I have waited a bit before writing my review for The Name of The Wind because it’s almost like writing about your best friend who went abroad for a whole year. The book is the first in the Kingkiller chronicle, followed by The Wise Man’s Fear: Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 2 and the short story about Auri (which is like 1.5). There is one more book coming in 2018-2019 to probably end this amazing series but I’m dreading it as much as I’m looking forward it as it means it all ends. The magic, the stories, the tales of enchantment and princesses and wizards.
It takes skill to write a story within a story and sometimes go into the magic realm and sometimes, just sometimes, perform an incredible feat like whispering the name of the wind. The book also contains a prologue and an epilogue, which are almost word for word identical texts. The difference is, while the prologue will get you wondering, the epilogue will raise the hairs on your arms and make your heart beat faster as the storyteller, Kvothe, is preparing to die.
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 day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.
You may have heard of me.
At the very beginning, the reader hears an old story-teller speaking of a famous old wizard called Taborlin the Great, who was captured by evil beings called the Chandrian. Escaping them, Taborlin fell from a great height – but since he knew the Name of the Wind, he called it and the Wind came and set him down safely. In later parts of the book, characters are often skeptical of such stories. Some kinds of magic are taught in The University as an academic discipline and have daily life applications (those who can afford it could buy magical lamps, much better than the candles used by poorer people). However, it is doubted that magicians can truly call upon The Wind, and the Chandrian – whose appearance is supposedly heralded by flames turning blue – are often dismissed as mythical bogeymen.
The story begins in the rural town of Newarre, introducing the innkeeper Kote and his assistant Bast, revealing that Kote is the renowned Kvothe: an unequaled sword fighter, magician, and musician, rumored to have killed a king and caused the present war. His assistant and student Bast is a prince of the Fae. Kvothe saves Chronicler, a traveling scribe, from spider-like creatures called Scrael, whereupon Chronicler asks to record Kvothe’s story. Upon consenting, Kvothe tells Chronicler that this will take three days (corresponding to the planned trilogy of novels).
And the fact that there is a story – told or written down – brings the most important part of the book to life: the importance of words, of names, of identification, of recognition, of history keeping.
“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts. There are seven words that will make a person love you. There are ten words that will break a strong man’s will. But a word is nothing but a painting of a fire. A name is the fire itself.”
I loved how the world was woven together much like the never-ending weave in Alvin Maker‘s tales – how we find out we’re in a sort of medieval land where people still travelled by carriage, where great cities were afoul with smell but still trading was important and magic too.
True magic did not exist per se, just alchemy which was transformed by the unknowing people into something mystical (much like a flashlight would appear magical to a caveman) and it existed to be sold and purchased (Harry Potter would have loved it there).
The fantasy story spins out of control with the death / murder of Kvothe’s travelling group and parents by some mythical creatures called Chandrians and after becoming an orphan, he takes the only two things left – a lute and a book from his teacher – and goes into the forest where he manages to survive a while and learns how to play the lute with 6, then 5, and eventually with only two strings. He was playing so well that he was able to invent new songs about the feel of the forest, the song of the rocks, the whisper of the grass.
You do not know the first note of the music that moves me.
The magic has to end as winter is slowly coming and he needs to go among other people – in the nearest city. He learned how to survive in the toughest parts of the city and he became a man. But not quite an adult yet.
… for most practical purposes, Tarbean had two parts: Waterside and Hillside. Waterside is where people are poor. That makes them beggars, thieves and whores. Hillside is where people are rich. That makes them solicitors, politicians and courtesans.”
He decides to go to the University and pawns his teacher’s book for some money that lasted enough to get him a suit and ticket to the city where the greatest Academy was located.
“There’s no story that doesn’t touch on the truth.”
From living on the road with his troupe, to living on the streets, to the University and what he gets up to there… it’s quite the ride. There are sections where it slows down but to me it felt like the book was just biding it’s time and laying the groundwork before moving on. His entry into the university is a tale of legend – when he is given money to join when all the other student were required to pay a fee. It does not get easier though, as he has to scrape by to live and it does not help that he makes a mortal enemy of Ambrose, a rich kid, on his first few days at university.
