Initially, Patrick Rothfuss’s fantasy novel The Name of the Wind drifts along at the pace of a gentle breeze. But it races like a tempest by the end.
The story starts slowly because Rothfuss sets it up as a tale within a tale. The first few chapters are in third person, hinting at larger events while introducing us to Kote (an innkeeper in a small town), Bast (Kote’s assistant), and Chronicler (a traveling scribe). Chronicler identifies Kote as Kvothe, a legendary magician, and offers to transcribe his life’s story. Kvothe accepts, and the narration switches to first person for the rest of the book, except for occasional interludes back at his inn.
It took me awhile to appreciate this structure. At first, I thought Rothfuss would have been better off jumping straight to Kvothe’s point of view and his retelling of how he came to be a clever orphan who self-finances his education at a more adult-version of Hogwarts. Because that story has lots to recommend it: a distinctive, self-reliant protagonist; a convincing magic system; a larger mystery to unravel (concerning why Kvothe lost his parents)—good stuff all around.
For much of the book, though, the scenes in the inn didn’t seem particularly necessary. But as the main narrative proceeds, the interludes allow Rothfuss to drop clues about what’s in store and interject a joke or two. More importantly, the presence of these scenes makes the novel’s inconclusive ending more palatable: when Kvothe agreed to share his story, he warned Chronicler it would take three days to tell in full, and the first day’s recording amounts to the 600+ pages in The Name of the Wind. Days two and three (presumably) require separate books.
A lesser author wouldn’t get away with this. But Rothfuss’s writing is strong (aside from some occasional comma abuse), Kvothe is a hero worth rooting for, and the final sequences are exhilarating. So, like Bast and Chronicler, I’m eager for another day’s tale—I’ve already started reading The Wise Man’s Fear, the sequel to The Name of the Wind.
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