I can easily say that The Name of the Wind is the best book I’ve read this year. It may be the only one, given we’re only a few days into it, but honestly I’d say it ranks pretty high above most of the books I read last year, too. I admit I met this series with an air of apprehension. The Kingkiller Chronicle is often put in the same list of recommended books as the Wheel of Time when people talk about such things, and as far as enjoyment goes, I couldn’t in good conscience recommend Robert Jordan to anyone. (As always, I won’t be spoiling anything since this book is relatively recent!)
But The Name of the Wind has none of the patient formality that is so prevalent in The Wheel of Time. With Jordan’s series, it reads much like reading a tale of legend: one where all the characters would be spoken of in hushed whispers hundreds of years later, and I’m reading the story of what “really” happened. It adds a disconnect I don’t much care for, and while The Kingkiller Chronicle is presented as a retelling of things that have already happened, I still felt included in both timelines in the narrative.
I would attribute this to two factors. First: we are given an inkling of the “current” timeline early on. We get to know how our hero ends up first, but this raises questions as to how these circumstances came to be, especially in contrast to what little we’re told of what had happened in his life. It holds interest because though we’re told the “conclusion” to the other story, we’re not told very important things about the current state of affairs, or how the events led up to this conclusion. This is a great way to make both timelines interesting.
The second factor that makes it more meaningful to the reader is that when retelling his story, our hero starts from the very beginning: his childhood. We don’t begin with a man that already has a character and personality. From this timeline’s perspective, the reader learns about the world at the same time the child does, learning about this world’s politics, magic, and characters. This timeline serves a great purpose at starting there because it allows for a telling of the world assuming no prior knowledge: something many fantasy novels (including my own stories) fail to do.
As far as this series goes, I love the magic system, and I also liked many of the characters. The ones we see a lot of have many facets, and are very believable people. The people that don’t seem altogether human, or are just plain weird, we don’t see a whole lot of, so we can never confirm whether this is a simple fanciful story or if they really aren’t human.
I’d say this books largest shortcoming is that it doesn’t feel like a standalone novel. That is to say, I’m not satisfied with where the book ended, and while many would consider that a good thing, I feel its important to give a first novel a sense of completion. The Name of the Wind feels more like “Part One” to this big story. As far as this story arc goes, I don’t feel like I really experienced a big climax or falling action. That isn’t to say there wasn’t one, but more that I feel this book reads a lot more as a really long rising action, leading up to some huge things in the next books.
All that being said, it’s a great book. Very few books I’ve read these past several months have made me anticipate getting some free time so I can keep reading, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone that needs to be eased into the fantasy genre. It’s a heavy book, with an even heavier sequel, and a lot is going on all around, so it can be difficult to keep track of everything. I would also put a (small) content warning on this. While not as vulgar or crass as other series I’ve read (looking at you, Gentleman Bastards), it definitely isn’t a G-rated book.
Can’t wait to start reading the sequel tomorrow, all-in-all. Oh, and good luck pronouncing some of the names without help. I had the audiobook and I still had to look some stuff up!