Monday, February 21, 2011

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss was a very difficult book for me to review. It was difficult because it was so hard to maintain any sense of objectivity. So, I gave up. I loved The Name of the Wind and I love it the very reason that people would dislike it: that it is a giant rehash of old fantasy tropes. While it may be a rehash, it is a rehash done with such an obvious love of language and storytelling that I find it impossible to dislike.

The Name of the Wind at its core is the tale of a boy who is orphaned by men and events beyond his understanding. A boy with talents above his peers. A boy with his name writ large in the stars. The book starts in the present day with the main character, Kvothe, as a middle aged man running a small inn in the middle of nowhere. Breaking his solitude is a nosy chronicler who wants to write the biography of Kvothe who is known by many names...most of which have a sinister import. And so Kvothe tells the tale of Kvothe and how he become Kvothe the Bloodless among other names.

That very setup is such a joy because you know Kvothe is a man of importance. Once that fact is made, the story launches into a first person account of Kvothe life; beginning with his childhood. So you read with this expectation of great things happening. Afterall, Kvothe is a living legend, a legend so great that people deny his existence since no man could reach such heady heights. Breaking up the first person narrative are jumps back into the present. Each jump serves to remind the reader of who Kvothe becomes and to foreshadow the growing shadow of peril that is threatening the world at large. A threat that seems to be aimed at Kvothe himself.

This narrative structure does an excellent job of not only building suspense but also hiding breaks of time in the first person narrative. Because as each first person sequence runs out of steam, there is a lurch to the present to recharge the narrative, to inject a new sense of expectation. Once that is done, the reader is hurled back into the past, full of eagerness to find out more of this cryptic man Kvothe.

Kvothe himself is a polymath; he excels at everything. Kvothe at times seems to be more than human. He breaks every record and wins every battle. Thought he may suffer defeats, they are only temporary. He is scrappy, inventive and sarcastic. Women and men both throw themselves at him. It through shear skill that Patrick Rothfuss manages to convince you to like Kvothe at all.

He is imminently unlikeable because simply everything goes his way. He is a figure of destiny. Kvothe’s saving grace is the reader’s access to his inner thoughts. It is in these inner thoughts that you can witness the gnawing insecurities that threatening to engulf Kvothe at any moment. Insecurities that most any reader can identify with: poverty, loss, low self esteem, etc. It is this balance between the inner and outer realities that makes Kvothe a likeable character. Otherwise he would simply be an arrogant prick...which is exactly what most of his in story peers think of him.

All of this is why people dislike The Name of the Wind. The whole concept of the book is entirely overdone. There are hundreds of speculative fiction books on Amazon that tell the same story. I can understand why this may turn people off. Personally, I never tire of this tale...I have just become pickier about the skill of the storyteller. I have little patience for a sloppy writer. But, Patrick’s skill as a storyteller drew me into a tight smothering embrace.

Kvothe opens his tale admonishing the nosy chronicler to not alter his words, because he is Edema Ruh, and the Ruh have been telling tales since the first camp fire was lit. It is with this love of language that Kvothe tells his tale. The pages drip with literary artistry. Patrick has an eye for small things such as Kvothe’s name in the present being Kote, a dimunitive to demonstrate his diminished state. The sentence structure and word choice always reflect the content of what is being written. Smooth sibilant sentences setup surreptitious small-hour sequences. I am a sucker for alliteration.

The language in general is poetic, reminding me of the Classic literature I read while attending my own University. In fact, one of my favorite literary devices used was the circular structure of the novel. The novel ends exactly where it begins, setting the stage for the next book. The Prologue and Epilogue both end in perhaps one of my favorite lines in the book. “It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.” The narrative at all times moves with a purposeful rhythm. I would even suggest reading some of the sequences aloud.

Perhaps the only real critique I can offer outside of the commonplace plot is that at time the narrative is too wordy. Some paragraphs could use a little trimming and some sequences could be a little tighter. But, considering this was the first novel for a first time author...I am amazed the narrative is as close to perfect as it is. I simply cannot wait for the sequel.

So, you will not find any “weird” speculative fiction in The Name of the Wind. You will not find anything that attempts to redefine what speculative fiction can be. As a matter of fact there is nothing really challenging about The Name of the Wind. What this book is though is a love note to storytelling and language. If you love either, the book will feel like it is a love note written just for you.

Penguin: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Image Source: Scanned Cover
Review Copy: Self-Purchased
ISBN-13: 978-0756405892

1 comment:

  1. Great analysis. I agree completely with you in pretty much everything you said.

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