Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Regarded as one of the best representatives of the high fantasy genre, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss has earned great acclaim and a massive following. Now an innkeeper of the Waystone Inn, Kvothe Kingkiller, tells the Chronicler the story of his life in the style of a memoir. He recounts his journey from his childhood, the murder of his parents, to his days at the University.
“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.”
As a coming-of-age novel, Kvothe takes the center stage in The Name of the Wind. Of all the characters, I dislike him the most. After witnessing his parents’ gruesome death at the hands of secretive, mythical figures, he enters the University with the hope that he will gain the information he needs to avenge his parents. After he is admitted, however, he seems to wander aimlessly during his time at school. He was banned from accessing the Archives in his early days at school, which was essentially the only viable route for accessing the information needed to solve the identity of his parents’ murderer. He doesn’t make serious attempts to regain access for 90 percent of the plot. The times when he does make an attempt to do so are done halfheartedly at best. Kvothe soon becomes involved voluntarily in the drama and the petty rivalry of his classmates. The memory of his parents’ murder gradually slips from his mind while his school work, friends and rivals soon consume all his energy. When he isn’t studying or going on adventures outside school, he devises plots to trip his rivals at school, namely Ambrose, a higher-ranking student. Although Kvothe can be spiteful at times, it is hard not to admire his resilience and courage. His days in Tarbean, a dangerous place for any 12-year-old orphan, are spent in loneliness and abject poverty. Without his family to support him, the young Kvothe is entirely alone. Despite these obstacles, he is able to lift himself out of hardship and gain entrance to the prestigious University using his wit and musical talents.
Disappointingly, the other characters were not as memorable as Kvothe. Their main purpose was to propel Kvothe forward in his journey. Readers do not have the chance to understand Wilem and Simmon, Kvothe’s friends, in-depth. Their backstories are unknown to readers. We do not know their upbringing, their personal desires, or their reasons for entering the University. Kvothe’s rival at school, Ambrose, is the stereotypical wealthy, upper-class bully who never seems to forget his grudge against Kvothe. This comes across as cliched and generic to me.
“Congratulations. That was the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. Ever.”
As an epic fantasy novel, The Name of the Wind has surprisingly little world-building. Throughout the majority of the story, the author focuses on exploring Tarbean and the University. Other than a few passing remarks, the cultures and languages beyond what Kvothe experiences at the University are seldom mentioned, leaving more questions than answers.
The musical element infused by the author also left me feeling underwhelmed. As someone who has learned the piano and violin for over 12 years to date, I know that mastering a classical instrument requires regular and frequent practice sessions, which are often time-consuming. These skills acquired over the years will gradually be lost without practice. In the novel, Kvothe often went through long stretches of time without practice or even a lute but still manages to retain his superb musical talents, impressing the audience at the Eolian. (I believe his old lute was destroyed in his early days in Tarbean and he didn’t get a replacement before being admitted to the University)
In short, I really didn’t enjoy this novel (and its protagonist), so I won’t continue with the second book in this series.
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