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The Name of the Wind: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day One    by Patrick Rothfuss order for
Name of the Wind
by Patrick Rothfuss
Order:  USA  Can
Daw, 2007 (2007)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

It's rare to find a debut work jostling aside old favorites at the top of my list of fantasy bests, but The Name of the Wind is that good, reminding me of Robin Hobb at the top of her game. The cleverly linked Acknowledgements intrigued me, while the Prologue (which elaborates on 'a silence of three parts') let me know I was in the hands of a master, making the fact that the book is somewhat of a tome (at 662 pages) a joy rather than a burden.

Patrick Rothfuss first introduces his mysterious young red-haired hero. The legendary Kvothe has been living for the past year as humble innkeeper Kote of the quiet Waystone Inn in a remote town in a land at war. He's accompanied by an otherworldly - and equally mysterious - sidekick/student Bast, who avoids iron. A tavern regular comes in, smeared with blood, and carrying the remains of an enormous ('large as a wagon wheel') slate-black spider, which the innkeeper identifies as a scraeling. Next we meet the journeying Chronicler. He and Kvothe meet as the latter secretly disposes, at great risk to himself, of monsters. It turns out that Chronicler has been seeking Kvothe, hoping to write his biography. The puzzle of what brought the monsters to the region looms - like a sword of Damocles - beyond this episode.

Reluctantly at first, Kvothe agrees to tell the truth about his life - a far cry from the rumors and myths that have spread even to this small place - in three days (this book covers the first day's storytelling). We see him as a boy, brilliant and happy in his Edema Ruh extended family, reminiscent of the traveling players in Sabatini's Scaramouche. An old man named Abenthy was his first real teacher - an arcanist who joined the troupe for a time, and was able to 'call the wind', arousing Kvothe's insatiable curiosity. Ben taught the boy many subjects (including some sympathetic magic), encouraged him to attend the University later, and left them, after answering some of Kvothe's father's questions (for a song composition) about the infamous Chandrian. Frightened children often chant a doggerel of the Chandrian: 'When the heartfire turns to blue, / What to do? What to do? / Run outside. Run and hide.'

Fortunately for then twelve-year-old Kvothe, he wanders away in search of privacy and so is absent when the Chandrian strike, but he bears witness. He survives numbly, begging and stealing to keep himself alive, until a storyteller reminds him of who he is. He then heads to the University, where he manages to get accepted, though too young and without funds. There he makes good friends of fellow students Sim and Wil and of Auri, a fey young woman who lives in the Underthing - but also a lifelong, vengeful enemy in Ambrose, who's from a wealthy and powerful family. Kvothe takes the Chronicler and the reader through his years there - of learning science and magic, struggling financially, friendship, and escalating clashes with Ambrose. He also rekindles his joy in music and meets - for a second time - Denna, a wild and, in her way, innocent femme fatale whose 'easy smile could stop a man's heart.'

Then Kvothe hears of a nearby attack by the Chandrian, and rushes to investigate the scene - and perform acts of heroism. He adds a little more hard won information to what he knows of the Chandrian, and before the day's storytelling is over, he speaks the Name of the Wind. This wonderful story leaves the reader with many questions. What happened to Denna? Who and what is Bast? Why does Kvothe blame himself for the war and the monsters? Why is he living the life of a hermit? And why is he waiting to die? Readers of The Name of the Wind will be dying to get their hands on the following two days of The Kingkiller Chronicle. Highly recommended.

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