Monday, August 1, 2011
Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Every once in a great while, I have the pleasure of "discovering" a new and exciting author of a saga that may be destined to be a classic - at least in my library. Jacqueline Carey, with Kushiel's Dart, Robin Hobb with Assassin's Apprentice, and now Mr. Rothfuss, in the first book of the Kingkiller Chronicle. There was a lot of early buzz about this book when it first hit the stores, but I tend to distrust the media hype, so I didn't read it right away. In this case, I may have been mistaken, aside from the fact that the second book is already available, so I won't have to wait so long between adventures.
The story begins in a small roadside inn in a village the other side of Nowhere. The keeper of the inn, Kote, appears at first glance, aside from his flame-red hair, to be noone special, but we get a few hints that there may be more to him than meets the eye. Some nasty spider-like demons show up and attack people in the village, and Kote seems to know more about them and how to kill them than one would expect from the proprietor of an inn. A famed storyteller called Chronicler shows up as Kote is dealing with a group of demons on his own, out in the forest, and Kote hauls him back to the inn after he is caught in the middle of the battle. Kote has a sidekick called Bast, who turns out to be something of an elf, I believe - it's left a little vague.
As the first bit of the story plays out, Kote is revealed to be Kvothe, Kingslayer and arcanist (wizard) in hiding. Chronicler convinces Kvothe to tell his story at last, to set the record straight, and the real meat of the tale begins. Kvothe was born and raised in a troupe of traveling performers, the Ruh, and when he was in his early teens, an arcanist named Abenthy (Ben) travelled with them for quite a while, teaching Kvothe some of his arts, as well as more scholarly subjects. Ben decides to marry a woman in a small town and settle down there, and not long after that, Kvothe's entire troupe, including his parents are slaughtered by a band of legendary, evil and powerful beings called the Chandrian, whom his father had been composing a song about. Only Kvothe survives, and he is left to survive on his own in the wild for a time, until winter drives him to relocate to a city.
He learns some tough lessons in the city about survival of the fittest, and mostly gets by by begging and thieving. After a few years there, he realizes he can't go on this way, and makes his way to the city of Imre, where the University is located. The University is where Abenthy and others learned the art of being arcanists, and Kvothe takes the entrance exam there and embarks upon his studies.
Rothfuss has done a great job of creating a new world, with its own magic system, history and legends, and populated with interesting and believable characters. Kvothe's saga is fraught with both tragedy and joy, and he encounters challenge after challenge in his quest to become an arcanist. Sometimes, you can see trouble coming a mile away, even when Kvothe seems oblivious, and at others, disaster strikes from out of the blue. The descriptive writing paints a vivid portrait, without distracting from the pace of the plot(s). The book has some fun political intrigue, a puckish sense of whimsy at times, and leaves you with your mouth watering for more at its end. I'm glad I added it to the collection.