The Name of the Wind owes a lot to Harry Potter. There’s the school for learning magic, the dead parents, the snooty aristocrat arch rival, the wandering Big Bad enemy, the teacher with a grudge against our hero and the teacher with loopy but seemingly knowledgeable insights, and there’s the girl that is kinda strange but makes a connection with Kvothe, the hero of the tale. Yes, there’s a lot of overlap there but what The Name of the Wind does with these characters and ideas (which I recognize weren’t exactly invented for the Harry Potter universe but the popular girl get’s all the dirty looks, I guess) makes it a great story. This, the first book in the Kingkiller Chronicle series does a lot of heavy lifting as we hear about the first 15 years of Kvothe’s (pronounced like “quoth”) life. The framing story is a clever conceit in this tale because the Kvothe we know in the present is quite different from the Kvothe at the beginning of his life (and he doesn’t even come close to old Kvothe’s melancholy by the end of this book, the first day of his recitation of his life). We know Kvothe will end up as an innkeeper and bartender somewhere in the middle of nowhere hiding from his previous life as a hero but as of the end of this book he’s still riding pretty high. Only at the end of the book do we get a hint of what happened to him to turn him against the world when his two audience members – one a faerie and the other an author recording Kvothe’s tale of woe – have a midnight conversation about how sad Kvothe has become in his later years. It’s a telling scene and told well as we get some talk of masks that would please Oscar Wilde.
The book moves at a quick pace (I finished the 672 pages in around a week and a half) and is well written, though there are a few issues. At this point in the story young Kvothe is a little too good at everything. Much of the middle of the book throws a bunch of seemingly minor issues at him which he solves quite easily. Part of his myth is that he can do everything and I guess that is on display here but it makes for a kind of uninteresting story at points. There’s a lot of wheel spinning without much meaning outside of a couple of great scenes in the middle bits (the fire in the workshop and Kvothe’s performance of a long and complicated song stand out as being particularly great). The last 100-150 pages, though, are stellar.
Perhaps the element that separates The Name of the Wind from Harry Potter the most is the love interest. I never really got anything from Harry’s various romantic entaglements and in fact I thought he probably should have hooked up with Luna Lovegood because she was clearly the coolest of the girls hanging around Hogwarts. Kvothe’s object of desire is Denna and she is a perfect match for him. They meet early on but the relationship only really gets going in the middle of the book. Denna, like Kvothe, has a mysterious past and nobody to rely on for food or money or shelter. Where these circumstances propelled Kvothe to become a master arcanist (magician, basically) they pushed Denna to a largely nomadic lifestyle, living off the attention she gets from men of all ages while never getting close to anybody for too long. She’s an incredible alluring character and whenever she’s around Kvothe can’t help but admire her and the reader will likely follow his lead. The end of the book concerns a possible attack by the creatures that killed Kvothe’s entire troupe of traveling performers. This drives Kvothe to the scene of a wedding day massacre where he finds that Denna is the only survivor. There’s a lot of fun interaction between the two as they spend more time with each other than either has spent with another person for quite a while. The relationship grows as they find out why the Chandrian attacked this particular group of people and what attention they have brought on the little town. It’s one big setpiece which includes a dragon and a harvest-time celebration. It’s supremely well written and gives me hope for the next books in the series. Let’s hope they spend more time on heroic antics rather than finding enough money to pay for another semester at school. One of these things is way more exciting and, though the other is important background information, I hope it has come to an end. This is a series with epic inclinations and if it can capitalize on those it could end up being one of the best series in the genre, if not the modern era.