One of the strongest fantasy debuts in recent years, Patrick Rothfuss’ first installment of the Kingkiller Chronicles, The Name of the Wind earned both critical and commercial success when first published in 2007. Indeed, the buzz around Rothfuss and his new book quickly spread over the fantasy scene like nothing since Martin’s A Game of Thrones. The Name of the Wind won Publisher’s Weekly “Best Books of the Year” Award, the Quill Award, and the Alex Award. Amazon.com also named it Best of 2007 in its reader’s poll.
The Name of the Wind audiobook tells the story of Kvothe, who in the present is a humble innkeeper of a tavern in Newarre. Kvothe, now going by the name of Kote, is clearly hiding from his past, and passing time until his death. Kvothe rescues a man known as Chronicler, who recognizes the legendary hero and asks if he can record Kvothe’s story. Kvothe finally agrees, and tells Chronicler that his story will take three days to tell.
The Name of the Wind covers day one of that story and details Kvothe‘s early childhood and upbringing. As a boy, Kvothe’s life seems to be always one step from disaster. From his boyhood in a traveling performance troupe, to his education at an esteemed University, Kvothe faces significant trials, often because of his own brashness.
As the story cuts back and forth from Kvothe‘s autobiography narrated to Chronicler, to the present day at his inn, an interesting duality unfolds. There is a stark contrast between the elder, somber innkeeper and the younger Kvothe, who seems naturally adept at everything. Rothfuss leaves it up to the reader to decide if the innkeeper is exaggerating his story, hiding his true potential, or has suffered great losses.
Kvothe: Rothfuss presents Kvothe to the reader in a very interesting way. We first meet Kvothe at a time in his life where he appears fragile and dejected. However, Patrick Rothfuss gives us the tale of Kvothe’s upbringing from Kvothe’s own mouth. Kvothe presents himself as a natural talent who is able to accomplish anything, although always just before disaster strikes. This well-worn fantasy trope is handled exceedingly well in The Name of the Wind because the reader can accept that Kvothe may be indulging the reader to make his life more interesting.
Bast: Kvothe’s faithful student, Bast is more than he appears to be. Passing himself off as human, Bast is actually of the Fae. The relationship between Kvothe and Bast is both professional and personal with Bast showing a particularly intense devotion for his tutor and hoping that Kvothe would go back to being the hero he used to be.
Abenthy: Abenthy is an arcanist that joins Kvothe’s troupe and tutors Kvothe in academics and sympathy (a form of mental magic). Kvothe observes Abenthy summoning the name of the wind and learns about “the naming”, the ability to call on things by their true name and thus have power over them. It is because of Abenthy’s suggestion that Kvothe decides to go to the University.
Denna: a beautiful and free-spirited woman who draws the attention of many men, Denna never lets anyone get too close and survives on gifts and money from her admirers. Denna is Kvothe’s main love interest in the story and though he is fascinated by her, Kvothe’s inexperience with women prevents him from making any romantic moves on Denna.
Ambrose Jakis: the son of a powerful baron, Ambrose is Kvothe’s main rival during his time at the University and sabotages Kvothe, getting him dismissed from the University Archives. When Ambrose breaks Kvothe’s lute, Kvothe invokes the name of the wind for the first time, breaking Ambrose’s arm in the process.
Story Structure and Themes
As noted before, the structure of The Name of the Wind takes place in the “present,” where Kvothe is an innkeeper, and the “past,” during Kvothe’s story of his childhood. The present day story is told from the omniscient third-person point of view. Kvothe’s story of his past is the bulk of the book, and he tells it in the first-person point of view. The first-person point of view lends itself particularly well to the audiobook format.
One of the overarching themes of The Name of the Wind is overcoming obstacles. Kvothe’s upbringing is fraught with disaster that pushes his life right to the edge of calamity. When all hope seems lost, Kvothe’s talents seem to save him at the last minute. Kvothe is very much a Renaissance man, who easily masters a wide range of skills needed to survive. Normally, this overused fantasy trope falls flat with readers. However, because it is Kvothe telling the story, it is easy to overlook the bravado and outrageousness of his abilities as the boastings of a man looking to spice up his tale.
Another theme that plays heavily in The Name of the Wind is music. Kvothe is a talented musician who has been trained from an early age. Music is often Kvothe’s only solace during some of the most difficult times during life. Kvothe’s music also often helps to get him out of trouble.
The Name of the Wind audiobook is narrated by Nick Podehl. Podehl has a smooth speaking voice with a comfortable cadence that is helpful for immersing the listener in the story. Too many fantasy audiobooks choose booming baritone narrators, possibly hoping to add extra drama to the story. While the effect can work well for narrative and expository portions, dialogue often suffers. This is especially true when narrating female dialogue. Nothing can jar a listener out of a tale faster than the falsetto attempt of a deep-voiced narrator. Fortunately Podehl handles narration comfortably and naturally, with only enough change for each voice to allow the listener to perceive a change character.
Kvothe is a fascinating main protagonist and The Name of the Wind is an entertaining first book in what promises to be a great fantasy trilogy. The audiobook is also beautifully narrated by Nick Podehl and is highly recommended.
* Please note: this review references the original narration by Nick Podehl. The Name of the Wind audiobook has recently been updated with new narration by Rupert Degas.