The Name Of The Wind
Reviewed by Sue Bridgwater
[This review originally appeared in Mythprint 47:12 (#341) in December 2010.]
I found this 662 page fantasy novel on offer in a remainders bin at a garden centre, at a fraction of its original cost. I cannot understand why. A work so well written and ingeniously conceived should have sold every copy. It is a double-first, being not only Rothfuss’s debut novel but the first volume in a proposed trilogy.
The tale opens on a dark, but not stormy night, in a lonely inn in a small settlement in a dark forest. So far, so conventional. However, the five customers and the enigmatic innkeeper who people the opening scene are just the first in a novel packed with well-realised characters whose fates draw us in, leading us to share vividly-presented joys and sorrows, griefs and losses, hopes and terrors.
As is common in many fictions these days, the story unwinds on two timescales, and the deeply complex back-story is unrolled by the innkeeper as he tells it to the customers. Dreadful things happen in both narratives, and unpleasant creatures, both human and non-human, afflict the community where the Inn is set, Newarre, and the life of the boy whose story is related by the innkeeper, Kote.
There are conventional elements at every stage of the story; the boy moves from childhood in a troupe of travelling players to desperate loneliness as an orphan after his family is massacred by mysterious, demon-like entities known as the Chandrian. He lives for many years as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, then talks his way into a legendary school of magic; but becomes a fugitive after the murder of a king. So the themes to be worked out are common ones in fantasy; revenge, the acquisition of knowledge as a step to gaining magical power, constant pursuit by evil beings, a flight from injustice. And not to be forgotten, our hero also falls in love with a mysterious woman whose motives constantly bewilder him.
However, rather than point out similarities to Harry Potter or Ged or to any other fantasy characters or tales brewed from the traditional soup-stock, one should approach this work on its own merits, which are many. I have seldom read such a long tale (save one that I need not name here) that managed to sustain my interest and keep me genuinely wrapped up in its world. It was at times quite terrifying, and often poignant, funny, or magical. Its hero is in search of the name of the wind, so as to control its power; one of many traditional features of the magic in this book. On the way he has a lively time: “I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.”
One of the strongest features of this work is its language; Rothfuss knows how to handle English. He also knows how to plot, how to evoke character and how to move a tale along at different paces according to need. Elements of adventure and horror tales are here, the old struggle between good and evil, and also solid writing about the realities of cold, hunger, grief and bereavement that reach far deeper than anything Potter’s life-story has to offer. Once, on the streets of Tarbean, the boy is raped; no pretty fairy-story here, nor glamourising of life on the streets.
I said the tale is told on two time-levels, but in fact there are three, since many tales of ancient legend are told by various characters to one another, and seem to enshrine much of the morality and belief of the various cultures of The Four Corners of Civilisation. This is a writer with a strong voice of his own, whose work will appeal to the many who like their Fantasy written with intelligence and style. I look forward to the sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear. As of this writing, however, it is delayed until 2011. And I so much want to know what happens next!