Where to begin with a tale such as this? A story that is so much more then the sum of it’s parts, a narrative woven into a grand tapestry of heroics and every day moments, a hero as human as each of us, but as mysterious as a god.
I begin to write this review with only the first few pages of Wise Man’s Fear read, allowing me to look at the book as more of an island, instead of the edge of a continent. There is so much to say, I am sure I will miss much, but the writing of Patrick Rothfuss begs to be spoken of, begs to be read aloud from, begs to be carried with you and shared with others.
So, where to begin? I suppose at the beginning. A quick summary of our tale for those who have somehow still avoided picking up the book. And with Lionsgate having made offers to complete not only a movie and TV adaptation of the extensive world, but a video game as well, my question is- what are you waiting for?
Spoiler Warning: Minimal, with vague mention of the occasional rescue (though not how or why the rescue came about) or poor decision making by one of the characters.
Our story begins within the walls of the Waystone Inn, where innkeeper Kote listens to five men as the eldest among them tell a tale of their own. Immediately you feel that there is something more to Kote then meets the eye, as revealed in the way that silence is spoken of, in the way he carries himself, in the things he knows but doesn’t speak of.
The story is a tale of waiting, a building of expectations. Little is revealed, but what is feels important, as though it were simply waiting for you to put the pieces together on your own. And it is a story with many tales woven into it’s fabric, layers upon layers. We begin with a small narrative, followed by a larger one, when a man in search of Kote and his life’s story arrives at the Waystone Inn.
Through his prodding it is revealed that the innkeeper is actually Kvothe (pronounced almost like “quoth”), a man who became a legend in his own time, and is now fleeing a dark and troubled past.
And so the true story begins, as Kvothe settles in to tell his tale over the course of three days. The Name of the Wind is the first day of his narrative, and it starts as many do, while he is still a child living among the traveling caravans of the Edema Ruh. His life is a routine of performance and song, surrounded by a talented troupe of actors and musicians, including his father and mother, who lead the caravan and give us a shining example of relationship goals.
Young Kvothe may have most likely spent his life as a performer, playing the lute and writing songs alongside his family, but his prospects change the night he sees an acarnist call the name of the wind.
What follows is the education of a hero, quick witted and sharp-tongued, Kvothe devours whatever knowledge is given to him, spending hours studying, desperate to know just how the wind is called. We are shown his triumphs and his failures alongside the arcanist, Abenthy, as well as the life of the Edema Ruh, who are either reviled or welcomed in their travels. The early pages of his tale shines like summer light through forest boughs, warm and welcoming, till all of that is lost, and Kvothe is forced into a life he had never imagined, leaving in the wake of horrors he does not fully understand.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of reading Name of the Wind is Patrick Rothfuss’s amazing use of meter in his tale. There are parts of the story that do not allow you stop- you will intend to read a chapter, but a hundred pages later you will still not wish to put the book down. His narrative moves like poetry, though to try to pinpoint just where that poetry is can be a challenge in and of itself. You feel Kvothe’s trepidation, his fear, his sadness and elation. You want him to succeed almost as badly as he yearns for it himself.
The narrative is broken on occasion with interludes cutting back to the present time, back in the Waystone Inn. But even these intermissions feel natural, they occur where a storyteller would pause, giving you time to reconcile with the weight of the story you are reading, while also adding the mystery of just how Kvothe the Bloodless became Kote the Innkeeper.
The male characters are well fleshed out and interesting; from Elodin, Master Namer to Hemme, Master of Sympathy and a major antagonist to Kvothe’s progress at the university. They help illustrate that while Kvothe’s intelligence has the ability to take him far, it is often also what holds him back.
This leads us to two of the annoying factors of the story for me; One, female characters are often used as ways to move the plot forward while accomplishing very little in terms of character development. Two, Kvothe incredible intelligence or complete lack thereof.
