My apologies in advance. This review won’t come close to describing the brilliance of Patrick Rothfuss’s debut fantasy novel, entitled THE NAME OF THE WIND. Alas, I’ll do my best.

The epic story opens at the Waystone, a nondescript inn located in the middle of nowhere. In fact, the inn is so remote that it rarely has more than a handful of customers each day, mainly locals who come in for a drink and a bit of gossip. While the innkeeper loves his place and works hard to keep it maintained, the reader immediately gets the sense that something is missing from his life.

One day a Chronicler comes to the inn, claiming the subdued innkeeper is none other than Kvothe, a legendary man known for his fighting ability, prowess with women, and unmatched musical talent. After initially trying to maintain his cover, the man admits that he is indeed Kvothe, and agrees to allow the Chronicler to write a memoir about his life.

With the exception of a handful of brief interludes, the remainder of the story is a first-person retelling of Kvothe’s early years. The tale begins by describing his time on the road with his family, a group of traveling musicians. After a horrible tragedy he ends up in a nearby city, spending a couple years homeless and penniless. From there, Kvothe goes to The University and becomes the youngest person ever admitted.

Much of the book details Kvothe’s time spent at The University, and it’s here that THE NAME OF THE WIND can be compared to the Harry Potter series (albeit a little more adult in nature) -- Kvothe comes in as a gifted student and is fast-tracked through numerous classes; he has a handful of teachers who like him, but a couple who have it out for him; a student named Ambrose does everything in his power to get rid of Kvothe. But after you get past those skin-deep comparisons, you’ll find a quality story that carves its own unique path and far exceeds the adventures of young Harry Potter.

Rothfuss puts on a clinic on how to handle characterization through the use of the “autobiographical” storytelling employed in THE NAME OF THE WIND. Over the course of 700+ pages we learn almost everything there is to know about Kvothe when he was a child and young adult. But it doesn’t stop there. All of the primary and secondary characters come to life, each with their own unique voice and personality (not an easy task with as many characters as there are). You’ll love ‘em and hate’ em, laugh with ‘em and cry with ‘em, but by God none of them will bore you or feel out of place.

That being said, excellent characters cannot carry a story on their own. Fortunately, Rothfuss has many more tools at his disposal – from interesting settings to an original take on the nature of magic to a devilish sense of humor throughout, THE NAME OF THE WIND has it all and more. I also appreciated that Rothfuss’s protagonist doesn’t come across as all-powerful or infallible. Instead, Rothfuss is honest, delving into the process of how legends are created. Are the stories linked to Kvothe rooted in truth? For the most part, yes. But the protagonist is quick to explain that many times he was scared to death or made it through a dilemma out of sheer dumb luck…yet allowed the stories to become embellished in the interest of fostering his reputation. I found Kvothe’s openness to be refreshing, as it’s something you don’t see much of in epic fantasy tales.

Needless to say, I highly recommend THE NAME OF THE WIND to everyone. That’s right, not just the fantasy readers, but everyone. While there is a little magic, and even a dragon, this isn’t your typical fantasy novel. The story is more concerned with the characters and their relationships than delving into your typical sword and sorcery tropes.

THE NAME OF THE WIND was published by DAW Books and is currently available as a $16 trade paperback and a $9 mass-market paperback (both of which are discounted if you order online at Barnes & Noble).

Be sure to look for book two of the trilogy, entitled THE WISE MAN’S FEAR, in early 2011.

(10 out of 10)

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