Note: This was originally written on July 7th, 2012, but it holds as true today as it did then. With the third book in the series hopefully coming out next year I may revive this series! The post was edited for grammar and such but is mostly intact. Any new additions to the post will be in [brackets].
“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts. There are seven words that will make a woman love you. There are ten words that will break a strong man’s will. But a word is nothing but a painting of a fire. A name is the fire itself.” – Kvothe (The Name of the Wind)
One of my favorite quotes from the first book in the Kingkiller Chronicles, The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. This series of posts, which I have titled “Adventures With An Arcanist”, will all deal with the world that Rothfuss has created within the Kingkiller Chronicles.
While I have posts planned that will look at certain characters, plots, or ideas within the world, I’ve decided to start with my thoughts on the first book itself. This post will be a bit longer than the others, with the exclusion of the post for the second (and third) book. If you have not had the privilege of reading this book, fear not; I will keep the majority of this free of major spoilers. After a certain point, however, I will give a warning and talk about some of my favorite scenes.
I think it’s only suiting that I first mention that I first heard about this book while browsing for a birthday present for my mom. She loves fantasy novels but has read pretty much all of the classics (except Lord of the Rings, can you believe that?). Instead of just going on Amazon or driving down to Barns & Noble to pick at random, I decided to look online. I found a website called Best Fantasy Books that had a Top 25 list of must-read fantasy. I should specify that the list is just one person’s opinion, although I agree with most of what they say, even if I don’t agree fully with the order of the list.
I had decided on three books for my mom, The Lord of the Rings Complete (included Hobbit), The Name of the Wind, and A Game of Thrones. Looking back now, those are some heavy hitters right there! At the time, A Game of Thrones had not started on TV and I had never heard of The Name of the Wind, so they were both a bit of a gamble.
Long story short, a year and a half later, she hadn’t read a single one. Why? She started A Game of Thrones, but it was a bit too bloody and…incesty for her taste (although after watching the TV show, I’m very curious to read the book), while she said that The Name of the Wind started so slow, she just couldn’t get into it [I still haven’t read The Song of Fire And Ice series or watched the show! Only the first season. Also, my mom still hasn’t read this book!].
Now, onto what made me pick up The Name of the Wind.
I currently have a long commute to and from work, approximately an hour and a half each way, so I decided to subscribe to Audible.com. I was looking for a high rated Fantasy book, found that website again, and purchased The Name of the Wind, not realizing it was the same book I had bought my mom!
Alright, now that we’re past the part of my post you probably didn’t care about, let’s talk about the book itself. It does start off pretty slow. As a matter of fact, this whole first book could be considered slow, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s the story of Kvothe, a young Edema Ruh boy, about 9 at the start of the book, whose family was part of a troupe of traveling performers.
During the early chapters, you learn about his unnatural ability to learn. He learned to play the lute at a young age and can usually play any song after only one or two tries. An Arcanist, named Abenthy, begins to travel with them and teach Kvothe “Sympathy”. Sympathy is really nothing more than manipulation of the natural laws of that world, although many people think of it as magic and some even feel it’s messing with “dark forces” that are best left alone.
The way that Rothfuss explains and uses sympathy within the world is truly amazing. In science, we know something works because we can prove it. There is scientific proof of gravity or thermodynamics, but these things were not always accepted by the whole world. This is similar to sympathy. It is a science rather than a supernatural occurrence. This concept really intrigues me, but more on that in another post.
After a while, Abenthy can tell that Kvothe has the potential to become a great Arcanist himself and tells his parents so, but does not force the matter. It isn’t common for Edema Ruh to leave their troupe, especially to go and learn at the University. During his time traveling with the troupe, the Arcanist became very close with Kvothe’s father, who was the leader of the group, and the two of them start to share some of their secrets. Kvothe’s father was working on a new song based on a mythical force of evil named the Chandrian, but information on them was hard to come by.
Before Abenthy parts ways with the troupe, he tells Kvothe, “if you know the true names of things, you can control them”. Kvothe had witnessed Abenthy call the wind one time and he was amazed. Kvothe decides that one day he will learn the name of the wind, hence the name of the book.
[Minor spoilers for the beginning of the book below]
Sometime after Abenthy’s departure, Kvothe is sent into the forest to gather wood for the night’s fire. He knew he could spend as much time as wanted because his parents needed a bit of privacy, but he hears noises coming from the direction of the camp and sets off to find out what it is. He realizes his whole camp, everyone he has ever known or loved, has been killed by the Chandrian. When they see him, they tell him they are going to kill him too. When he asks why they did this, they say that “Somebody has been singing entirely the wrong sort of song”.
