I’d been seriously reading epic fantasy just a year or two when Patrick Rothfuss made his debut with the publication of The Name of the Wind. It was 2007. Rothfuss’s wasn’t the first big debut of the time. Scott Lynch and Joe Abercrombie had released their first books just the year before—and to immediate acclaim. In 2005 we got our first novel from Brandon Sanderson. Naomi Novik, Jim Butcher, Nnedi Okorafor and even Steven Erikson were all new names on the scene back then.

Despite this wave of compelling new voices, Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind made a bigger splash in circles I frequented. Publishers fought to be the one who brought it to print. Readers raved about it. Authors admired it openly. To this day, I haven’t seen a single debut catch fire in the same way.

There are plenty of explanations for Rothfuss’s success—such as his charisma, the intense energy of the blogging world at the time, and the serious pump-priming influence of authors preceding Rothfuss’s arrival. I’m not exploring these in this article. Rather, this article will look at actual reader data on why people love Rothfuss’s books. And for non-data kicks, I’ll share my own take on the topic too.

A note on my methods

]I employed a methodology almost identical to what I did for last year’s article looking at data on why readers love The Lord of the Rings. The only real changes this time around the sun are: a) that I studied reader reviews going all the way back to 2007, accounting for Rothfuss’s full publishing lifespan; b) that I studied only reviews for The Name of the Wind (though I’ll gladly expand this when the full Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy is published); and c) that I studied 50 reviews in all, as opposed to the 200 I examined for The Lord of the Rings.

I also came in with a clearer hypothesis about why readers love Rothfuss’s writing so much. I surmised that the top factor would have to do with the relatability of the story and character events. I don’t think I was 100% correct, but the data definitely doesn’t disprove this either.

Here’s what I found.

The top reasons readers love The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

A graph of the top 10 reasons readers love The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

And here’s the text-only version:

  1. Captivation (26 references)
  2. Beauty (21 references)
  3. The characters (20 references)
  4. World-building (8 references)
  5. “Best” quality (8 references)
  6. Wisdom and quotability (7 references)
  7. Its uniqueness (7 references)
  8. Relatability (6 references)
  9. The magic system (5 references)
  10. Cleverness (4 references)

Readers reported a number of other reasons not shown in this visualization, including humor, mystery, plotting, story structure, pacing, and foreshadowing. But the obvious top tickets merit a little more analysis.

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1. Readers find Patrick Rothfuss’s words captivating (26 references)

A whopping 52% of the positive reviews I analyzed mentioned some form of feeling captivated as they read The Name of the Wind. Some reviewers described this in terms of the book being hard to put down. Others commented on how engrossed they were, how vivid the reading experience was, or simply by saying the story captivated them.

Since narrative transportation makes the story memorable—and has a profound and even lasting impact on the reader over time—it’s little wonder that readers love a story that rivets their attention so successfully. It’s also interesting to note that five out of the remaining nine top reasons (beauty, characters, world-building, “best” quality, and relatability) all correlate highly with this first point. Put more simply, it’s very likely that more than just 52% of readers love The Name of the Wind for its ability to hold their attention and carry them to another place and time.

Artist's depiction of Kvothe meeting the Chandrian Halifax, showing a lone boy facing three shadowy figures.
Art by BradSuttonArt.

2. Readers find plenty that evokes beauty in Rothfuss’s writing (21 references)

There’s enough common consensus on this front that it should be no surprise to see beauty make the list of reasons readers love The Name of the Wind. With 21 nods among the reviews I studied, the indicator is that 42% of readers feel the same.

Rothfuss has long been known among the fantasy community for his ability to write high quality prose. He’s not the most verbose in his descriptions, as far as fantasy writers go; he packs a lot in at the sentence, paragraph, chapter, and bookwide levels, however, and he does it using language that’s both fresh and digestible. Readers comment almost equally on the beauty of his language and on how easy it is to take in.

3. The characters (20 references)

Many 5-star reader reviews comment on how the reviewer really disliked Kvothe. In fact, this is the only consistent cause for not liking The Name of the Wind across all the reviews analyzed. Yet Rothfuss’s characters were a clear runner-up to the top two reasons readers love his writing, with love for them cropping up in 40% of the reviews analyzed for this article.

Artist's depiction of Kvothe. A young man playing the lute in the forest.
Art by DonatoArts.

It’s particularly interesting that there are no obvious favorite characters. A few reviews mention laughing at Elodin, admiring Kvothe, or loving Bast. Yet the overall praise of Rothfuss’s characterization is more abstract than specific—very unlike the review data on The Lord of the Rings. This might be due to the nature of the narrative, which so closely follows Kvothe as to have few characters present throughout the book. It might also be connected to the fact that Kvothe’s narrative gives himself much more credit than it offers to anyone else, totally changing the framework for how other characters come across on the page.

Whatever the reasoning, readers do really like the people Rothfuss puts in his world, even when their liking might be polarizing.

A few additional notes

These top three reasons appeared pretty equally across all three review platforms studied—Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes and Noble. If you’ve read many reviews on each, you’ll know that they are not birds of a feather. The Goodreads review is a genre unto itself. A Barnes and Noble review is likewise a very different animal than an Amazon review. Yet the cross-platform agreement is clear.

Furthermore, it’s probably not coincidental that the top three reasons readers shared for loving The Name of the Wind are among the very top reasons that readers love The Lord of the Rings. I don’t take that to mean these books are truly alike—but that readers are so often similar in what really catches their interest.

Last but not least, it’s worth a qualitative comment that readers who love Rothfuss seem to have a little more fire than do readers who love other fantasy writers. This is much harder to quantify than the items listed above—and I can’t compare it in detail to too many other batches of reviews—but the general sense of awe at Rothfuss’s storytelling skill makes these reader reviews stand out from other reviews with the same numeric ratings. (I might have to write another article on that topic.)

Conclusion: What I Love About The Name of the Wind

Apparently there’s a lot to love about The Name of the Wind. Here’s my own take on it.

I think Rothfuss is particularly good at capturing the personal elements in his story, meaning the elements that can be appreciated with Kvothe in isolation. Not that Kvothe doesn’t interact with other people—he does, in quite a variety of situations. But the parts of the book that speak most powerfully to me are in Kvothe’s loneliness, his poverty, his yearning to be admired and praised for his cleverness, and in his many failures. Nearly every reason readers listed above (and most of the reasons not shown) are manifest in the way Kvothe interacts with the frame narrative and the substance of the story.

In summary, I’d say Rothfuss’s greatest skill is making the story personal. Hence my hypothesis above that other readers would find the same thing. I don’t want to read too much into it, but a glance at Rothfuss’s own life experience probably explains a lot of this—such as his clearly stated love for the college experience, which plays such a huge role in Kvothe’s narrative.

Personal stories are captivating and beautiful. Stories that feel personal also tend to have characters that feel real and compelling to the reader. And that’s definitely how The Name of the Wind comes across to me.

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About the Author

Stephen Taylor is the author of The Witherclaw Trilogy as well as short fiction appearing in The Future FireMYTHIC Magazine, The Centropic Oracle, and other publications. His short story “Only an Ocean” won a Silver Honorable Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. When he’s not writing, he’s often playing my violin or wandering in the woods.

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