by dripping condescension:
”If someone found a loden-stone made of brass would it be like other brass?”
“Maybe it would be like copper and zinc,” I said. “That’s what brass is made of.”
Word of advice, love interest, run to the freaking hills.
And again, what a loveable scamp Kvothe is, condescending once more to the girl he wants desperately to impress:
“But if one of us jumped off a roof, we’d get hurt because we’re heavier. It makes sense that bigger things fall even harder.”
She was right, of course. She was talking about the square-cube ratio, though she didn’t know what to call it.
A wonderful neologism has emerged in the past few years: “mansplaining,” i.e., when a man condescends, often unconsciously, to a woman because a concept is just too difficult or too important for her to wrap her pretty mind around. Kvothe is a mansplainer supreme, to be sure, but his condescension is not gender-choosy: he will be insufferable to anyone, though for him it’s not being insufferable, he’s just being Kvothe; sorry he happens to know everything!
I liked this book in spite of its protagonist. For fantasy fare, it serves up all the staples with gusto: minstrel songs, magical school, dragons, mysterious villains, warring nobles, journeys by foot or by horse, drinking ale in inns…you know, the regular. This is the first book in a planned three-part series, and in classic fantasy style, it discusses the protagonist’s quest.
Nothing excites me more than the word quest. Those five letters promise so much epicness, so many trials and so many tribulations, so much work in pursuit of an ideal ending. In short, a quest promises a story. The story presented here deserves the term quest. It spans centuries and inspires legends. However: is it really a quest if everything comes easy to the quester? If nothing is worked for—or maybe the quester must work a little bit, but his work is guaranteed to work out for him? Kvothe has no weaknesses. Sure the book discusses his poverty and his youth as barriers to success but poverty and youth aren’t true weaknesses! These are circumstances, not qualities. A weakness is arrogance. A weakness is stubbornness. A weakness is rudeness and condescension. Kvothe embodies all these weaknesses, and yet, the book acknowledges them as pluses, not character flaws.
Two books remain, so we shall see if Kvothe’s weaknesses are exposed for what they really are. But I doubt it, mostly because of Patrick Rothfuss’ interesting narrative choice: aside from a few brief intermissions, Kvothe is telling the story. He is in charge of what is presented and how he is depicted. I’ll be back for book two eventually to see if he learns (and it should be easy for him with that big enormous brain of his!) that refusing to accept any personal flaws makes someone perhaps the most flawed individual he can possibly be.