This enmity will leave him without a roof over his head, without a patron, without his lute and without his girl at one point.
My favorites among the Masters were Kilvin and Elodin but everyone is so richly drawn it feels like you could run into them on the street and spend time with them. Not all is sweet in there either as there is Henme – an entitled teacher who decides to teach Kvothe a lesson which backfires on him when Kvothe makes a puppet (mommet) that he then sets to burn slightly giving his teacher a hot foot.
I found myself a lot more interested in the tales of Kvothe’s youth than the present day interludes. Some of the characters he depicts are bright, colourful and interesting/ unknown motives. My personal favourite characters alongside Kvothe were Auri, Elodin and his two best buddies at the university – Simon.
The story has some awesome scenes such as Kvothe’s first meeting with Elodin, him watching a tree eating dragonesque being whilst in the company of the girl he wants and him playing the lute in front of 100’s of people.
“Perhaps the greatest faculty our minds possess is the ability to cope with pain. Classic thinking teaches us of the four doors of the mind, which everyone moves through according to their need.
First is the door of sleep. Sleep offers us a retreat from the world and all its pain. Sleep marks passing time, giving us distance from the things that have hurt us. When a person is wounded they will often fall unconscious. Similarly, someone who hears traumatic news will often swoon or faint. This is the mind’s way of protecting itself from pain by stepping through the first door.
Second is the door of forgetting. Some wounds are too deep to heal, or too deep to heal quickly. In addition, many memories are simply painful, and there is no healing to be done. The saying ‘time heals all wounds’ is false. Time heals most wounds. The rest are hidden behind this door.
Third is the door of madness. There are times when the mind is dealt such a blow it hides itself in insanity. While this may not seem beneficial, it is. There are times when reality is nothing but pain, and to escape that pain the mind must leave reality behind.
Last is the door of death. The final resort. Nothing can hurt us after we are dead, or so we have been told.”
I loved the discussions between Kvothe and Elodin about the nature of things, about the teacher’s role, about learning and understanding what’s being taught. The courses at University take up most of Kvothe’s time but in his spare, he goes to the nearby city where he founds a most illustrious pub where talented singers would receive a pair of silver pipes to show for their skill. The pipes are very hard to earn and there were people who tried for years and years and did not manage to get anywhere near them. Kvothe earns them by playing a very difficult song and he is surprised to hear a voice joining his own during a duet scene – Denna, a lovely girl he met on the way to University is back in his life again.
“Music is a proud, temperamental mistress. Give her the time and attention she deserves, and she is yours. Slight her and there will come a day when you call and she will not answer. So I began sleeping less to give her the time she needed.”
Denna is one girl who is always at another man’s arm, never in the same spot twice, always disappearing without a trace. She is the only woman that Kvothe is attracted to, but not because there weren’t any other women around him. It’s like her beauty has mesmerized him and her style and voice have captivated him forever. They are in the same ditch of life together, poor but struggling to get ahead.
“Denna is a wild thing,” I explained. “Like a hind or a summer storm. If a storm blows down your house, or breaks a tree, you don’t say the storm was mean. It was cruel. It acted according to its nature and something unfortunately was hurt. The same is true of Denna.”
One discussion I liked was between Kvothe and Denna about what type of flowers she should receive. She was tired of receiving roses so Kvothe suggests a very nice wild flower that blooms at night and is hard to get by.
“The trouble is, when you gift a girl with flowers your choice can be construed so many different ways. A man might give you a rose because he feels you are beautiful, or because he fancies their shade or shape or softness similar to your lips. Roses are expensive, and perhaps he wishes to show through a valuable gift that you are valuable to him.
When a man gives you a rose what you see may not be what he intends. You may think he sees you as delicate or frail. Perhaps you dislike a suitor who considers you sweet and nothing else. Perhaps the stem is thorn, and you assume he thinks you likely to hurt a hand too quick to touch. But if he trims the thorns you might think he has no liking for a thing that can defend itself with sharpness. There’s so many ways a thing can be interpreted.”
