The Name of the Wind
This book is, in many ways, a typically clichéd high fantasy epic. It takes place in a pseudo-medieval setting; it features inns, and stew, and bandits, and demons, and traveling entertainers. (I kept thinking of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.) It’s even the first book in a trilogy. Yet somehow it avoids becoming completely clichéd — mostly due to the excellent portrayal of its central character, Kvothe.
Kvothe, though a very young man, has already become a legend in his own time as a powerful and defiant magician, a warrior, and a lover. But now he is living in hiding as the innkeeper in a small, backwoodsy town. He is finally prevailed upon to tell the truth of his story, of which this volume comprises the first part. From his young childhood with his parents in a band of traveling performers, to his youth on the squalid, dangerous streets of a large city, to his young manhood as one of the youngest students ever to enter the university of magic, Kvothe tells his unique and fascinating story — a story that is fascinating mostly because of the complexity of Kvothe’s own character. This young man is immensely talented, proud and rebellious, crafty, and independent; yet under his tough surface he is insecure, lonely, and capable of deep devotion and love. He will annoy you with his self-importance or immaturity in one chapter and impress you with his dedication or courage in the next. In short, he is a character worth reading about, an epic hero worthy of the name, who transcends clichéd “good guy/bad guy” boundaries — you may not always like him, but you’ll care about him anyway. (I was actually reminded of Achilles in a way…though the book is no Iliad, of course.)
Magic in this book is a weird conglomeration of Star Wars-ish mystical art, chemistry-ish hard work, and otherworldly faerie power. Since Kvothe is attending a magic school, magic necessarily plays a feature role in the plot, and I wasn’t entirely comfortable with its similarities to real-life voodoo etc, but it didn’t seem to be particularly linked to demonic powers or anything like that. As is seemingly obligatory in a pseudo-medieval fantasy setting, there is the vaguely Christian-ish religion here, complete with all its superstitious trappings; none of the characters apparently subscribe to it, and one gets the impression that Kvothe is setting himself up to view himself as an alternative messiah. (Not that this part is necessarily negative, since Kvothe’s pride is not 100% condoned by the author. We shall see how the tale concludes.)
All in all, this book was an entertaining, interesting read, and in spite of its definite use of clichés, managed to stand out from the crowd as a complex treatment of a truly great central character. I will definitely be reading the next one in this series…when it finally comes out. Sigh.
Content warning: The novel contains occasional strong bad language.