This is the first book of a trilogy about the story of the hero named Kvothe. (Kind of weird name, huh.) We don’t really know why he is a hero yet, or why he has run away from his life and is living as an innkeeper in a small village under a different name. I guess we find all that out later! Anyway, a scribe tracks him down and persuades him to tell his story. Thus “The Name of the Wind” is Kvothe’s autobiography up to his adolescence.
Kvothe finds himself on his own at an early age when his parents and other performers in their traveling troupe are brutally and mysteriously murdered by the Chandrian, a group of bogeymen that people tell stories about to children but don’t really believe in. But now Kvothe does! He’s a street urchin in a large city for a few years until he decides to go to the University to figure out all he can about the Chandrian.
Kvothe is pretty much a child prodigy and excels at whatever he tries. Nonetheless, he is always hampered by challenges resulting from having no family or other support; in particular he is always out of money and worries about having enough to live and enough to pay his tuition at the University next term…there are more than a few heart breaking incidents where he finally comes into money, or a way to make some, but then it’s all taken away somehow.
I think part of what the book explores through Kvothe’s emergence as a hero is how perception affects what people think about others, and about themselves. Kvothe comes from a family of actors, and he uses that training to good effect by enhancing the aura of shock and awe that surround him due to his adventures. Facts turn to embellished rumors when retold by others, which he does little to correct, knowing how that will also enhance his reputation. In one scene (maybe more) some visitors to his inn during the present day talk about some of the adventures that we, the readers, heard first-hand from Kvothe earlier; they always grow greater with the re-telling, sometimes to a humorous degree. I liked what Kvothe’s friend Bast says at the end of the book about how everyone has a story they tell themselves inside their head – we choose who we are and how we see ourselves and our actions. Kind of makes you think.
I liked the book’s depiction of magic, or “sympathy,” as a transferral of energy. The magician, or “arcanist,” simply channels energy from or through his own body to his target, usually using some kind of object similar to the target as a focus. Apart from this there is some power to knowing the true Names of things, similar to the magic used by Ged in “A Wizard of Earthsea” (one of my all-time favorites).
I liked this book a lot and plan to read the sequels when they are available. The prose flows very well, and Kvothe is a likeable character who has exciting adventures. I think this book would appeal to those who enjoyed the Harry Potter books when they were younger … kind of a similar coming-of-age, student of magic type story, but a little more grown-up. Still rated PG or PG-13, which I appreciated.