Monday, September 21, 2015

The Name of the Wind

This book has large britches, which it mostly fills out.  In the end, though, I found myself underwhelmed.  Perhaps I just expected too much of it?


A warning, as well: I feel like this is one of the least coherent, most rambling reviews I've written.  Something about this book makes it impossible to review well.  Maybe it's because I loved and disliked it in almost equal measure, but when rating it, gave it five stars because greatness must be recognized.  So let's get down to business (sort of).

First things first: Patrick Rothfuss' prose is amazing.  It's better than 99% of what I read today, and I believe that's why I found the story so compelling.  He manages to get you to ignore the fact that someone's done something out of character because you're drooling over his words.  As all readers of fantasy know, words have great power.  Names have great power.  And Rothfuss uses them as casually, yet as elegantly, as any master of the craft.

I'd reread sentences and descriptions because they were beautiful, but not maudlin or tacky or overused.  Just ... wonderful.  There's something about that level of writing that just sucks you in.  It's sort of like when people sing, and you say, "They could sing the phone book."  Same deal here.
The beginning of the book sets the story up beautifully, and Kvothe's account of his early life is fascinating.  But once The Great Tragedy occurs, things started to go a bit downhill for me plotwise.  I understand, intellectually, that Kvothe is in a state of emotional shock.  But spending three bloody years as a pickpocket and street urchin in Tarbean?  WHY?  I suppose this is supposed to show us how adaptable and resilient Kvothe is, but three years?  He was so set on attending the University, and then ... pickpocket.  It just doesn't feel natural to me.  Kvothe's been set up as a prodigy.  He excels in pretty much everything, which, to me, indicates a great force of mind.  Rolling around in the mire for three years doesn't fit with the driven young man we met with the Travelers.  If anything, I kind of expected a brief lethargy, followed by a rage-induced Braveheart-esque charge after the Chandrian.  Kvothe is exceedingly proud and overconfident, and a wild hunt would suit him better than sleeping in the gutter.

That section of the book where Kvothe is roaming around as a beggar illustrates the main issue I had with this book: it places very uneven emphasis on plot points, which, in turn, crop up because Kvothe now needs something to do.  This also applies to characters like Desi.  I would love to see more of these peripheral characters because they're interesting, while Denna, Kvothe's lady-love and obsession, is the written embodiment of a shrug.

It was also really hard for me to remember that Kvothe was only about fifteen when all of this was happening--his words and actions didn't seem like those of a teenager, except when he got all bashful around girls.  I kept picturing this big, red-headed SWOLE dude with ultra-magical powers.

So, those are my piddly complaints.  But this was so outstandingly written that I felt compelled to finish it, despite my reservations about how the plot moved or how the characters acted.  I wish that we saw more of University life, mostly because I'm a sucker for boarding school or university stories.

I also really enjoyed the frame story: Kvothe has retreated from the world and now owns a rather no-name bar in a quiet village.  He lives with his friend/apprentice Bast (side note: please don't name characters after well-known mythological characters.  I kept picture Bast as a cat) who is Fae.  After an attack in the forest, a man known as Chronicler stumbles into the tavern and asks that Kvothe tell him the story of his life.  Kvothe tells him he will do it in three days (the three books of the trilogy).  Every so often, Rothfuss pulls us out of Kvothe's derring-do adventures into the present time, and we see that he's become a shell of himself, and it's almost unbearably painful.  The fight scene near the end of the book was also really, really good.  And then Bast Gets Serious, which was delightful.

I'm a bit trepidatious about starting the next book, because I know then I'll need the third one, and patience is not one of my strong suits.  I think the third book is coming out next year, but that seems so far away!

Bottom line: Genius prose, cool worldbuilding, fun magic system, meh characters, and odd plot developments.  Definitely worth reading for any fantasy fan.











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