I have been known to take the dust jacket off of a book in public to hide what I’m reading because fantasy novels often have such hilariously bad covers. So when a friend sent me a list a few years ago of 13 Fantasy Novels that Are Good Despite Their Covers, I laughed all the way through. As I came across books I’d already read, I nodded along with the captions (which describe what the book is actually about, as well as what you might assume from the cover). The caption on the penultimate book on the list, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, said, “The (hands down) best high-fantasy series written in the last 20 years. If you haven’t read it yet and you like fantasy, immediately start reading it now.” Not one to pass up such a glowing recommendation, I got ahold of a copy and started reading immediately.
The Name of the Wind employs one of my favorite narrative techniques: a story within a story. The frame narrative is a historian known as Chronicler who has tracked down a famous but mysterious man in a tiny village and asks to record his life story. As the (in)famous man in question, Kvothe, was born Edema Ruh (a race of traveling performers), he agrees to tell his story only if Chronicler will write it down exactly as he tells it. “Very well. If we are to have a telling,” Kvothe says, “let’s make it a proper one.” This sets up a really neat framework where a fascinating tale of adventure and heartbreak is nestled within an expertly crafty interview between a historian and a storyteller. The story itself is engaging and awesome; the story within a story is the icing on the cake for a former literature student like myself.
I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that The Name of the Wind is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It is tightly composed, beautifully written, and utterly immersive. The plot covers Kvothe’s childhood through young adulthood: his travels his family and the other Edema Ruh, his fight to earn admittance to (and money for) University, his studies and rivalries, his relationships. His relationship with Denna is complicated and sweet (and made my list of quotes about love), but the other characters are no less compelling. My personal favorite is Devi, the diminutive Arcanum student turned loan shark.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) The Name of the Wind is the first in an incomplete 3-book series. The second book in the series is equally fabulous. That the third book still has no publication date breaks my heart a little bit. But if Patrick Rothfuss is able to complete the series as well as he started it, I’ll wait as long as it takes. And speaking of the author, I thoroughly enjoy him and the other work he does. He is the founder of Worldbuilders, Inc. which raises money (primarily) for Heifer International. As part of the annual fundraiser each year, he and other fantasy authors and artists donate signed books and other prizes as gifts for those who contribute. He responded to a fan question about why he bothers to do charity work by coining one of my favorite new phrases, Bilbo it up (language warning if you’ve got kids reading over your shoulder etc.). He ran (and matched gifts for) an impromptu fundraiser to alleviate the suffering of refugees last year that made me cry (in a good way) every time I read the comments and updates. Basically, I love the books and I respect the author. That’s a winning combination for me.
When I finished the book, I immediately recommended it to at least 4 people. I’d recommend it to more if I had more friends that would read a 600+ page book that’s only the first of a series. I’ve given it as a gift twice and I’ve purchased a copy for myself (the highest recommendation I can give a book). Basically, I second the caption from all those years ago: If you like fantasy novels at all and haven’t read The Name of the Wind, buy or borrow it today. Seriously. Today. (Plus, you can see from the top of this post that it has a better cover these days.)
I would recommend this to: fans of fantasy, story telling, or redheads.