Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Genre: epic fantasy
Length: 676 pages
Publisher: DAW Books (March 2007)
MY RATING: 5 stars
Patrick Rothfuss establishes in the first line of The Name of the Wind that his major theme is silence. He carries it through nearly a hundred chapters. The novel’s protagonist is a man named Kvothe. He has had many names, and names are a major plot device. It’s nothing new to fantasy–Ursula K. Le Guin, David Eddings, Jim Butcher, even Tolkien all used it to some degree or other–but naming in Rothfuss’s hands takes on new meanings.
Kvothe’s aspiration is to learn the eponymous name of the wind, and it is this aspiration that drives most of the main narrative. He survives a traumatic childhood and attends the University, all the time depending on his expansive wits. If not always an entirely likeable character, Kvothe consistently brilliant and never boring, and I came to love him through his friends’ love for him, how he faced his trials, and his boyish naivete–despite all his heroics, he’s only 15 by the end of the book and not well versed in the ways of the world.
Another story frames the main story, however. In the ‘present’ Kvothe is running an establishment called the Waystone Inn in a small backwater of a town with the assistance of his apprentice Bast. Except he insists that his name is Kote. Again with the naming stuff. A professional storyteller named Chronicler shows up to record his biography, which Kote insists will take three days. The frame story ends up being important to the inner tale of how Kvothe became an infamous man living under an assumed identity.
Rothfuss weaves a captivating tale as he tells Kvothe’s story. The details are many and beautifully placed. The inner story is full of humor, triumph, and much heartache, while the outer story seems to hold the allegory. It’s a story that has stayed with me for a long time, and so what follows are my own conclusions that I don’t think spoil too much if you haven’t read it.
My interpretation is this: the silence, the lack of speaking, is what is holding Kvothe/Kote in a depressed state. He was a powerful arcanist but is now an innkeeper. In the process, while he is filling the role of innkeeper to the simple country folk who are his patrons, he forgets who he is. (There is a Firefly reference here, involving a spaceship and cows, if you want to entertain it, gentle readers.) Once that silence is broken, then he can reclaim himself. I speak from personal experience here, so perhaps I bring my own notions to the book, as every reader inevitably does. So I’ll offer that to you. The Name of the Wind can be read as a long meditation on identity, depression, and truth. I first read it when I was going through similar silences, and for that I am grateful to Rothfuss, whether that was his intention or not.
Fantasy writers have the opportunity to explore different realities, to borrow from different worlds. But the most effective stories are those that turn back on the universal problems that humans everywhere face. Patrick Rothfuss handles the issues of identity and silences expertly, weaving these universal issues seamlessly into an immersive narrative.