It’s time for another writer’s review! I’ve actually read a few great books since the Words of Radiance review, and there may be some reviews for those in the future, but I really wanted to review The Name of the Wind.
The Name of the Wind is Patrick Rothfuss’ debut novel. From what I understand, he has put years and years of work into this book, continuing to refine it again and again rather than moving onto something else. Let me tell you, I’m glad he didn’t move on. Because The Name of the Wind has some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read, and it’s just plain great. Rothfuss does several things that are out of the ordinary but worked wonderfully, so I’d like to go over a few of those.
Before getting to some of the more concrete ways that Rothfuss breaks fantasy norms, I want to talk about this principle generally. One reason that I love fantasy is because it offers so much room for experimentation. Some may say that this freedom actually makes it so fantasy novels should not be considered true literature. I disagree, of course, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Rothfuss introduces a few things that are different from other fantasy novels. The Name of the Wind’s actual plot and structure sticks out first and foremost. This is an origin story. It’s the story of a man who is now an innkeeper, but he hasn’t always been. He’s using this career to hide who he really is; a man who has spoken with gods and has earned titles such as Kingkiller and Bloodless. Legends abound throughout the land about this man, but no one knows what happened to him.
But this isn’t an origin story like you’d normally see it. After all, pretty much any epic fantasy is one long origin story about the main character. No, this is an origin story told directly from the mouth of Kvothe, the legend. He’s telling his story (which makes up the bulk of the plot) to a Chronicler who has searched him out just to record his story. While Kvothe is telling his story, there are also other interesting problems going on in the present day. This offers an interesting juxtaposition quite unique to The Name of the Wind.
While this kind of structure may initially make it seem less exciting since we know that Kvothe is alive and well enough to tell his story, the legends surrounding Kvothe and some other parts of his character that seemed to have changed over time make us curious enough to discover what has made him into this man. Rothfuss has been very careful in how he has used this unique structure.
One great advantage of plot structure is the focus that is places on character. Since the story is told from the mouth of Kvothe, we get a very unique and personal look at him and at other characters. Since Kvothe is telling a story years ahead of when the events actually occurred, we can see how he still feels about these events. We can see what was important enough that he remembers it so vividly in the present day. This design makes Name of the Wind’s perspective even more personal than most first-person POV novels.
Rothfuss has gone to great lengths to make this a very character-driven story, even so much that he deviates from other epic fantasy tropes. In many epic fantasy stories, the main character is engaged in a grand quest that will have an effect on the entire planet (or at least a big part of it). The protagonist is often facing off against trials of epic proportions that test their abilities. This is not really the case in Name of the Wind.
Instead, epic events are sacrificed for character-building events. Don’t get me wrong, there are some cool events that could potentially have very epic proportions in later books (anything involving the Chandrian, for example), but most of these events affect Kvothe much, much more than they affect the rest of the world.
This can be a difficult sacrifice to make, but if done well, it can make for just as engaging of a story. When the stakes are epic and grand in scale, you want the protagonist to succeed so they can save everyone, do what’s right, bring back the balance, etc. But in Name of the Wind, you want Kvothe to succeed because he’s Kvothe. You know what he’s been through, you see him fail through events in the book, and you want to know what becomes of him.
In my opinion, any book, no matter how epic in proportion, should make us want the character to succeed for the sake of the character just as much as for the sake of the world. Writers should make their readers care that much about the characters, and Rothfuss does just that.
Finally, I find it very interesting what Rothfuss did with the climax. Disclaimer: I will try to keep this portion as spoiler-free as I can, but that’s difficult any time that you’re discussing a climax.
In most fantasy novels, the author prepares the reader for the climax. We often can predict what the climax will likely be pretty early on. After all, a standard plot structure dictates that rising action leads us toward an epic climax.
Once again, however, The Name of the Wind does not give a climax that you would expect. Rather than Kvothe finding the villains he’s been searching for, or something else of that sort, we are given an emotional and awesome climax that you may not expect as a climax, but it hits just like one. You are given the satisfaction that Kvothe reached one of his goals in a way even he didn’t anticipate. This continues to reinforce the fact that The Name of the Wind is much more character-driven than event-driven.
The Name of the Wind is a great, engaging read that makes you want to immediately pick up book two (The Wise Man’s Fear) to find out what is in store for Kvothe. That latter fact alone makes Name of the Wind effective. If a novel makes us care enough about a character that we want to know what happens to them after the final period on the final page, then the author has succeeded.
Rothfuss proves that you can break norms in writing, but if you’re going to do it, do it right. And we can’t just break norms for sake of breaking norms, we have to do it for the sake of the story and for the sake of the characters.
Thanks again for reading! If you have any additional thoughts, please leave a comment and continue this exchange. Happy writing!