The Name of the Wind topped the 2007 best book of the year: Readers’ Choice list at SF Site, and was, according to their description, “the hands-down, no-contest winner this year”. I had to give it a try.

This is, as usual (sigh) the first part in a trilogy. On page one we are introduced to Kote the innkeeper, and it is hinted (not particularly delicately) that there is more to this man than we can see. Then a visitor arrives and it turns out that Kote has achieved great things in the past, and the inn is just a sort of retirement or a way to hide from the world. The visitor (who is a chronicler) then convinces Kote/Kvothe to tell his life story. Kote does this over three days and three books.

Most of the book is Kvothe’s first-person view of his life. I always find that first-person tellings of stories spanning years and decades are hard to believe. I cannot help thinking that it’s impossible to remember events in such detail. Of course fantasy isn’t supposed to be entirely believable, but there is always a temporary illusion of believability.

Also, in a first-person story, secondary characters get too little attention. At the same time it gives the book great focus.

The skeleton of Kvothe’s story follows a traditional pattern: a young man is thrown out into the harsh world, where he struggles through hardships, with only his wit to keep him alive. The details, however, are original and interesting, and the inevitable romantic angle is refreshingly non-standard.

Kvothe himself is an annoying protagonist. He is the best at everything he attempts, without any obvious effort. A superhuman boy genius. He is of course good-looking and very intelligent. He is also a great singer and musician, good at fighting, poetry, business, and horse-riding. He has perfect memory, is creative, resourceful, hard-working, and charming. He is also a bit too full of himself and too aware of his own greatness. This excessive perfection is softened somewhat by the weaknesses of his youth (this first book only takes us through his teenage years). He is rash and brash, thoughtless, and too proud to ask for help.

He is also trained as an actor, which is an interesting idea, and lets him achieve all kinds of things (especially getting out of tricky situations).

Most of the time this slightly overbearing character manages to tell his story in a matter-of-fact tone that is very easy to read, brisk and lively. Some parts, however, suffer from an excess of foreboding. The framing story is especially bad at this. There is way too much hinting of dark things to come, “oh if only you knew what awful things will happen next…”.

But generally the book flows quite smoothly. Rothfuss writes good dialogue and good descriptions – I got very distinct pictures in my mind of the places Kvothe visits. Rothfuss has also come up with a very original and interesting system of magic: a consistent and almost scientific idea. It seems he hadn’t put as much thought into the society and the world itself: there are some jarring inconsistencies here and there. The world is supposed to be pre-industrial and pre-scientific and yet the people tend to act in surprisingly modern ways.

On the one hand, the book is long and somewhat meandering. There is a lot of story but not much plot; nothing is resolved by the end of the book. Too many words are spent on exposing Kvothe’s cleverness, and the book would have felt more intense if it had been pared down by a good quarter at least. But at the same time the book is easy to read and enjoyable – once I got past the slightly slow start, it sucked me right in. However “easy to read and enjoyable” is as high a mark as I can give this book. It is feel-good adventure fantasy with nothing very profound in it.

Even though I noticed the book’s shortcomings while I was reading it, and couldn’t help complaining about its somewhat cliche-y structure, I was never unsure whether I wanted to continue, and there is no doubt that I want to read the sequel. I am looking forward to finding out what made this man, seemingly destined for greatness, go into hiding and leave his greatness behind. And since the series is called The Kingkiller Chronicles I want to know, what king did he kill?

I also enjoyed these two reviews at Strange Horizons, as well as this review at Amazon.

Amazon US, Amazon UK.