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Wednesday, April 4, 2007

"The Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss

Listen to Patrick Rothfuss Podcast via Penguin HERE
In recent years we’ve seen a number of heavily hyped debuts that have been released in speculative fiction, namely Susanna Clarke’sJonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” (2004), Elizabeth Kostova’sThe Historian” (2005) and Scott Lynch’sThe Lies Of Locke Lamora” (2006). Whether or not these novels actually lived up to expectations is a topic for another day :). Continuing the trend in 2007 is Patrick Rothfuss and his much acclaimed debut “The Name of the Wind”. Because of all of the advance praise surrounding the novel, I’ve tried to refrain as much as possible from reading any reviews or related articles as I wanted to experience “The Name of the Wind” without any preconceptions. So, going in, about the only details that I knew of the book was that the main character was named Kvothe (pronounced “quothe”) and that this story was about his past.

From a third-person point of view, we are introduced to innkeeper Kote, his associate Bast, and the Chronicler. After the foundations have been set, Kvothe relates his tale to Chronicler in a first-person narrative that comprises the majority of the novel returning to the third-person with the occasional interlude and then the conclusion. Aside from a couple of series that immediately come to mind like the Farseer/Tawny Man trilogies by Robin Hobb or Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books, most epic fantasies are told through multiple point of views rather than the first person. So, just a heads up to those who haven’t read this type of novel or are not a fan of this style. For me personally, I really like this method of writing as it offers a greater understanding of the protagonist, which is a definite positive if that character is well-conceived. Fortunately, Kvothe is just that and the tale that he relates only reinforces the charming personality that he possesses and the interesting adventures that he’s experienced.

As far as the actual story, Kvothe’s accountings of his childhood years seem, at first glance, standard fare – a talented son of troupers (actors, singers/musicians, etc.) who, through tragic events, is set on a path of revenge that includes learning to survive on his own as a street urchin and enrolling in the prestigious University to gain the knowledge & abilities to achieve his vengeance. Of course, there’s much more to the story than that and it is the way that the plot is told that helps “The Name of the Wind” to rise above such mediocrity. First and foremost is the actual writing. When comparing Patrick Rothfuss’ style to others, no one ‘famous’ really comes to mind, but I am reminded somewhat of Brandon Sanderson’s works (Elantris, Mistborn). Basically, the writing in “The Name of the Wind” is very straight-forward and practical. It’s not cluttered with wearisome exposition or unnecessary fluff, and the characters are likeable and real. In short, Kvothe’s tale is a very human one, rife with love, loss, friendship, self-discovery and much more, and thus, his story is told in a human manner through humor, anger, regret, and so on. In other words, “The Name of the Wind” is an honest and profound tale.

Additionally, Mr. Rothfuss is very aware of the clich├ęs that typify a lot of fantasy and is not afraid to poke fun of them throughout his novel. While I wouldn’t go so far to say that Mr. Rothfuss breaks down any barriers in the genre with this book, he does manage to avoid their pitfalls…for the most part. After all, one of the risks of telling a story via first-person is that world-building and character development of supporting players might be sacrificed. This unfortunately is an issue with “The Name of the Wind”, though a minor one. Looking at the world itself, we are really only offered small glimpses of the lands, cultures, peoples and history that Kvothe’s tale takes place in, mainly through a couple of back-stories, and what is revealed seems mostly familiar territory if you follow any kind of fantasy. It should be noted though that the magic system (Sympathy) that Mr. Rothfuss has created is highly original and designed, and is one of the book's many highlights. Plus, we should see much more of the world come to life as Kvothe’s chronicles continue. As to the characterization, secondary roles are mostly one-dimensional with an exception here or there, while some could even be described as stereotypical such as Kvothe’s archrival at the University. Still, as I mentioned before, these are only minor quibbles and in no way hinders the overall enjoyment of the book.

For a novel that comes in at almost 700 pages, “The Name of the Wind” was a very fast read for me. Sure, it took a little bit to get into the story, which really only took off once Kvothe began his narrative, and there were a few lulls throughout, but for the most part I was inextricably hooked to “The Name of the Wind” and was quite disappointed when I came to its end. Thankfully, Kvothe’s tale will continue with the already written second and third volumes of the The Kingkiller Chronicles, as well as a follow-up series, and I for one, will be eagerly awaiting each of those novels. As to how “The Name of the Wind” compares to other notable fantasy debuts, I think that’s really a matter of personal opinion and preference. Myself, I think it’s definitely better than some that I’ve read and not as strong as others, but I personally believe that it will make more sense to look at The Kingkiller Chronicles as a whole since it was originally written as a single story. So, i
f the rest of the trilogy can improve upon, or even maintain the level of intimacy, passion and realism found in “The Name of the Wind”, then that will be an accomplishment worthy of the hype. For now, Patrick Rothfuss has delivered a very compelling, and I believe, accessible debut that is a promising start to an ambitious new fantasy epic…

8 comments:

Mike said...

