It came to my attention during the last half of 2011 that my continued abstinence as it concerned the work of one Patrick Rothfuss was hampering my relevance as a reader of nerdy literature, comparable perhaps to an ignorance of George R.R. Martin or not being able to differentiate between Fred and George Weasley. I have a terrible habit of making snap decisions about whether to consume certain works of media, and as one of my rejects grows in popularity, I assume the strange position of obstinate indifference.
The Name of the Wind was one of those rare books that I managed to reconsider before popular pressure forced me to entrench my position, possibly for good. I am happy to report that I was rewarded for my rare act of discretion.
I’ll be honest: the reason I didn’t want to get into this series is because the premise made my eyes nearly roll out of my head. To wit: “This is the riveting first-person narrative of Kvothe, a young man who grows to be one of the most notorious magicians his world has ever seen. From his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that transports readers into the body and mind of a wizard.”
At this stage in literary history, I wanted to believe that we’ve evolved past the point of having to make every narrator a child prodigy who goes on to be the most powerful person in the world and the savior of humanity. It’s a convenient narrative device, of course, since the author is able to write about his child protagonist in a way that appeals to adults. It’s also remarkably helpful at improving the narrator’s list of skills so that he master of every task.
To his credit, Rothfuss does attempt a nudge and a wink at this notion of superheroics. The Name of the Wind is told in flashback, with an older version of the narrator himself cluing us in on his deeds, juxtaposed against the absurd legends built up around him in the narrative universe. Even so, it’s a little hokey that this hyper-intelligent character he’s constructed so consistently makes stupid mistakes.
Still, while there is a lot more pulp to this novel than I would have liked to believe, it does succeed at being a page-turner. The first three-quarters of the book, from Kvothe’s time as a trouper to his stay at the University are absolutely enthralling. I nearly missed my stop on my commute home a number of times as Rothfuss’ prose drew me into the unnamed world of his creation.
It loses a bit of steam in the last quarter of the book, leaving me feeling as though Rothfuss pulled up on the narrative reins a little bit to leave more meat for the second two books in the trilogy. The last adventure is drawn out and feels contrived at times, making me wish that old Kvothe would just stick around the University, where things are more consistently interesting.
In any case, The Kingkiller Chronicles are worthy candidate for the time of any fan of fantasy lit, and I am intrigued as to whether the next two books in the trilogy will deliver on its promise.