At this point in our narrative he is only fifteen, a fact we are reminded of on multiple occasions, but mainly when women make him uncomfortable. We are also to except that nearly every women who interacts with Kvothe is almost immediately taken with him, and is probably trying to have sex with him. (As his male friends love to inform him, and who has more knowledge then what women want then men?) I had a difficult time reconciling how he claimed to be terrible with women, yet was charming and intelligent in conversation. I’m not sure if we ever find out any of these women’s exact ages, but it’s safe to assume, since Kvothe mentions being allowed into the University at a very young age (younger then many are permitted to start at), that he is at least a few years younger then all these women, who have been studying at the university for some time, or did so in the past. So, this fifteen year old is so interesting, intelligent, and charismatic that women are immediately taken with him? All of them? Even women who simply see him perform a song on stage? Even those that are most likely in their twenties?
These leads us to the problem of Denna. Kvothe’s “pedestal figure”, the one he holds above all others in terms of personality and appearance. At time likable, but mostly just annoyingly obtuse and mysterious, Denna (or whatever name she chooses to use at the time), is a grail that Kvothe repeatedly goes in search of. She seems to be interested in him, but constantly circulates through men with money who she then abandons when they can’t give her whatever it is she seems to be in search of. Most people would say she is leading Kvothe on, as she only seems to seek him when she’s bored, but Kvothe is completely taken with her, and we are forced to watch as he threatens and insults others in her name. She is also apparently well-traveled and street wise, for how else would she have survived on her own for so long, except that she (spoiler) happily and unwittingly shoves drugs in her mouth later in the narrative, while in the back of a cave in the middle of nowhere, because she thought it was candy.
I was not impressed.
Auri has wonderful dialogue but little purpose other then to show Kvothe the Underthing, we aren’t even shown how the two initially met. She simply becomes part of the narrative and we are told Kvothe has been spending some time gaining her trust. Fela is nowhere to be seen in the Fishery until the day she needs to be rescued, then we see her one more time so she can make Denna jealous. Mola thinks Kvothe’s skin is great, is introduced to Auri but never does anything with that information, and Devi almost rescues herself with her sharp personality and in-control attitude, except that she gives us the same “I’m interested in this boy despite most likely being in my twenties” thing. I understand, he’s charming, attractive, and intelligent; I know a lot of people who are, I don’t want to have sex with them. And I stopped being interested in fifteen year old sometime after my sixteenth birthday but before my seventeenth.
I don’t mean for this to deter people from reading the story. Patrick Rothfuss does seem to have a sincere respect for women, but he has created a world where they are limited (it’s even discussed at one point between Kvothe and another male character), and he never allows them to break the status quo. Are they mysterious or just single-faceted? We are rarely given more then their interest in Kvothe as a way to gauge their personalities. I could not tell you more about them then what I have presented here along with some physical descriptions, we never learn where they came from, any speech habits, any goals, setbacks, or hobbies. Of course, it is not their story- but I would like to see a few women who are allowed to be an authority in something, not simply placed upon a high shelf to look at on occasion and be taken down when the need arises, only to disappear just as quickly.
The final thing I’d like to mention is the conclusion of the first day of storytelling. Kvothe has overcome many obstacles at The University, and created several others with his smart mouth and complete lack of patience. But when rumors pertaining to an incident from his childhood arise he drops everything to rush to the source of these tales. He stays gone for several days and we are left to assume that this is not going to get him removed from the academy, despite the fact that certain professors and students seem determined to have him expelled. The last few chapters of his past feel different from the rest of the narrative, rushed, perhaps because Kvothe is rushing, with some rather unbelievable jumps in plot points, some very stereotypical characters, and people making impulsive choices that a logical person probably wouldn’t have done.
But then the final, final chapters occurs. We have returned to the Waystone Inn, and a mercenary has appeared at the door. He is not like other travelers, however, and we are given a chilling rendition of what takes place in the common room upon his arrival. Afterwards, we are treated to a conversation with Bast and Chronicler that left me both amused and disturbed, and finally, finally, the story ends like a song, repeating an altered version of the beginning chorus. There is a silence at the Inn, and it is a silence of three parts.
Conclusion: If you like well metered, well written narratives then you should absolutely read it. If you enjoy character driven fantasy epics, you should read it. If you’re looking for a narrative that gives women equal footing to men you should probably look somewhere else. My hope is that the second book will allow a women or two to step out of her narrative box and become something more then a trigger for the next event or piece of information. But all in all I really enjoyed the story and am looking forward to continuing it.