What is the difference between epic and non-epic fantasy? Is it the level of world-building? Is it the scope? Generally, epic fantasy is driven by the conflicts that affect a nation or a world. While they often have intriguing characters, they are seldom described as character-driven. That’s what makes Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind such a masterpiece. He has composed a character-driven, epic fantasy that works on each of its many levels.
The heart-and-soul of this story about stories is Kvothe–a legendary singer, sorcerer, and hero who, at the beginning of the novel, is taking solace in obscurity at the edges of civilization. As is usually the case, the past closes in on Kvothe and he is given an opportunity to tell his story. And in doing so, he reveals the power of words, the ways in which story can shape the world and how the world can shape story. And how heroes are shaped by the tales that create them.
So how can this be epic fantasy? Because Kvothe is such a legendary figure that his life matters to the world he inhabits. His actions, and his story, ultimately affect the entire world. And it is character-driven because the story is Kvothe and Kvothe is the story. The entire tale would fall apart if he wasn’t such an intriguing, interesting, and vital character.
Nevertheless, what this novel is about is story. The way that Rothfuss layers the tale with different types of storytelling (legends, folktales, lore, songs, etc.) and then uses his intricate world-building to not only tell but demonstrate the ways in which story creates the world it inhabits is nothing short of brilliant. The novel is a multi-course meal in which each dish is designed to co-exist with the next and complement each other perfectly–and yet, at the end, you need more.
But first and foremost, the story he tells is just interesting. In many ways it is the traditional hero’s tale: driven by tragedy and strife, the underdog works his way up to legend-status. Nevertheless, it doesn’t get stale because of charisma of the main the character. Kvothe’s voice makes the familiar fresh and immediate. It also can’t be forgotten that The Name of the Wind is the first in a slated trilogy so there are some story elements that are not resolved that drive the narrative toward the next novel. As a reader, you simply must find out what happens next.
Brilliant. Masterful. Epic. Highly recommended.