Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review: The Name of the Wind: Patrick Rothfuss

Have you read this? If not, you should. Yes it's the first book of a series that's not finished, something I absolutely hate recommending because of what I call the Martin Effect (if you read fantasy I'm sure you can guess what that is). I'll make an exception in this case though, for two reasons:
  • Patrick Rothfuss actually seems to have a trilogy in mind, and claims that it's pretty much written. All that's left is the editing and revising.
  • It's a very very very good book.
The Name of the Wind opens in a bog-standard inn run by a bog-standard innkeeper: Kote. Of course things are not exactly as they appear. Strange things are happening and they seem to involve Kote. Unsurprisingly Kote is more than just a simple innkeeper, he's actually Kvothe, a legendary man who's done... well, pretty much anything you can imagine. No spoilers here, but in pretty short order Kvothe is convinced by the Chronicler, a well-known scribe, to tell the story of his amazing life. Kote / Kvothe agrees to tell the tale in three days (three days, three books - there's hope for an ending!) This narration becomes the meat of the books, though the present is not entirely forgotten.

I've been trying to figure out what it is that makes this book so appealing to me, and I've had a hard time putting my finger on it. Nevertheless I'll try to quantify it:

Kvothe is an excellent character, and the books are his personal story. This focused story-telling point of view is very reminiscent of Corwin's role in Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber, another favorite of mine. Many fantasy novels fall into the multiple points of view pattern, which, if done well, is great. Unfortunately it's not always done well, leaving the reader with a dozen confused and half-developed characters. Kvothe is also one of my favorite archetypes: clever, powerful, stubborn and sometimes rash. It's a combination that leads to terrible consequences and astounding victories while seeming completely believable.

The writing is wonderful, both playful and tight. It's clear the author loves writing and has put his heart into this volume. Some might say the pacing is slow, but I found it deliberate instead. And engrossing. I often read before going to bed, usually 20 or 30 minutes and I'm nodding, but with The Name of the Wind and the second book, The Wise Man's Fear, I've caught myself still reading at three AM.

Lastly, and to me most importantly, it feels as if there is an ending in sight. By telling the story as a narration from its end, there's already a sense that things have a conclusion; something I, as a reader, find reassuring. Especially after experiencing the "trilogy becomes quintilogy or septilogy" effect. This is a lesson that many fantasy-brick authors could benefit from - yes I'm looking at YOU George R.R. Martin!

So what's it about? In short the first book tells the story of Kvothe's early life: growing up as one of the wandering Edema Ruh; surviving as a penniless urchin on the streets of Tarbean; becoming a student of the arcane arts at The University; and finally... well, I wouldn't want to spoil the ending. Needless to say there are many twists and turns. Kvothe makes friends (and enemies), pursues an ancient mystery, becomes romantically entangled with a mysterious woman, and in the end, barely survives his turbulent youth using little more than his clever wits and skillful fingers.

In conclusion I'll just say that there have been few books in recent years that have held my interest as well as The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear (which I'm reading now). Mr. Rothfuss is to be commended for bringing us Kvothe and his wonderful story. I can hardly wait for the final volume!

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