The first book in the series, The Name of the Wind begins with an unassuming innkeeper in a world that’s getting darker and more dangerous. And then the innkeeper begins to tell his story, how he is the legendary hero Kvothe, who has become a myth in his own time. So he takes us back to his childhood, beginning his tale when he was just a small boy growing up with his nomadic parents and continuing on to tell of his search for the evil Chandrian. Because the story is spread over so many years, it’s difficult to give a more detailed summary without giving spoilers for any part of the story.
I love the world in which Rothfuss sets his story. No name is ever mentioned, which makes sense because when’s the last time you happened to tell a story and mention it took place on planet Earth, but it is one of my favorite fantasy worlds. The history feels layered and nuanced, and Rothfuss does an amazing job with creating different cultures, each with its attendant customs and languages. One culture, for example, records its stories in knots, rather like the Incas. Another conveys emotions and expressions with their hands rather than their faces. Each geographic or ethnic group is distinct, yet they all feel as if they belong in the same world.
The character of Kvothe is skillfully handled as we see him grow from eight or nine to a teenager. He always feels like the same person, yet matures and changes. He doesn’t always make the wisest choices–and then again, sometimes he does–but it’s all natural and true to his character. Stubborn and youthful as he can be at times, his loyalty and surprising tenderness are endearing.
And then there’s the magic. Much of the story takes place around Kvothe studying alchemy and magic at the University (there is, apparently, only one seat of higher education in the world, so it needn’t be bothered with having an actual name). In Rothfuss’s world, magic is mostly a mixture quasi-physics and the idea that knowledge of a thing’s true name imparts the ability to control that thing. The few other caveats are that Kvothe lives on the streets for some time and survives as a pickpocket; characters curse occassionally; and while the first book is fairly clean, the second book in the series has several scenes depicting, shall we say, ‘adult relationships’.
Still, I greatly enjoyed the books and can’t wait for the final book in the trilogy. Rothfuss is now one of my favorite fantasy writers and I only regret that The Name of the Wind is his first book, so I can’t read anything else of his while I wait. I highly, highly recommend these books for those who are looking for their next fantasy adventure.