I’ve been waiting for a good book for a long time. Not that I haven’t read good ones lately, mind you, but I’ve been waiting for a particular kind of book; a particular kind of story. A book that’s like eating a really good meal. You’re drawn into the experience immediately and you want it not because you have to or ought to or are supposed to but because it’s just so good, plain and simple, you can’t help it. I loved this book in a way that one loves a meal that has some delicious item they’ve been craving a very long time. It doesn’t have to be a five star dinner to be something your heart desires and that’s what this story was for me: My heart’s desire. Except the ending which did not leave me satisfied but wanting more. And thankfully there is more!
This book was recommended to me by one, maybe two, people. I am convinced that you can learn something about the way a person sees the world from the inside of their head by reading books they like. Of course, it’s not an exact science, but it does sometimes influence which recommended books I choose to read. My first thought, however, was that it would be another D&D style book. You know the type I mean. A group of assorted flotsam and jetsam meets at an inn or tavern and goes out adventuring, slaying dragons, finding gold and rescuing maidens along the way. Not that there’s anything wrong with that at all, simply that I assumed this to be in that genre. It sort of is and sort of isn’t.
The basic premise is this: a man named Kvothe (or Kote or Reshi or who knows what else he calls himself), a simple innkeeper, is retelling the story of his life to the Chronicler so that there will be a genuine account of his life rather than just the heroic or notorious mythology that seems to have grown up around him. Simple enough. But you see, he’s not really just some innkeeper.
First clue that things aren’t what they seem is the somewhat strange and intriguing employee/student, Bast, who calls the innkeeper Reshi. Fairly early in the book, through their conversations, we realize that they are hiding from something. At least Kote is. And while he wishes to keep his identity hidden beneath the guise of mild mannered average guy, he still goes out to kill some devilish spider-like nightmare creatures in the middle of the night. Well, I suppose someone has to do it. It is on this little outing that he meets and saves the life of the Chronicler.
After some coaxing and prodding, Kote (or Kvothe) sits down with Chronicler and Bast and begins telling the story of his life. He says that he will need three days to tell the whole thing. “…let us pass over innumerable boring stories: the rise and fall of empires, sagas of heroism, ballads of tragic love. Let us hurry forward to the only tale of any real importance,” Kvothe says. “Mine.” If I had to pin point it, I believe I fell in love with this character right there.
As a child Kvothe meets a man who can call upon the wind to obey his wishes. This man knows the name of the wind and young Kvothe is so impressed with this that he wants to learn how do this, too. Who wouldn’t? After a horrific and devastating encounter with the Chandrian, a well-fabled and chillingly evil group, Kvothe’s young life is turned upside down and hurdled headlong into chaos.
From an unorthodox yet love-filled childhood to heart breaking poverty, from several unexpected kindnesses, friends and mentors to higher education and varying degrees of high and low adventure, Kvothe’s life unfolds before Chronicler, Bast and our eyes. Oh, and there’s the girl. In fact the whole second half of the book circles in no small part around her. Denna, Dianna, Rosanna Bannanna Danna (ok, not the last bit). Her name, like Kvothe’s, keeps changing. She proves to be as wild and unpredictable as the wind itself and more than a fair match to Kvothe in all areas.
The educational institution where he goes to study to learn the name of the wind, and everything else he can manage along the way, has a faint echo of Hogwarts. However, I think it is likely that any school of magic will henceforth be reminiscent of the Potter Alma Matter. It is not a distracting characteristic of the story but it is there none the less.
Throughout the story there is music. Kvothe’s childhood was woven through with it, he spends the darkest times of his life either pouring himself into it or pinning for it like a drug addict weeping for another fix. His musical ability provides him with a bit of much needed financial support and adds to his already mounting notoriety. It also provides his first real connection with Denna.
The author switches back and forth between the “current timeline” of the inn with Kote (Kvothe), Chronicler and Bast as well as a few visitors to the establishment from time to time, and the timeline of Kvothe’s story. This can be a technique that is disconcerting to me because it is often either jarring or affected but Rothfus does it smoothly and just frequently enough to maintain the storyteller motif and leave you hungry for the next chapter. The book ends, unsurprisingly, with cliffhanger and many a loose thread because the whole story is meant to be in three parts. After all, Kvothe said it would take three days to tell the whole story of his life.
The next book in the series is The Wise Man’s Fear and, for the first time in a long while, I actually went to purchase it before I completed the first one so I would not have to wait to begin it as soon as I completed Name of the Wind. In the first book, Kvothe says that a wise man fears three things: the sea in a storm, a night with no moon and the anger of a gentle man. Sure sounds like wisdom to me.
While reading this book I could not help from thinking about so many legends and stories, superstitions and fables that I have heard my whole life. Every time a character touched a piece of iron as a protection against demons I was reminded of so many superstitious rituals that I or someone I know feel compelled to enact, even if we rationally know they are not particularly powerful. With every awe inspiring legend that grew up around Kvothe (Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe the Arcane) because of some much less awe-full event, I was reminded of stories like Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, King Arthur and Robin Hood. All most likely rooted in real people but touched with some sort of magic.
Obviously, I love the book and would highly recommend it. But there is something more here than just a good tale well spun. I have always thought that we are, in no small part, the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell others about ourselves. Kvothe became who he was not only because of factually based events but also because of story. Story carries with it so much more truth than factually based accounts. I am not convinced that facts can bear as much truth as story. Are we not all in some way like Kvothe? Are not the stories we tell ourselves with our own particular view of the world and of our lives who we really are?
I believe, even though it is a sort of genre that is often assumed to be more targeted for males (though I’ve never taken much notice of that assumption myself) it would readily appeal to both men and women. It is a well written adventure with a good dose of human nature and relationships. And, above all else, a damned good story! It is also my sincere hope that it is never, ever made into a movie. I have in my mind what Kvothe is like and I never want to see anyone else’s image of him.