Title: The Name of the Wind
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Nutshell: Kote is just a quiet innkeeper. That’s all. His apprentice is just a young man from the village. That’s all. The village is a quiet, ordinary village where nothing happens. Ever.
The village is not being attacked by mysterious spidery creatures that the priest calls demons and Kote calls something else. The apprentice does not have goat’s legs and eyes with no whites. The innkeeper is not the famous Kvothe, called Kingslayer and a hundred other things in a hundred and more tales. He does not have a cloak of no particular color, or a thrice-locked chest of unburning wood.
He does not know the name of the wind.
Of course not.
But he will tell you a story.
Read-alikes: This is both very like almost all epic fantasy, and very unlike.
This book is a masterpiece. It is one of those rare, rich, word-perfect sorts of books, drawing on a host of cultural underpinnings to create a world that one might actually want to visit.
For example, All the stories, songs, and rhymes that children sing are both relevant and interesting.
Now, we’ve had songs worked into epic fantasy since Tolkien invented the genre, and before, since rhymes were in fairytales. But let’s be honest here: mostly we skip them. (Well, I skip them. Unless I’m deliberately reading Tolkin to improve my understanding of his world, I’m not fixated by four pages of song about Earendil.) Yes, they add to the depth and history of the world, and yes, we usually appreciate that they’re there, but do we read them? Do we try to unearth the “truth” behind them, fit them into our understanding of this fictional world?
I suppose it’s possible that more dedicated readers of Epic fantasy do. I do not usually care about the world enough to try.
Mr. Rothfuss makes me care by the cunning expedient of making understanding of the world necessary to the plot. Which sentence reduces the enormous amount of work he must have done into a nearly trivial blip of information. He also makes me care by populating the world with characters that seem worth knowing and by including beautiful things. This is where I get stopped on a lot of Epic Fantasy: there’s nothing beautiful. And what appears beautiful is usually vile at the core. I stop caring when the heroes are going on a valiant quest to save things they have already lost and things not worth saving.
About Kvothe, I care. Kvothe is excellent at finding things that need to be cared about. A beautiful but untameable woman. An ordinary young man with a poet’s soul. A wild child living in the dark beneath the city. Music, as haunting and clear on the page as music can possibly be.