Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Book Review: The Name of the Wind - The King Killer Chronicle: Day One

The Name of the Wind - The King Killer Chronicle: Day One
Patrick Rothfuss
Kindle Edition, 2010

I was recommended The Name of the Wind by a friend of mine from work after my dad passed away - she's been through that loss and said it was a great escapist fantasy. She also warned me that people died in it, just in case that might trigger me, but I guessed that might feature; it wouldn't be much of a fantasy story without someone close to the protagonist kicking the bucket. She was also desperate to find someone else to talk to about it, and what better way then to force a friend to read the same thing so you can chat. No forcing was necessary as it turned out; The Name of the Wind is a thoroughly enjoyable yarn. While not original in the slightest, the way it brings the elements together largely works and is extremely easy to read. It's also perfect for those less familiar with fantasy, or younger readers who are looking for their next "boy wizard" fix.

Opening with events taking place in a small out of the way town, The Name of the Wind is actually a story within a story. We are introduced to our main protagonist, Kote, a mysterious innkeeper with a lot of secrets, his assistant/employee Bast and "Chronicler", a scribe travelling across a troubled land. The country is at war but there are concerns closer to people's homes; the appearance of dark, spider-like creatures, with legs as sharp as knives and demons stalking the roads. It soon becomes clear that Kote is much more knowledgeable about these things than any innkeeper should be and once Chronicler arrives at his inn we find out why: Kote is actually the legendary "Kvothe" (pronounced Quothe), a hero or a villain depending on whose tale you listen to, and an infamous arcanist, warrior and musician. He agrees to tell his true story to Chronicler over three days. The rest of the book is Kote's story, in his words, of his childhood, the traumas he went through, and how he eventually succeeded in entering the "University", the only place one may learn the secrets of magic.

With so much action revolving around establishing the main character and his eventual tale-telling, The Name of the Wind risks alienating readers early on. The events of the present seem to be far more compelling than those recounted in Kote's past, which caused me some frustration as I wanted to know more about what was going on in the "present". Eventually this sensation faded, though it is a constant problem in the interludes when we return to Kote and his friends at the inn.

Stories are incredibly important in The Name of the Wind, with many stories within stories throughout. As a literary device it works well here, though it isn't particularly original or done in a surprising way. Something painfully lacking was a sense that stories can be lies, and that the narrator can themselves be unreliable, and thereby cast doubt on what Kote is himself recounting. Perhaps this will come through in the later books but it felt like a missed opportunity to bring some mystery and uncertainty to what is otherwise a fantasy by numbers.

In keeping with the theme of stories, the story of Kote owes a lot to other fantasy books, making none of the events particularly original. Harry Potter, Eragon, Game of Thrones, Earthsea, and countless others have all played a part in this book's creation, which is perhaps unsurprising given that Rothfuss wrote The Name of the King while studying for his English degree. The resulting whole is a fantasy story that feels very familiar, and makes none of the events within all that surprising. It's like putting on an old pair of socks you've had for ages but were hidden at the bottom of the drawer; pleasant, comfortable and familiar, even though you don't remember ever wearing them before.

Despite the fact I felt like I'd read this story before I have to admit to enjoying The Name of the Wind immensely, maybe because what I needed at the time was a simple escape that wasn't too taxing. It is a really easy read and has enough going on to keep you interested, though the long term memorability of the story will be determined by the next books in the trilogy. I suspect overall it will end up being largely forgettable, but it is fun while it lasts.

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