Luke Skywalker, Locke Lamora, Sparrowhawk, Arya Stark... the story of precocious and frighteningly competent youngsters growing into their powers (whether magic, thievery, assassination or whatever) has been a popular staple of fantasy literature for a long time, and personally I love it. Patrick Rothfuss's debut novel follows this grand tradition, and any lack of originality is more than made up for with a fluid and confident writing style and an engaging story. The first part of a trilogy, this is the tale of Kvothe the Kingkiller, whose name became a legend and whose legacy is still devastating the land; it's not out in the UK until later this year but it's already raising ripples on the other side of the Atlantic.
The Name of the Wind is written in the first-person-memoir style, but unlike most other stories of this nature, it is sensibly framed by a third-person present where interesting things are still happening. Kvothe has fled the dangers of his homeland and is in hiding, working in disguise as a bartender. The arrival of the Chronicler gives him the chance to tell his life story and refute some of the myths that have grown up around his name, and this is where the main story starts. From the looks of things, this first trilogy is just the tale of Kvothe's past, and a second one is planned that will take the story forward from the present.
This book takes us from Kvothe's childhood among travelling musicians, through his days as a beggar and pickpocket and up to his time learning magic at the Academy. While not very much actually happens, the style was engaging enough to keep my interest up, and of course I found myself really wanting to know how this talented kid became the terrible figure of legend and then the world-weary bartender. The worldbuilding was solid, and the system of magic was particularly well worked-out, with an almost scientific approach taken by the masters of the various disciplines. Rothfuss also avoids most of the Wizard School clichés, but too often this is achieved with a post-modern wink at the audience ("If this were a story, then X would have happened, but aha, Y happened instead!" says Kvothe, a lot) which got rather annoying after a while.
The main danger of first-person writing, of course, is the lack of characterisation in anyone but the main protagonist. This problem is as evident in The Name of the Wind as in most other first-person novels, but luckily Kvothe's character is interesting enough to fill the entire book. Still, most of Kvothe's companions/enemies/love interests are purest cardboard, and I'd hope that would be rectified in future instalments. On the whole, though, this was a very good read; some people have complained about the inconclusive ending, but for me it just whets my appetite for the next ones in the series.