Upon the advice of my co-worker Frederick, I recently read through the novel “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss. In “The Name of the Wind”, an old barkeeper by the name of Kvothe recounts the story of his exceptional youth to a passing scribe while a foreboding dark menace closes in on their valley. Given that I spent a couple of months reading through the text, I felt that it might be a good idea to write a review about the novel and the lessons that I draw from it for my own work.
The book is the first of a planned trilogy whereas each book takes place during one of the three days that Kvothe has set aside to tell his story. In Day One (The Name of the Wind), Kvothe recounts his idealic youth, the brutal murder of his family, years of poverty, and the beginning of his education as a archanist at the University.
Koevthe begins his story to the passing scribe, named the Chronicler, by recounting his idealic youth with his parents on a performing troupe that travels the world. Here the author, Patrick Rothfuss, works very hard and spends many pages establishing the young character of Kvothe, the characters in his life, and how happy and perfect everything is in his life. By this time, we know at something bad is going to happen to Kvothe and we anxiously await its occurrence but Patrick Rothfuss takes an extremely long time in order to get there. This establishes a recurring problem with this novel. When everything goes well for Kvothe, the story drags. When things go badly for Kvothe, the novel soars.
Once Kvothe’s traveling troupe is murdered and Kvothe is orphaned, the story immediately picks up steam. I was enthralled by Kvothe’s struggle for survival: first in the surrounding wood and then later when he moves to a city reminiscent of industrial England. This section evoked the best work of Charles Dicksons and we cheer on young Kvothe as he fights for every last jolt (like a penny).
After several years of poverty, Kvothe makes his way to the University where he always dreamed of attending. Here he gains admittance through his own inherent brilliance and then wows both students and teachers with amazing feat after incredible adventure after scintillating victory. Once again the novel drags. Some commentators have suggested that this section is more realistic and thus superior to the in-school drama of the Harry Potter series. Unfortunately, I am not able to agree. I found the high school drama in the Harry Potter series (especially in the Goblet of Fire) to be far more engaging then the characters and squabbles that Kvothe encounters. Rowling had this rare gift in creating characters that were extremely easy to visualize and thus remember. After spending twenty hours with Rothfuss’ characters, I still can’t remember the names of Kvothe’s best friends. Kvothe’s struggles with his love Denna work much better precisely because Kvothe is eternally frustrated in trying to win her heart. All in all, I found the University section to be slow in tedious precisely because it is too easy for Kvothe to overcome his obstacles.
The story picks up again when Kvothe leaves the University to investigate the massacre of a wedding, finds Denna, and then is forced to battle a dragonus (Rothfuss’ version of a dragon). This is by far the most exciting part of the novel as Kvothe and Denna are constantly forced to use their wits in order to survive a growing series of obstacles, climaxing with an effective battle with the dragonus in a local village.
The Name of the Wind is an enjoyable read but it’s biggest weakness is in its structure. There is no single narrative thread that ties the story together. There is the approaching evil but that is saved for the next books in the trilogy. There are some compelling episodes but they don’t tie together. Thus we are left without a main storyline. In the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling uses a mystery to tie the events within a novel together while giving her the freedom to establish characters and plot lines that carry on from book. The Harry Potter novels stand well alone as individual books. The same cannot be said for The Name of the Wind. Instead it reads as the first part of really long novel, much to it’s detriment.
In conclusion, the Name of the Wind has some excellent text but is undermined by its lack of a coherent structure.