This week I’m recommending `The Name of the Wind’ by Patrick Rothfuss. This novel, which was published in 2007, is the first volume of `The Kingkiller Chronicle’. It is easily available in paperback and as an ebook and the sequel is already out. `The Name of the Wind’ is epic Fantasy set in a richly imagined invented world. If you accept this particular recommendation, you will need to put in a lot of time and effort. When a 662 page novel has the subtitle `Day One’, you know you’re in for a long haul….

The story opens in a village inn, where neither the red-haired inn-keeper nor his young apprentice, Bast, are what they appear to be. Times are hard and the villagers are being threatened by Scrael – spider-like demons. Devan the Chronicler happens on the inn-keeper slaying demons and recognizes him as the notorious Kvothe the Fearless, magician, hero and assassin. Kvothe wants everyone to believe that he is dead but Devan is determined to discover the truth behind the myth. How did Kvothe become a dragon-slaying hero? Why did he choose to disappear at the height of his fame? Was it because of a woman? Kvothe agrees to tell his story to Devan but on his own terms and at his own pace.

He starts with his happy childhood as part of a troupe of travelling players. As a boy, Kvothe meets Abenthy, an Arcanist and sees him summon the wind to strike an enemy.  Abenthy recognizes Kvothe’s exceptional cleverness, teaches him much about the principles of magic and inspires him to want to study at  the Commonwealth’s only University. When Kvothe is twelve, his parents are murdered `for singing entirely the wrong sort of songs’  by a man named Haliax, who may be one of the legendary Chandrians. The traumatised Kvothe spends three years living on his wits before he manages to reach the University, whose Archives could hold vital information about the Chandrians.  Kvothe wins a place as a student but his clever tongue makes him enemies as well as friends. Banned from the Archives, rejected by the one Master who could teach him the `name of the wind’ and distracted by a beautiful but elusive young woman, Kvothe’s troubles are just beginning.

There are some breath-taking action scenes at the end of this novel but not everybody gets to them. I know Fantasy-readers who have abandoned this book after the demon-hunting excitements of the first few chapters give way to Kvothe’s detailed first-person account of his childhood. I can understand why. If I’d been Rothfuss’ editor, I would have tried to get him to cut at least a hundred pages out of `The Name of the Wind’.  I would probably have failed since on the dedication page Rothfuss expresses his determination `to take my time and do it right’. So, all I can do is come up with some reasons why it might be worth your while to have patience and persevere. One of the things that Rothfuss has done with his time is to build a very solid Fantasy world.  The basics aren’t too different from any other `medieval society where magic works’ but the quality and precision of the detail – whether it’s the exact process of making a `magic ‘ lamp, the rules of a musical competition, or the behaviour of a drug-crazed dragon – make everything seem extraordinarily real. The cultural and linguistic differences between the various races are convincingly done and there are tantalizing fragments of history and myth embedded in Kvothe’s narrative. This may not be a world I would want to live in but exploring it with the flame-haired hero was a powerful experience.

To compensate for its slow pace, `The Name of the Wind’  has the psychological realism of a literary novel.  Kvothe’s description of  himself as a man who has `talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep’  sounds like a Fantasy stereotype but he proves to be a wonderfully complex and contradictory character.  From his own account, and from the way others see him, you get a picture of a clever young man who consistently makes stupid decisions. Kvothe is annoyingly capable of being the best at anything he tries. He’s a superb musician and craftsman, with a phenomenal memory and a gift for picking up languages. He’s also arrogant and incapable of seeing how much a thirst for revenge is warping his judgement, but Kvothe always kept my sympathy and interest. That’s partly because Rothfuss is very good at portraying grief and pain. Kvothe does not make a speedy recovery from his parents’ deaths. He is emotionally numb and barely able to act rationally for several years, just like many bereaved youngsters in real life. Rothfuss also made me understand what it might be like to be very poor and there is nothing romantic about it. Kvothe’s pride won’t let him ask his friends for help because pride is all he has. Like many brainy adolescent males, Kvothe is naive about women and his crush on the mysterious Denna makes him touchingly vulnerable. As the story progresses, you increasingly wonder how and why this brilliant and passionate boy becomes a world-weary, reclusive inn-keeper. At the end of `The Name of the Wind’ I was left wanting to know much more about this intriguing hero.

This novel is not just a character study. It is also a story about story-telling. In the very first chapter, a village story-teller tries to relate how an ancient hero defeated a Chandrian but everyone in the inn has their own ideas about how the story should go and which bits of it might be true. Song-makers like Kvothe and his father are memory-keepers who hold the dangerous power of influencing  people’s views of the past and the present. There are stories within stories, as Kvothe tries to find the core of truth in fairy tales and myths that he is told.  Devan the Chronicler prides himself on being a debunker of myths, who only records the facts, but what if the myth is a greater force for good than the facts? Bast fears that if Kvothe goes on telling people that  he is only an ordinary inn-keeper, he will begin to believe it. Then Kvothe the Fearless will cease to exist. `The Name of the Wind’ suggests that our innermost identities are shaped by the stories we tell about ourselves.  I find that something worth thinking about. Until next week…..

Geraldine

http://www.chalcedon.demon.co.uk

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