The Name Of The Wind is quite simply the best fantasy novel of the past 10 years, although attaching a genre qualification threatens to damn it with faint praise. Say instead that The Name Of The Wind is one of the best stories told in any medium in a decade. Author Patrick Rothfuss teaches English at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and he describes himself in self-deprecating terms as a perpetual student, role-playing geek, and connoisseur of rejection letters. That's all about to change. His debut novel combines the intricate stories-within-stories structure of The Arabian Nights with the academic setting of the Harry Potter series, and transforms it all into a brooding, thoroughly adult meditation on how heroism went wrong. More entries in the series, dubbed "The Kingkiller Chronicle," are promised; they can't appear fast enough.
Rothfuss' protagonist initially appears as a village innkeeper named Kote. But when the spider-like Chandrian, demonic beings long relegated to myth, reappear near his town, a Chronicler suspects that Kote is actually the legendary hero Kvothe, and visits to demand his history. The bulk of the novel is the first part of that history, Kvothe's first-person account of his upbringing in a traveling theatrical troupe, his tutelage in the ways of sympathy—natural magic—by an arcanist who joins the band, the death of his parents at the hands of the Chandrian, and his education at the university where he masters the techniques of sympathy, has his heart broken by a melancholy courtesan, and begins to learn the deepest magic of secret names. All this is preface to the revenge he hopes to exact on the creatures who killed his family, yet the rich digressions make for compelling stories on their own: Kvothe's escalating feud with a nobly born student, his dangerous debt to a loan shark to pay for his tuition, the risks he runs to gain access to the library for his Chandrian research after being banned on his first day for carrying a flame into the stacks.
Fantasy is often considered an adolescent medium, but there's nothing juvenile about Kvothe or his story. Not only does Rothfuss sprinkle in the occasional vulgarity (in one bracing moment, Kvothe's beloved blurts out "it's a goddamn huge dragon and it's going to come over here and eat us"), but the aura of tragedy that hovers over this bright, crowded coming-of-age tale conveys a fully mature world-weariness and loss of hope. Shelve The Name Of The Wind beside The Lord Of The Rings, The Deed Of Paksenarrion, and The Wheel Of Time—and look forward to the day when it's mentioned in the same breath, perhaps as first among equals.