Enter ‘The Name of the Wind’ by Patrick Rothfuss. Whether by accident or by design, Rothfuss really captured the zeitgeist here. He answered the question “what would a magical University be like?”, and boy does he answer it well. And yet, while I use the phrase ‘Harry Potter for grown ups’ as a compliment, it does Rothfuss’ novel a disservice because there is so much more to it than that.
The Name of the Wind tells the story of an unassuming innkeeper called Kote, who is tracked down by an autobiographer of sort called Chronicler. It turns out that Kote is in fact an alias, and this innkeeper is the legendary Kvothe (apparently it rhymes with ‘Quothe’), who despite still being young already has an illustrious past, rumoured to have been a key player in the war being waged across the land right now. Over the next three days, Kvothe agrees to recount his past to Chronicler over the next five days, detailing how he came to be who he is today. The Name of the wind is Day One, taking us from his beginnings as a child, and how he rose from being a street urchin to being the rising star of the University.
What really shines in this book is that, despite being firmly rooted in a world of fantasy and magic, it feels utterly, utterly real. Not just by the evocative settings conjured by Rothfuss and a magic system so grounded it’s almost a science, but also by how Rothfuss steers well clear of your expectations. If you’re imagining wands and wizards, swords and sorcery, elves and dwarves, then you are going to be disappointed. Except no, you won’t be disappointed really, because instead you’re going to delve into a story that feels fresh and anti-cliché.
That last bit is really important, I think. Kvothe’s fortunes and wellbeing hang by a thread for nearly the whole novel, and the way the narrative can turn on a dime and throw curveballs at you really keeps things tense and unpredictable. Just because our protagonist is down on his luck doesn’t mean another bad thing is waiting around the corner to make it even worse, for example. Nothing ever comes easy to Kvothe. Though he is talented, he really needs to fight tooth and nail every step of the way, making his moments of victory, even the smallest of good fortunes, extremely satisfying.
But most of all – and this is one point I’ve never seen a review mention – is that the book feels utterly relaxed and at ease with itself. It isn’t paranoid about holding your attention: the book is a slow burn, opening slowly and the action is few and far between, but it works because Rothfuss nails the key points of giving you characters to care about and then putting them in situations that you want to see them interact in. This effortlessness in weaving a compelling narrative that doesn’t need to chase down and pin the reader’s eyes is refreshing and makes the novel all the more stronger for it.
The Name of the Wind is an excellent novel, and one that I would recommend to anyone looking for a big, immersive read that celebrates the small, the quiet and the different.