Before they could kill Kvothe, something scares them and they leave. Kvothe gathers a few things and runs into the forest.
That’s as far as I’m going to go with a synopsis, might have been too much as it is. This is just the tip of the iceberg that is Kvothe’s life and where it goes from here may amaze you.
When I think back at where the book started and where it ended (not to mention where the second book goes), it amazes me how well Rothfuss can make you feel comfortable in a story plot, then change it up, only to make you feel comfortable once again. I found myself thinking how I didn’t want things to change, although I knew they would. Then, before I realized it, Kvothe would be in a new setting and I’d be thinking the same way. Not sure I’ve ever read a book that was able to hold me so tightly to a character that it didn’t matter where he was, or who he was with, only that I was learning more and more about his life.
Some of the characters, ones I hope to write individual posts on eventually, I really like are Denna, Bast, Master Elodin, Devi, and, of course, Kvothe. The truth is each of these has left a large impact on me and as I’m reading I keep wondering when and how they might come back into the story. One other character that I really like, though isn’t really a majorly important character in the story itself, is Chronicler. He is the man who is writing the story of Kvothe. I think I like his character a lot because he is a world renown writer and somewhat of an adventurer.
***After this point, I will be going into greater detail about things that you may or may not find spoilers***
Continuing with the topic of individual characters, I really am unsure of how much I like Kvothe. Not as a character, but as a person. He is hard-headed, stubborn, and doesn’t listen to those that he should. In certain parts of the book, I agree with his rash decisions, but other times I find myself yelling in my car for him to just SHUT UP!
This is not to say that he was written poorly. The exact opposite, actually. I think his character was written brilliantly. The fact that I don’t like some of his decisions and attitude shows how real he is. There’s also the matter of there being two Kvothe characters; one in the present time and the one in his youth. They are very different, although by the end of the second book the two personalities are becoming much more similar. I would be very curious to know the thought process Rothfuss went through when creating the two since they are so different even as they are the same.
A character that I’m a bit wary of is Bast. I knew from the beginning of the book there was something different about him. You find out in the second half of the book that he is actually of the Fae. The Fae is a place of real magic and where the fairytales told in the world come from. They are usually very powerful in one way or another, which isn’t talked about too much in the first book. He is both a good character and good person to Kvothe, but I am very unsure of his motives. At the end of the first book, we see him threaten Chronicler, but with seemingly good intentions. It’ll be interesting to see how his character develops. It also makes me wonder how Kvothe met him and why he agreed to teach him.
The other thing I want to talk about is The University, which is an amazing place. If I was living in this world, I know I’d be drawn to it. It’s not a place of magic and mystery, but of science and learning. As I said above, most of the magic of this world is no more than the laws of nature. The University teaches this to people. There are all sorts of subjects to study, from medicine to metalworking.
The other skill that is unlike anything we have in our world is known as Sygaldry. It is also a form of sympathy, but it uses runes or engravings on metal (or really any material) to make things happen. A true master would use sympathy and Sygaldry together.
It is a great setting for what it is, to help Kvothe learn. He has good friends there and his troubles are always story worthy. I personally love his life outside of the University, namely his time spent at the Eolian playing his lute. It has inspired me to want to try to learn to play, actually! [Still true, I’d love to learn the lute, but hasn’t happened. I started learning guitar, but never got very far] I knew his time at the University wouldn’t last, however, as Kvothe himself says so early in the book.
However, that doesn’t happen till much later, and not in this book.
One scene that I truly enjoyed was when Kvothe went north to Trebon after reports of the Chandrian attacking. His few days spent with Denna in the forest were truly amazing. The time spent with the Draccus was really well written and the final fight in town was amazing. I loved the imagery used when he tore the wheel off the church and brought it down to kill the beast. He truly made me feel that he was worthy of the stories that were told about him later, and this was before he had even learned to fight!
I’ll say it again, the book was amazing. Patrick Rothfuss has done an amazing job with his characters and world. The second book is just as good and it’s going to be maddening waiting for the third book, scheduled for an early 2013 release. [and here we are, in 2017, with no third book *sigh*. It’s now scheduled for next year, so here’s hoping!] I tip my hat as both a writer and reader to you, Patrick Rothfuss, for the amazing job you have done here.