For years, now, people have been telling me to read The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss. Friends, Redditors, random people in bookstores have extoled its virtues… even Lin Manuel Miranda (of Hamilton fame) was attached to a Kingkiller Chronicle project for a while. From the descriptions people gave, I didn’t really think they would be my favored type of books, but my friends continued to gush over them. My husband has read each of the books three times apiece, and despite admitting they probably weren’t “my thing” he encouraged me to read them, as well. Lately, I’ve felt like relaxing with a lovely, escapist fairytale and forgetting the world outside (you know why.) I finally was in the right mood to sit down and read the first book, The Name of the Wind.
This is actually the second time I started to read the book. The first time I got about 50 pages in when, frustrated by the terrible metaphors and complete lack of any story progress, I got distracted by Swamplandia! (amazing prose, terrible ending) and didn’t pick up The Name of the Wind again for three years. Many of the people who have recommended the book to me have exclaimed “the prose is wonderful!” but I will have to heartily disagree. I found the writing to be self-important, relying too heavily on struggling metaphors and on over-dramatic character interactions. It feels as though Rothfuss is trying very hard to impress the reader with how totally awesome the main character is. On top of this, the pacing throughout the book was nonexistent. There is almost no story that happens throughout the 700+ pages. Instead, the book is almost entirely worldbuilding: accounts of different groups of people, myths and religious stories recounted at length by various characters, descriptions of quasi-medieval settings, and detailed explanations of how different in-world magic systems work.
What story there is revolves around Kvothe – a man with a legendary past who is good at everything he does, from learning music to languages to bushcraft to magic. I have read criticisms of the book that center on calling out Kvothe for being a Mary Sue – that is, a too-perfect character often seen as an idealized version of an author themself. However, my complaint regarding characterization in The Name of the Wind is not that Kvothe is a boy-prodigy, it is only that over the course of the entire novel no character goes through any personal growth. Neither is the reader’s perception of them changed, it is only reinforced. Kvothe goes from being a boy-prodigy to a super-legendary university student. Denna goes from being a mysterious wandering woman to an extra-alluring force of nature who can’t be pinned down. Simmon and Wilem are solid, unchanging buddies. The people who hate Kvothe hate him more. The people who like him increase in their adoration. And so on.
All that being said – the characters are charming. Kvothe’s friends are jocular and loyal, which is what makes you want to keep returning to them. Although there is very little story, there is plenty of action and it can be fun to watch Kvothe innovatively get out of one tight spot after another… Which is what brings me to what The Name of the Wind does excellently, and the reason it is recommended over and over. It shows you, the reader, what people can achieve with imagination.
This is a Dungeons and Dragons players’ book through and through. Via his world-building, Rothfuss shows the talents of the best Game Masters – building a detailed and layered setting for players/readers to interact in, filled with strange and memorable characters and unique challenges. He shows the creativity of the best players – working within the rules of the game/magic system to do new and unexpected things. It is unsurprising to me that every person I know who has recommended this book has also played D&D. The things that make The Name of the Wind a less-than-great novel – excessive exposition and over-reliance on magic systems as plot points – also make it interesting and creative.
I did not come away from this book thinking any new, deep thoughts or looking at life in a different way. It is largely escapist fluff. I have, however, been a little inspired to do new things in my Tuesday night D&D session (now being held over group voice chat instead of in-person due to… you know.) It was J.R.R. Tolkien who once said, “Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape? […] If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!”
Right now, I (and probably everyone I know) could use a little escape.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