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The Name Of The Wind
Patrick Rothfuss
Gollancz paperback £14.99

review by Simeon Shoul

To the Waystone Inn in the small town of Newarre comes Devan Lochees, better known as Chronicler, a man with a mission. Chronicler is on the track of a story, the story of Kvothe (pronounced almost like Quothe), the infamous wizard, regicide, minstrel, trafficker with dark forces, friend of the Fay, swordsman beyond compare, and slayer of dragons.

Luckily for Chronicler, he succeeds in tracking down Kvothe, now tucked away into humble obscurity as innkeeper of the Waystone Inn. Even more luckily, Kvothe is in a mood to tell his story. Of course, he insists that the story be told his way - precisely as he tells it, without amendment, enlargement, or alteration. So, as civil war rumbles in the distance, and demons stalk the night outside, Chronicler sits back and listens to Kvothe recount the truth behind a thousand bizarre rumours, the story of his life, loves, triumphs and tragedies...

Now, given the conceit that Kvothe is sitting in his Inn in Newarren relating the story of his life over three days, and this novel consumes the first day, we do not actually get very far into Kvothe's life by the end of the book. All Patrick Rothfuss is giving us so far is the tale of Kvothe's childhood, in brief, and the first year of his time at the University, the home of higher learning within the Four Corners of Civilisation. The greater, later, events of Kvothe's life are present only in outline, in hints and innuendos. It is therefore surprising just how much energy and interest Rothfuss manages to invest in the tale. Why does it work so well?

Well, by the standards of the modern fantasy genre this is not a particularly fantastical story. It has its magic, both the logically structured, rationalised magic (arcana) that can be studied, taught, learnt and utilised for various highly practical purposes, and the wild, intuitive, altogether more spectacular magic (naming) that comes from knowing by instinct the true names of things such as the wind. It has its ancient mysteries and legends, its time-hallowed conspiracies and secrets both great and petty. It has music, and poverty, august halls of learning, bustling cities, slums and roving troupes of troubadours. It also has spiteful rivalries and love at first sight. All of this, of course, we have seen before.

However, again by the standards of the modern fantasy genre, this is a story very well told. Told with care and attention and style. Rothfuss does not hurry, though he maintains both tension and pace, developing his central character with slow precision and detail. What really makes it work however, and work well, is the underlying tone of tragedy. Kvothe is a tragic figure. He is not old when Chronicler finds him, but he is worn down. It is his disasters, both earned and unearned, that gives the book serious punch. Kvothe pays for his accomplishments in real pain. His childhood shattered by sinister disaster, he struggles through poverty and cruelty to reach the university and once there discovers rivalries and prejudices among the books and classes. Finding answers to the questions that matter to him costs him time, sweat, blood, money and love. But, he's got real determination. Young, impulsive, rash, given to strong friendships, and strong hatreds, unwary in matters of the world though brilliant in his studies, and his music, he's as tenacious as a dog with a bone in its teeth, and the reader rapidly finds himself or herself rooting for his success, and feeling the sting of his failures.

This tale is a subtle, powerful character study, mingled with a compelling quest for truth, well written and full of colour. It is not, yet, very original, but it has depth and it has passion, and I'll be looking forward to the next two instalments very eagerly.
Name of the Wind

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