This post previously appeared on an old (and destroyed) blog. I’ve since edited it.
I know there are already a bunch of reviews for this book out there, but I’d like to add my thoughts anyway. Without further ado, here’s my review of Patrick Rothfuss’s debut novel, The Name of the Wind (spoilers!).
The first time I read this book, I was fanatic. I recommended it to everyone I knew who read fantasy, and even some people who didn’t. Even literature professors were unable to avoid my zeal.
But during my most recent re-read, I used a more careful eye. This time, I read it as a writing major–as a critic–for my creative writing thesis in undergrad. And while I still enjoyed it, I found a few…issues.
First and foremost is the narrative structure. While the stories-within-stories frame is a technique practically as old as literature itself, it presents a challenge for the reader. Which Kvothe should we care about: the current one, or the younger one? Each has his own problems, and each presents a convincing character who I want to love. Sometimes I don’t care about the older Kvothe, a man who apparently lived a legendary life and started a war and possibly summoned terrifying ice-skating spiders. Instead, I care about young Kvothe, the rational University student squabbling with his rival, searching endlessly for his “ladyfriend.” And sometimes, it’s the opposite. It’s difficult for readers to hold two versions of the same character in their minds without favoring one, and that’s not always a good thing.
There are some technical issues in the novel, too:
- Kvothe’s “You wouldn’t understand”/narcissistic attitude
- The underwhelming female characters
- Eleven-year-old Kvothe speaking with the diction of a twenty-year-old
That said, the novel has plenty of aspects that draw me in. Name of the Wind employs beautiful and at times striking language along with enticing worldbuilding and characters. Sometimes I sit back with the book on my lap and think, “Now there’s a good sentence.” Stylistically, I find similarities between Rothfuss’s writing and Le Guin’s. True, sometimes Rothfuss is a little heavy-handed with the adjectives, but as a fellow adjective abuser myself, I’m willing to forgive him.
Secondly, Denna. Denna is a fascinating character with just enough intrigue to make me yearn for more information, but a complex enough character where I care about her without knowing exactly what makes her tick. Her relationship with Kvothe is adorable, and her endless stream of suitors, while aggravating, presents the right amount of interpersonal stress on Kvothe where he’s truly challenged–and it makes me love them more. I’m not so sure she’s a realistic character, but she’s manipulative, intelligent, cruel, yet friendly and kind all at the same time. And that complexity gives her character strength.
And lastly, the mysteries. This is where the story-within-a-story frame really shines. Because readers see an older, aged Kvothe who contrasts completely with his younger self, readers are compelled to continue reading and witness the change occur. By the end of Name of the Wind, young Kvothe has changed, but not nearly enough to justify older Kvothe’s radically different outlook on life. That in turn pushes readers toward the second book in the series, Wise Man’s Fear, and to the eventual third book (which hasn’t been published yet). Rothfuss presents readers with the right amount of information throughout the novel: not too much where readers become bored, and not too little where they become uninterested. Instead, it brings readers closer to Kvothe and make them vie for his success. It’s all the more fulfilling when he gets it, and all the more heartbreaking when he doesn’t. I feel invested in Kvothe’s story, and that is, ultimately, any author’s goal.
This novel isn’t perfect. College classes probably won’t teach it any time soon. But it’s still an entertaining, fun read, and for that it earns 4/5 stars.