Hiya,

Stumbled onto your blog when looking for general book reviews.

I finished Name of the Wind last week, and I loved the writing style and story of Kvothe, but, I wasnt totally in love with it. Found the story not to move as fastly as I liked. But, still, a excellent debut.

Great blog btw, looking forward to many trips here. :)

Robert said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'm glad you liked the book and hope you'll check out its sequels. I'm also glad that you like the blog and appreciate you coming back...

munin_and_hugin said...

Just a couple things here. I noticed you said Kvothe is pronounced "quothe." I wanted to mention, as I'm rereading the Name of the Wind for nth time, that the book says it is "pronounced nearly the same as "quothe"."

And that, despite my excitement about more books set in the Four Corners, Patrick Rothfuss has only said that he would enjoy playing in this world longer and with other characters. No other books are, yet, in fact set to be written after the Kingkiller Chronicles are finished. (This information is not speculation, or even anything from an interview. It comes straight from his blog.)

bloggeratf said...

Just finished it and really enjoyed it. Seems we have a very similar take on the book as well! Look like the next one won't be coming out for a while sadly, unless I missed the news on it.

K.A. Denby said...

Good review. I just finished one of my own, and went looking to see what others had said about it. Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

I was a little dissapointed by your review of this book. I have been following your reviews on here as they give a balanced and very well reasoned perception of the book with a very deep understanding of fantasy writing (much deeper than mine so you must excuse me).

However your angle on this book is, i believe the wrong one. Despite at the start of your article saying you tried to view it without heed to the reviewers comments. You have attached what you think should have come from a novel such as this. The magic of this book and of Patrick's writing (who i have met and discussed the book in detail) is the sheer ambling prose with the intensity and lulls of a story. It is told as a recital to the chronicaler, whilst the story is taking place you forget Kote the Innkeeper (the underlying theme to Bast asking Skarpi and Devan here). You become completley lost within the story told inside the book. As Kvothe says this is not a story made up to entertain (although it is :P) it is the story of his life. The gentle meandering is wonderfully clever as it makes the story (despite being of a fantasy nature) very real and relatable.

This is the first part of the trillogy, he is young unawares but undoubtably brilliant. Snatches from the story show the outside world and the potential for the story to develope with the cultures and characters but the way that it takes it as his life goes is the groundbraking part of this story, the way the story unravels around you. Despite not completley following the reason behind it, every single one of you hooked to the story and the progression is slow but clever.

In all, i think a materpiece, a lesson in innovative writing. As long as the areas you discussed are unravelled in the next two books it will be new style of prose. He has left alot of substance and adventure for the remainder of the trillogy and has managed to draw everyone in to the first part with wonderfully written prose; clever relatable characters and a story wonderfully devised.

Brilliant blog and still a very nice review! :)
Keep it up
James

Robert said...

Thanks for the lengthy--and thought-provoking--comment James :) Reflecting back on the review I wrote, there are a few things I probably would have changed since my reviewing style has evolved since then, but as a whole, I would stand by thoughts and opinions. I really enjoyed the book and thought it was one of the better fantasy debuts I've read, but I'm not yet ready to call it a masterpiece. I'll reserve any final judgment for when the trilogy is complete...

Thanks again and I'm glad you're enjoying the blog! I hope you'll keep reading :D

Lynn said...

Just come across your blog and am enjoying reading your reviews. (That is a very long and impressive list of books you've reviewed!) I must say that out of all the books I've read over the last few years Patrick Rothfuss is my favourite author. I can't say enough good things about his books. I picked the first one up purely by accident in a second hand shop and loved it. Then waited eagerly, and probably not so patiently for the second - which, when finally I had, I didn't speak to anybody for a week whilst I sat and absorbed the content. You make mention in your review that this is not the best or worst fantasy debut - I love recommendations so maybe you can point me in the direction of some others? Read Peter Brett already, which I also really enjoyed btw. I will confess that I've also read the other books you mention at the start of your review - Jonathon Norrell, The Historians and the Lies of Locke Lamorra - I actually enjoyed all three! (Think maybe the first two mentioned could have had a bit of content removed to make them less cumbersome though!)
Thanks for the review. Must go and check out what you made of Wise Man's Fear....
Thanks
Lynn :D

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