If you’ve been looking for a great new fantasy series that’s spent a lot of time on the New York Times Bestseller List, you’re in luck. Rothfuss and his Kingkiller Chronicles join an elite group of writers to have managed the feat; Robert Jordan, George R.R Martin, Robin Hobb, Tad Williams, Ursula LeGuin, Terry Goodkind, Terry Brooks, David Eddings, and a few I can’t remember. Anyways, the point is that it reads like a serious who’s-who of fantasy writers, doesn’t it? And The Name Of The Wind certainly deserves its place. Some reviewers are even calling it the successor to Harry Potter/Harry Potter for grown-ups, and that’s quite a tag to live upto. I must say though, I’m pretty much in complete agreement.
The Name of the Wind is great for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it pulls off first-person perspective narrative with a style and elan beyond compare. That’s not common in fantasy on this scale, in fact, with the exception of Roger Zelazny’s Amber Chronicles I’m hard pressed to think of another that’s as good. The story is told by the primary protagonist, Kvothe, in reverse narrative. He tells his life-story, essentially. Rothfuss spins a great coming-of-age tale. This is known, in literary terms, as a bildungsroman, essentially the story of the childhood, education, and training of a boy who grew up to be a legendary hero. All the usual ingredients are there; young brave boy in a strange school/university where he has only a couple of close friends and makes instant enemies-till-we-die of a certain teacher and a certain student; he’s poor but very talented (music being the specialty here, not flying on a broomstick); has to endure numerous taunts and trials and repeatedly acts the hero…sounding familiar? It should. Clearly the Harry Potter formula has been carefully incorporated into what one reviewer called an Arabian Nights flavour in a HP academic setting. I don’t think that does the book justice, the world and the characters that populate it are richly detailed and wonderfully compelling in their originality. Kvothe in particular; Kvothe the Bloodless, the Kingkiller, the Arcane. He’s a wonderful polymath, music, thievery, theater, metallurgy, rhetoric and so much more are just grist to his mill. Yet he makes vicious enemies, deeply offends faculty members, and pursues without ever quite capturing a very mysterious and inscrutable woman named Denna.
Much as I would like to outline the story here, giving away any spoilers would somehow be insulting the quality of this book. But if you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you’ll know that doesn’t usually stop me. Still, I think I’ve said enough. A lot of work has gone into polishing this story until it gleams, and it really shows. Each sentence has been carefully edited, pruned like an elegant topiary to produce the most pleasing result. But while that might make it sound contrived (which it is, to some extent) it’s still startlingy original and extremely well-realized. Have a look here and you’ll see why, when the likes of these speak so I’ve nothing much to add. Beyond that the tale of Kvothe, the University, and his adventures therein are absolutely sublimely written, with magic rooted in a wonderfully realized world, about epic evil and villains that do not sleep in five thousand years and yet staying true to universal themes like love, loss, art, and failure. It took Rothfuss some time, he became (in his own words) ‘ a connoisseur of rejection letters’, but he really pulled it off. Read this for possibly the best epic fantasy novel of 2011, although Brandon Sanderson’s Way of the Kings is pretty good competition.
From Bangalore but based primarily in New Delhi, India, Samir has variously been and continues to be a professional musician, a pub quiz host, a political campaign aide, and a student of the guitar, as well as history and international relations. He is currently Research Director for the Global Security Centre in India. He is also a freelance editor and research consultant, having worked for the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, the Public Health Foundation of India, and a McKinsey-IBM KPO, as well as Random House and Oxford University Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org