My name is Kvothe, pronounced nearly the same as “quothe.” Names are important as they tell you a great deal about a person. I’ve had more names than anyone has a right to. The Adem call me Maedre. Which, depending on how it’s spoken, can mean The Flame, The Thunder, or The Broken Tree.
So begins the grandiose blurb for Patrick Rothfuss’ debut The Name of the Wind. It made quite a splash when it came out in 2007, but since I am perpetually behind the times I didn’t get to it until this month. I wavered over reading it because the blurb told me next to nothing about the plot, and I wasn’t sure if I would like the voice–it sounded too arrogant to me.
This is the story of Kvothe’s life, told by his older self, in hiding from the world as an unassuming innkeeper in the middle of nowhere. He is still a young man, but haunted and broken, and I was instantly moved to wonder what ordeals befell a man of such power and stature. He is discovered by the Chronicler who persuades him to tell his story, to counteract the legends and lies that have sprung up in his abscence. Kvothe tells of his childhood as a member of a traveling troupe, his time as a street urchin after the murder of his parents, his admission and studies at a University of Magic. He tells of the passions of his life: mastering magic, hunting his parents’ killers (the semi-mythical Chandrian) and his love, Denna.
This book is well-written and finely-detailed, but my interest in it waxed and waned. A strain of elitism in the opening chapters irked me, where more “enlightened” characters feel superior to the superstitions of priests and peasants. The character of Kvothe came perilously close to being a Mary Sue (a Martin Steve?): he was a child prodigy at music, magic, stagecraft, and pretty anything he set his mind to. I half-expected Kvothe to bring together a gang of plucky child-thieves in Tarbean where he ended up after his parents were murdered.
However, Kvothe grew to be a more sympathetic character, gifted but flawed. I was moved by his struggles to overcome his desperate poverty. So many of the risks he took were not only due to arrogance (though there was some of that), but also so he could feed and clothe himself and pay his tuition. I was both exasperated by and interested in his relationship with Denna–exasperated by his effusions over her, interested because their later interactions were warm, wary and witty; a potent mix. The most magnetic pull for me was exerted by the older Kvothe, the one on the other side of the ordeal, the one telling the story. What can I say? I’m a sucker for wounded characters.
Plotwise, this book meandered. As the first third of Kvothe’s story, there was no real resolution. I cannot fault the writer for having a 2,000-page story to tell, but it was an unsatisfying experience for me as the reader. The threads of the story have barely come together by the end, and my ambivalence toward this 600-page volume makes it unlikely that I will read the next 1200 pages. I’m in a minority, though, because most other people love this book. I offer a link to a more positive review to balance my own (see, I’m ambivalent enough about this book to do just that *grin*).