Wednesday, August 31, 2011

40. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind had been recommended to me with exceptionally high praise. I looked forward to it, but I also feared that my expectations were raised too high.

They were-and they weren't. The Name of the Wind is no Lord of the Rings. It is no Harry Potter. It has entirely its own magic, or should I say sympathy?

Kvothe (prounounced like "quothe," now isn't that just lovely to say?) is our protagonist, our orphan underdog hero. Rothfuss opens the book with a silent inn, "a silence of three parts," in a small provincial town apparently on the edge of a large, dark crisis involving demonic forces. There is more than there seems to the quiet innkeeper "Kote" and when he encounters the traveling scribe Chronicler, he is convinced to tell our main character's story, his story.

I have not read much epic fantasy told in the first person, so Rothfuss gets originality points here. His chapters are short and well-organized. His language is clean and precise. I often complain about this Hemingway-esque language in science fiction and fantasy books, but Rothfuss elevates it to an art form. He does it right. He says what he means to say, carefully, evocatively and briefly. I will admit that is more than can be said for Tolkien, though I'm fond of his syntactical structure myself. He repeats descriptions of characters and I was exasperated with the word "maudlin" by the end, in the same way that Martin's books made me sick of the word "craven." But, with Rothfuss, I felt his repetitions were deliberate and in keeping with his storytelling schtick, a touch of Greek epic if you will.

One thing I found especially brilliant is Kvothe's upbringing among a troupe of entertainers. His parents are actors and musicians and he grows up on stage. I have never met with a better way to introduce a reader to a new world. There is no extensive exposition, but no slow confusing build-up either, all the necessary information about the cultural values and myths of "The Four Corners of Civilization" is contained in songs and play dialogues that are related in the beginning. Of course, there is a sense that there is more to learn and by the end of the book we have still not learned all that is referred to. A perfect set-up for a trilogy. But this book stands on its own as well, there are a series of smaller and bigger quests and resolutions. The small cast of characters is easy to keep track of and while minor characters are not as fully developed as I'd like, they are more than stick figures.

We observe Kvothe's formative years, he must lose his parents and end up living rough on city streets for a while, where have I heard that one before? Oh yeah, and then he gets into the school for wizards. Except, in Kvothe's world, "arcanists" don't perform magic, they perform "sympathy," making bindings between objects to light candles, for example. And of course, the more advanced students can learn "naming," which is what Kvothe really wants, how to call the name of the wind and bend it to his will. Rothfuss plays on a lot of familiar themes on the power of words and the danger of power. Then there is the Girl, Denna or Dianne or Deanna, the wild, enigmatic love of Kvothe's life. The knight's got to have his lady.

I would absolutely recommend The Name of the Wind to fans of fantasy and I will certainly be reading the rest of the trilogy. I'm even going to go ahead and call this Fantasy Literature, because it is a little different and I feel like it shows a very serious artistic effort and besides being entertaining, it...lives.


redhead said...

great review! I'm annoyed that people put Name of the Wind in the same sentence as Harry Potter. Or even Lord of the Rings. that's like comparing apples to orangutans. yes, the main character is a guy. yes, there's magic and danger. but they are totally, totally different.

I loved loved loved Name of the Wind. the only epic fantasy I'd ever read before it was Game of Thrones (also, totally and completely different). Rothfuss opened up a whole new world of fantasy for me.

Biblibio said...

I've had The Name of the Wind on my radar for a while now, but the heaping praise has actually constantly kept me away - that and the sheer size. I'm not really sure how much the story itself is attractive to me (it's always presented very vaguely, for fear, I presume, of revealing spoilers), but with so many clear recommendations (and with your comment about this qualifying as fantasy literature), I feel I should really get to it...

Space Station Mir said...

@redhead Thanks! I'm glad you agree with me that it's not really comparable to LoTR or HP (or a Song of Ice and Fire either), but it's a good story in its own right.

@Biblibio I actually think the wild praise has done The Name of the Wind a disservice. It's not really on the scale of LoTR, it's just a really well-told story. And the way it's organized with short chapters really helps it fly by, I read it in about 2 days.