Look, I'll be the first to admit that my fantasy chops haven't quite caught up to what's hip and new in the genre (as this post so ably pointed out), and maybe it's a case of "first-ies" (new term Copyright 2008 by Geek Monkey) where the first thing you read becomes by default the comparative stick used to measure all others, but mein gott! Patrick Rothfuss hath wrought something pretty frickin' amazing with his debut novel, the first in a planned trilogy called The Kingkiller Chronicle.
The Name of the Wind is the story of Kvothe, "pronounced nearly the same as "quothe,"" as he says early in the novel. We meet him in the present times, a quiet innkeeper in a quiet, unassuming town. Wanting nothing more than to be left alone, his plans are changed by the arrival of the Chronicler, a famous scribe whose goal is to lern the truth of the matter of the larger-than-life and presumed dead hero, a man of many names and even more stories. Spanning the course of a single day, Kvothe begins to tell o fhis life, from his early days with his family as Edema Ruh, a renowned traveling troupe and the horror of the Chandrian, who murders his family and forces him into the streets and finally to the University, the learned city where magic and knowledge in its many forms are kept and, to those worthy, are shared.
All of this is set against the backdrop of the actual telling of the story, where an evil is beginning to present itself once again, and Kvothe will undoubtedly be called upon to be the person he once was. The problem is, as we find out, is that person has slowly and mysteriously been almost completely forgotten.
There is so much that is great about The Name of the Wind it's hard to know where to start. Rothfuss sets out to demolish the stereotype of the hero and, in the process, rebuild him into something that rises above what we've always come to think of when using the term. He places an equal focus on action and character development to the point where you can't decide which is better. The world he's created has been meticulously thought out - its geography, its cultures and especially the mechanics behind what's considered "magic" is beautifully worked out. It's probably the first instance where I've 100% bought into how magic could actually exist in a world, as opposed to simply buying into its existence in a given world (which is perfectly fine in its won right - it's just that this was the first novel to make me see that the explanation can be more magical than the magic itself).
As a character Kvothe is a vibrant wonder, equal parts Harry Potter and Holden Caufield. We're constantly reminded through both his actual exploits and those that have been exaggerated that his is, if anything, desperately human, and prone to all the glories and pitfalls that occur to all all, whether it's the glowing pride of a selfless act to the burning embarrassment of committing a selfish one.
In the end Rothfuss sets up a bevy of unanswered questions both in Kvothe's history as well as the present day descending darkness that left me dying to read the next chapter. Without falling into the traps that waylay lesser writers, The Name of the Wind is a finely crafted novel that wraps itself in the gauze of fantasy because it absolutely has to, and not for any other reason. Definitely on my Best Of 2008 list.