Story Behind the Review
I discovered The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss, in a rather roundabout way.
I first heard about it two months ago. I consider Planescape: Torment one of the greatest video games ever create. Bear with me here, it’ll all come together. When I heard about the Kickstarter project for a video game called Torment: Tides of Numenera, the spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment, I was instantly hooked.
I knew some of the names behind Torment, many had worked on the original, or on similar high caliber projects.
But attached to this Torment project was a writer I had never heard of before, Patrick Rothfuss. I started following him online as I read up on the project and learned all I could.
Rothfuss is the celebrated writer of two novels in a proposed trilogy called The Kingkiller Chronicals. Usually I avoid reading series for a variety of reasons. But this time I would make an exception. After all, I needed to make sure my game was in good hands.
The Name of the Wind
The Name of the Wind is a beautiful novel. I don’t know what exactly I expected coming into it, but it wasn’t a tale like this. It’s a grounded universe yet it’s brimming with passion. After experiencing this wonderful world I can honestly say there’s nothing else out there quite like it.
It’s a fantasy novel that doesn’t play up the fantasy tropes like so many others these days. There are no elves or dwarves or other races other than human. And what fantastical elements there are are presented almost scientifically. And even the magic doesn’t really appear in gust til the second half of the novel.
This lends to a somehow believable and convincing story, even when we eventually do see characters controlling elements, and performing magical bindings.
The novel has a fairly unique structure (similar to Heart of Darkness). In the first chapters, we are introduced to the protagonist, Kvoths. But we quickly move into a story told by Kvothe which essentially makes up 90% of the novel. So while it feels like a first person narrative most of the time, it’s actually cloaked within third person narrative.
This is a clever device that effectively allows us to step outside of Kvothe’s story from time to time and get additional insight into his character from the point of view of others.
But it also makes me question whether future books will share this narrative structure. For example, will Kvothe continue to tell this tale in book 3? Or will it follow him after the tale has been told, and will that third person narrative work?
It doesn’t matter as far as TNOTW is concerned. For this installment, it works wonderfully.
The character of Kvothe is the real heart of the novel, and the story follows him from a young age. He’s a likable character whose talents propel him forward in life at very abrupt speeds as he quickly picks up new skills and masters them (ala Ender in Enders Game, or Harry in Harry Potter).
It may sound a little cliche, but I never found myself second guessing it. I was too wrapped up in Kvothe’s head to care that he might be a type on the surface.
While he might seem like a type at first glance, in reality Kvothe is a multi-level character. There are many sides to him, and they all come together to create a living person you want to follow throughout the length of the novel.
As Kvothe grows up (relatively speaking, at the end of the novel he’s still in his teens) his circumstances change from traveling performer to more desperate and trying situations to which he constantly adapts.
It’s fun to watch how his circumstances early on affect his life later. Not often do you see this attention to detail in a fantasy novel. It leads to a very natural feeling of character progression which is so good, it doesn’t really feel like “character” progression at all, but like a real person sharing the story of his life.
Mr Rothfuss can certainly sting his words together. Most of the time, the prose really work to pull you in, and when they get flowery it feels appropriate, generally because its a quote from an ancient play or text.
The only complaint I have about his style comes when we reach a conversation that lasts more than a few pages. While the dialog itself tends to be great, the markers get repetitive. Rothfuss falls into the trap of “he said, she said, he said, she siad, et al.”
This actually pulled me out of the story on more than one occasion, and I found myself wondering why the author didn’t spend a little time to make it flow more naturally.
I also noticed that he depended on a few phrases a bit too often. About 2/3rds of the way through the novel, I started laughing every time I read the phrase “…more than anything in the world”. A little variety with these sorts of sentiments would have been nice, but over all my stylistic complaints are rather minor.
So, it’s a Series…
So here’s the big one. The Name of the Wind is book one in an unfinished series, and it ends without any sense of finality at all. It does it’s best to wrap up an unfinished story, but by the time you put the book down, it doesn’t feel complete.
The author did add a situation at the end to serve as end transition, but it doesn’t replace a stand alone story. This is my issue with lots of series. If each book can stand on it’s own, then I feel satisfied when I put the book down. With TNOTW, and so many other books part of a series, I felt like I was left hanging.
However, I also found myself eager to read the next. That being said, I’m waiting til the last book is released.
In the end, The Name of the Wind is a fantastic read. In fact, i found myself recommending it to people every chance I had. I had a few minor quibbles, but even they didn’t serve to dilute my vigor for this story. Going off the pure enjoyment I felt moment by moment, I would say buy this book in a heartbeat!
However, if you want the feeling of completeness by the end, then you need to be aware that you’re in it for the long haul. You have two more books to read before the semblance of resolution, and the last isn’t done yet.
Back to Torment
So how do I feel about Mr Rothfuss writing a substantial portion of the spiritual success to one of my favorite games of all time? I’m stoked. He’s sure to do an excellent job!