Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Review - The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Summary: My name is Kvothe.

I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during the day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.
You may have heard of me.

So begins a tale unequaled in fantasy literature—the story of a hero told in his own voice. It is a tale of sorrow, a tale of survival, a tale of one man’s search for meaning in his universe, and how that search, and the indomitable will that drove it, gave birth to a legend.


An Open Letter to Patrick Rothfuss

Dear Patrick Rothfuss,

I’ve just finished reading your first and only published book, The Name of the Wind, and I had some thought about it. Since I count myself a Harry Potter series snob, I tend to classify most fantasy works as sub-J. K. Rowling. This tendency was not working in your favor as I started The Name of the Wind. I mean, it’s hard to miss the similarities between the first installment of the Kingkiller Chronicle and the Harry Potter series. There are a few reasons for this: your story’s hero, Kvothe, is an incredibly talented young man with a chip on his shoulder involving the sad and mysterious past, and he dreams of gaining a university education in the magical arts so that he can seek revenge against a mystery-entangled enemy that goes by a name better left unmentioned. I was immediately dismayed by this rip-off-ish start and almost dismissed your book entirely. But I didn’t, and I soon discovered that despite the lack of originality in the story’s foundation, everything else you dreamed up was fresh and novel. By the time I finished it, Kvothe had surpassed being simply an adult version of Harry Potter. You delved deep into human emotion, something uncommon and unexpected in fantasy books. Your story exposed the dark and somber side of a hero’s existence and the danger of such brilliance to the human psyche. Kvothe is exceptional and admirable, but also cracked, and not only because of his sorrowful past. His brilliance chips away at his human essence. This doesn’t turn him evil, it does something much worse: it transforms him into a hero unsure of himself, a great legend that desires to be small and hidden from the world.

Thus, Mr. Rothfuss, upon the completion of part one of this series, I have found myself unexpectedly hooked to your work. You have deservedly earned the Quill Award for this initial effort and I suspect something better awaits all of us with the release of book number two of the Kingkiller Chronicle.*


PS- Despite Kvothe's unique physical features, i must admit i had difficulty creating his face in my mind. Luckily one of your other fans had drawn up a version that really helped me out. I hope this Kvothe is close to the one you see when you write.

*Day two of Chronicler’s account, The Wiseman’s Fear (Kingkiller Chronicle, #2), is set for release on March 1, 2011.

Lit Snit Verdict: A


  1. I read the description of the novel here and on I'm not sure I see enough similarities to Harry Potter call it a rip-off.

    I could say Harry Potter was a rip-off of Star Wars, honestly. An orphan (forgetting the later Darth Vader reveal) learns that magic (the force) really does exist and he can be taught to use it, and he's been prophesized to be the only one strong enough to defeat the big-bad who doesn't go by his real name. He's taught by someone more powerful than himself, trained to defeat the big-bad. He has two good friends, who eventually fall in love.

    Looking at any story with a critical eye, you could see similarities to existing works. The beauty of story-telling is that there's no end to ways to put together characters and story into new creations that, if done well, take on a wonderful life of their own that can make you forget you've heard a similar tale before. If Rothfuss has done that, then I'll happily add this book to my to-read list.

  2. It's interesting that Harry Potter has so permeated our culture that you can't read anything that's even a little similar without slightly comparing it to Rowling's world, even though her myths, creatures, and tropes have been around for years and years. Stars Wars could be called "a rip off" of any number of things since it follows the journey of the archetypal hero from Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces.

    Christy, I think you're right in saying that good storytelling creates new dynamics or flavors to their use of basic plot lines that have been around for centuries. (What's the saying? There's only 20 plots and there's no "real" originality anymore?) When I first read this it actually reminded me of Lev Grossman's The Magicians, which, admittedly, is much more up front about borrowing from Potter and Narnia, but just because he points it out, is it any less of a "rip-off?"

    I think its that word, "rip-off" that trips me up. I hesitate to call anything a rip-off of Harry Potter since in fantasy genre where the use of similar tropes is so rampant (at least from my limited perspective) and there have been dozens, probably hundreds of books before it that were similar. Yes, there do seem to be particular similarities, a school that teaches magic (though how else are you supposed to learn?), dead parents, a score to settle, but it sounds like it's actually much more emotionally complex than the Potter series, which I really enjoyed. I'm interested in reading Rothfuss' book though, and I don't read much medieval fantasy, because I do love a story that uses The Hero's Journey well, which it sounds like it does.

    ...and hopefully comment made sense and wasn't at all rambly like I feel it was...

  3. Christy,
    You are right, of course you are right. I don’t mean to say that J.K. Rowling has invented the fantasy genre or even set the literary standard of a hero’s beginnings, not in the least! One can look for an orphaned hero with a score to settle practically anywhere. Such a misfortunate beginning is the best way to get a reader to like a main character, isn’t it? Who doesn’t have soft spot for an orphan? Certainly not me! But, because I grew up right at the time the Harry Potters were coming out, and I’ve read and re-read them again and again, his story has practically become my fantasy-Bible…in a non-creepy, non-religious kind of way of course. So yes, I have to admit it, I’m blinded and biased by Potter and it’s really not cool. Thanks for grounding me.

    I strongly recommend that you add "The Name of the Wind" to your reading list. The story is exactly what you described it to be: it takes a life of its “own and makes you forget that you’ve read a similar tale before.” Patrick Rothfuss is an amazing storyteller and thinks up the most amazing and heart-wrenching adventures. I think you’ll really enjoy this book. I, for one, loved it!!!