Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind has been bannered about with lofty terms such as 'instant classic' or 'the best fantasy book of the decade'. I may not readily agree with those praises but I will side with them in declaring that The Name of the Wind is certainly an engaging read, a well-drawn fantasy, and an impressive character study. Just not the best in recent years -- that's always such a subjective claim.
The Name of the Wind is an origin story. The subject in question is Kvothe, whose deeds as a magician, swordsman, and bard are only hinted at this early in the series, but who is now living a low-key existence as an innkeeper, his previous exploits carefully kept away from the simple folk who frequent his inn. But when he encounters a scholar known as The Chronicler, he is persuaded to share the truth behind his legendary life. In the next three days (one day for every book, I presume), Kvothe recounts his life as The Chronicler seeks to sort fact from fiction, revealing the hero's story from behind the scenes.
It was hard for me to get into it in the beginning. The prologue showed gravitas, which I often appreciate in a fantasy series, but Kvothe's new life felt uneventful. I was looking for the reasons that triggered the praises over Rothfuss' writing and couldn't find much to go on. It wasn't until Kvothe stepped foot into the University that the story gained a certain concreteness that truly hooked me.
I've always been intrigued by academia in a fantasy world. Kvothe's stay at the University reminded me a lot of the trials faced by Menolly at Harper Hall in Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsinger and by Talia in Mercedes Lackey's Arrows of the Queen, when she enters the Collegium to learn to become a Herald. The Name of the Wind is far from being derivative, but as it delves into Kvothe's everyday life at the University, it echoes the other books in their unhurried pace against extremely detailed and well-imagined academic settings. But Mr Rothfuss does more than echo. Kvothe is a larger-than-life character and it is at the University when he begins to inch away from tropes like the Innocent Farmboy (Kvothe's demeanor is anything but) or Orphan with a Destiny (since there seems to be no otherworldly hand of fate at play during the almost episodic nature of the flashback years). Readers will appreciate the way that the events of Kvothe's life are layered to set the stage for a larger narrative, which in this case appears to be headed towards the hero's fall.
Outside of Kvothe however, I can only pick at a few other characters who appealed to me; the rest were rather nondescript. It was easy to group them into the pro-Kvothe and the anti-Kvothe. The women of his life all tended be unrealistically lovely, something which was pointed out by his sidekick (how meta!), who is listening to the tale along with the Chronicler. Time will tell if this will be improved on in the later books, because I really think this robs the novel of a little of its grandeur.
Still, I will have to hand it to Mr Rothfuss for crafting a high fantasy story that I really enjoyed. Though it is far from being the best in my book, it still accounts for itself rather well.