After the first semester passed, Kvothe found out that in order to continue his studies, he would have to produce entire talents (local currency, one talent being enough to cover a hotel stay for a whole month). Being pennyless, Kvothe first hopes to find a rich patron but his enemy Ambrose dashes that hope away. He then slaves away in Kilvin’s shop producing lamp after lamp after lamp in order to raise one talent. With the due date approaching soon, he takes out a loan from a loan shark called Devi – a relationship forms and that will last through the years.
Devi is an interesting girl – expelled from the same university he is attending for using malfeasance (black magic) – she starts lending money for high rates, but not because she needs additional money but because she can get special books, items, and pieces of information when the person who made the loan is unable to pay up the interest or the debt.
Kvothe and Devi have a slight banter going round and Devi is definitely interested in one piece of information that Kvothe can give her: how to get into the University Archives without being noticed. This is something that Kvothe found out when he met a new and special friend – Auri, who lived under the university, in the sewer.
Auri is an ex-student as well, but as Kvothe learns, she is special as she knows the names of things and also because she might have gone mad like Elodin did and many others – when the magic they played with turned against them and destroyed their memory or their mind. There is an insane asylum on the University grounds where Elodin used to be held, until the great master broke down their walls, their doors and any shackles they tried to put onto him.
Auri and Elodin do meet at one point through Kvothe and they seem to see each other as they are and leave each other be. It’s Auri that takes Kvothe to the underside of the University and helps him gain access to the archives when he had been banned for life for taking a live flame in them (having been deceived by Ambrose on his first day)
“I was wondering, Auri. Would you mind showing me the Underthing?”
Auri looked away, suddenly shy. “Kvothe, I thought you were a gentleman,” she said, tugging self-consciously at her ragged shirt. “Imagine, asking to see a girl’s underthing.” She looked down, her hair hiding her face.
I held my breath for a moment, choosing my next words carefully lest I startle her back underground. While I was thinking, Auri peeked at me through the curtain of her hair.
“Auri,” I asked slowly, “are you joking with me?”
She looked up and grinned. “Yes I am,” she said proudly. “Isn’t it wonderful?”
The entire book is an extended, wordy introduction to the huge saga yet to unfold. This is day 1.
This is good and bad. On one hand, readers are kept on the hook hoping for answers and grab for the next book right away. And although most of the events of The Name of the Wind are small in relation to the plot, they each gain meaning as part of a series leading up to supposedly great things.
“Bones mend. Regret stays with you forever.”
I have read book 2 and I have not yet found out what Kvothe shows regret for. I wonder whether he’ll stay with Denna, whether she gets killed by the Chandrian somehow, whether he kills her himself. He definitely seems to have loved her a lot.
“Once, I sang colors to a blind man. Seven hours I played, but at the end he said he saw them, green and red and gold. That, I think, was easier than this. Trying to make you understand her with nothing more than words. You have never seen her, never heard her voice. You cannot know.”
As the day finishes and the Chronicler finishes off chapter after chapter of Kvothe’s previous life, we get to see him as he is now. A bartender, an innkeeper, a mellow man with a companion. His hair is not that red anymore, his eyes not that wild. His sword, hung above the bar, is not dangerous looking. Kvothe has lost his warrior self, he is now a common man. Bast, his companion, wants the old fighter back. The Chronicler wants to find out more about the legend of Kvothe. Kvothe wants to die.
“IT WAS NIGHT AGAIN. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts. The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking. If there had been a wind it would have sighed through the trees, set the inn’s sign creaking on its hooks, and brushed the silence down the road like trailing autumn leaves. If there had been a crowd, even a handful of men inside the inn, they would have filled the silence with conversation and laughter, the clatter and clamor one expects from a drinking house during the dark hours of night. If there had been music . . . but no, of course there was no music. In fact there were none of these things, and so the silence remained.”