Magic by any other Name

The Name of the Wind

by Patrick Rothfuss

‘I opened my mouth to howl, to cry, to curse him. But something other tore from my throat, a word I did not know and could not remember.’

I received this book as a Christmas present. It’s a new edition of the novel, first published in 2007. It turns out to be the first volume of a trilogy, which I didn’t realise at first, and at 660 pages is over long for a single volume. (The Fellowship of the Ring, the first and longest volume of Tolkien’s masterpiece – more of that later – is only 450 pages).

The Name of the Wind is the story of Kvothe, whom we meet first as an innkeeper at a country inn. The scene and the characters seem at first typical of such a place – a quiet village, worthies who, as they drink, gossip and tell stories. However, before long, we realise this isn’t our world but an imaginary one, where magic, demons and monsters are more than mere myth. The red-haired innkeeper, who now calls himself Kote, is doing his best to hide his past.


One night, he saves the life of Chronicler who, as the name suggests, is a collector of tales, and is persuaded to tell the true story of his life over a period of three days.

Kvothe’s parents are travelling actors and musicians and he grows up in the entertainment business. However, when the arcanist Ben joins the caravan, the twelve-year-old Kvothe asks to be tutored in the elements of magic. After Ben leaves, the whole troupe with the exception of Kvothe is brutally murdered by the sinister Chandrian. He is thrown on the streets to beg,  steal and fight in order to survive.

‘Furious, Pike jumped me. He was taller by six inches and outweighed me by fifty pounds. Worse, he had a piece of broken glass wrapped with twine at one end, making a crude knife.’

After three years, Kvothe eventually makes it to the University, where he hopes to study magic and find information about the Chandrian. He impresses the professors and is admitted as a student. However, he does not have an easy passage. He is tricked by rich fellow-student Ambrose into taking a candle into the archives. He is whipped as a punishment and banned permanently from returning there. Nevertheless, though almost destitute, he manages to fund his tuition by borrowing money and playing the lute at the Eolian, a drinking establishment where would-be artists test their skills on other customers.

At the Eolian, he renews his acquaintance with Denna, a young woman who has briefly travelled with the actors. Despite Kvothe’s attempts to pin her down, Denna comes and goes as she pleases in her effort to find a rich ‘patron’. [Read that as you will.] Kvothe undoubtedly hopes for more, but eventually settles [for now anyway] for a deep friendship. Kvothe’s studies go quite well, but he has underestimated Ambrose, who tries to have him killed. However, Kvothe has learned a thing or two and sees off the would-be assassins with magic.

‘I touched my bloody side, concentrated, and felt a terrible cold tear through me I pulled more heat from my blood. There was an explosion of white light . . . . one of the men screamed, high and terrified. The tall man began to babble. “Oh God. Tam, my eyes. I’m blind.” ‘

Kvothe takes leave of absence from his studies to investigate the murder of a wedding party. He suspects the Chandrian. Following the trail, he meets Denna again and together they tackle a dragon.

‘I looked down again and saw the thing move closer to the fire. It was black, scaled, massive. It grunted again like thunder . . . . and breathed another great gout of billowing blue flame.’

This volume of the saga [the first day] ends with another confrontation between, Kvothe and Ambrose, one which has an unintended outcome and unintended consequences.

The Name of the Wind is a difficult story to summarise and I have included only a few of the main incidents. There are parts of the book which I enjoyed reading immensely. It pulled me in. The writing, especially the prose, is of a high standard, worthy of anything from the pen of Tolkien. Much of it recalls The Lord of the Rings and Le Guin’s Earthsea though, for me, the pace seems slower than that of either of those works. At times, the story drags, probably because there is too much narrative. I wanted to wind it on by cutting out irrelevant detail; we can, I think, understand the alternative reality without it.

However, my biggest disappointment was to discover that, in order to find out what happens next, I would have to read the second volume, The Wise Man’s Fear, which at 990 pages is half as long again. I just don’t have the appetite for it!. For readers who do, there is to be a third volume, equally long, as yet unpublished.

Sorry, Fans, but this is Game of Thrones all over again and not for me.


2 thoughts on “Magic by any other Name

  1. I read this a few years back because I had heard a lot of good things about it. I bought the first two books before reading it. Unfortunately, I did not really like The Name of the Wind…the characters seemed a bit dry, and the story just wasn’t compelling enough. I didn’t go through with the series.


  2. bookheathen

    I won’t be doing it either. My feeling is that with a bit of editing (pruning), it would make a very good story. 350 pages instead of 660 maybe?


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