Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Review: The Name of the Wind

My Dad always says "hindsight is always 20-20".  Looking back, I wish I had read The Name of the Wind a lot sooner, it's a pretty flippin' awesome book, but in many ways, my timing here is perfect.  Not only is the sequel coming out Today, but the man hisself, Patrick Rothfuss will be doing an author event thingy at my favorite local bookstore here in Seattle today as well!  So, I plan to pick up the sequel Wise Man's Fear and get both of 'em signed, which'll be pretty awesome.  But enough about the sequel, for now, I'm here to talk about The Name of the Wind.

The Name of the Wind starts out in a humble inn, located in a small, out of the way town.  The innkeeper is a man named Kote, but from very early on, it is pretty obvious that "Kote" is actually Kvothe (pronounced Quothe), a living legend for a wide array of reasons.  Kote appears to be hiding from his past, or maybe he's hiding from the future, as there are some hints at foul things ahead, but either way, Kote does not wish for people to know his true identity.  All of that is for naught, as a recently robbed man, known as "The Chronicler" is rescued by Kote from demonic spider-like creatures and  brought to the inn for patching up.  The Chronicler figures out Kote's true identity easily enough, and he even convinces Kvothe to tell him his life's story.  After careful consideration, Kvothe decides he'll share his tale, but the telling will take three days.  The Name of the Wind contains all the bits of Kvothe's life story that he told on the first day.

For the most part, The Name of the Wind deals with Kvothe's teenage years, but it also discusses his family life as a  member of a traveling performance troupe, where he began to learn some magical talents from an arcanist named Abenthy.  Though his early days seemed pretty idyllic, he soon winds up as a beggar on the streets of Tarbean.  After a few rough years on the streets, Kvothe gains enrollment at The University, a school that teaches magic.  There Kvothe hopes to learn about the Chandrian, a fabled, mysterious group who may be responsible for the greatest tragedy in Kvothe's life. 

For his sheer ability to spin a provocative and addictive tale, Patrick Rothfuss has gained me as a fan.  I got easily sucked into this story, and had a hard time putting it down.  The pace of the story moves quite nicely, and I found myself caught up in Kvothe's story quite easily.  That said, this wasn't the perfect debut novel.

For my money, too much time was spent at The University.  Yes, it plays a vital role in the story, and is crucial to giving Kovthe the skills he'll need if he's ever gonna become the legend that he hints at being, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was reading Harry Potter for grown ups.  He's got a teacher that hates him, a dick-head, pompous, and rich student rival, a school filled with secrets, drama with girls, and so on.  While all of this was well written and interesting, better than Harry Potter in my opinion, I still got a bit of the been-there-done-that feeling while reading those sections.  This personal gripe of mine should be remedied soon enough as Kvothe's tale moves past his time at The University.

Make no mistake, I truly believe Rothfuss is a skilled writer, and has potential to be one of the best in the genre, and his character building is a good example of his skill.  Kvothe himself is one of the most interesting characters I've come across, and I get the feeling that by the end of the series he'll be unforgettable.  His apprentice, Bast, The Chronicler, and the patrons of his inn all came to life on the page, and I got the sense that I was spending an evening with them all at the inn.  However, while the present day characters felt fleshed out and developed, I felt like many of the characters from Kvothe's past were a bit flimsy.  I had a hard time visualizing what Denna, Kvothe's love interest, was actually like, or what she looked like, and the same goes for his friends, teachers, and his chief rival Ambrose at The University.  I wonder if that was deliberate on Rothfuss' part, to make the people of the past to be less vivid than those in the present day, or if it was just a blemish in Rothfuss' developing writerly skills.

Like I said earlier, Rothfuss has an amazing ability for telling an engrossing tale.  The journey through Kvothe's youth was fascinating, and engrossing, and I love how it was entwined with present day events that seem to hint at amazing and epic things to come.  That said, I felt like the ending itself was a little bit bland, and anticlimactic.  Especially given that much more epic things had been hinted at throughout the narrative.  Still, having the sense that bigger and better things are on the horizon make me all the more eager for the next book.

One thing I noticed while reading The Name of the Wind is that it is all to easy to forget that this is a debut novel.  There are times when Rothfuss writes with the best of the genre, which probably makes the few weaknesses I mentioned stand out even more.  For the majority of the time Rothfuss is extremely eloquent and engrossing.  The writing is of a pretty high caliber, and the scary thing is, he'll probably only get better as the years, and best selling novels go by.

The Name of the Wind is an awesome beginning to what looks to be a great fantasy series.  The book hints at a lot of epic things just over the horizon, and there is a large degree of mystery involved too, which has me anxious for some answers.  I'm typically skeptical of brick sized fantasy novels, but Rothfuss drowned those fears in a great story, great characters and a setting I'm excited to read more about.  There's definitely a few flaws, but I have a good feeling about this series.  Definitely worth a read.

Grade: B+

7 comments:

Justin said...

This was one of the best fantasies I've read in a long time. It reminded me of Tad Williams a little bit. The second one should be even better.

Ryan said...

I agree, pretty awesome book. Rothfuss is a great story teller. I get the feeling Wise Mans Fear will make the best seller list.

Seak (Bryce L.) said...

Great review. I loved this book, as you probably noticed, and I do agree that the ending was pretty anticlimactic. Almost like it didn't need to be there, but I'll keep hoping that it was important and will just apply later. :)

My 5/5 rating was pretty much solely based on 1. How much I looked forward to reading it and 2. How much fun I had reading while I was reading. Both present even until the end.

Ryan said...

Bryce-

Yeah, how often does a book as touted as The Name of the Wind ACTUALLY live up to the hype? Not very often in my opinion, but TNotW actually did, and delivered a few surprises too. I'll probably save Wise Man's Fear for some time later in the year when I'm in need of book that is sure to be awesome.

Seak (Bryce L.) said...

That's a good idea, I may join you in that. Not too mention I have so much on my plate already.

Samantha said...

I recently finished reading 'The Name of the Wind' also and I agree I wish I would have read it sooner. It's pretty fantastic. I usually try to avoid the novels with so much crazy hype but this one was worth my time. Great job on the review! I'm on board with most of your points but I actually liked everything revolving around the University. It's very rare to find higher education and a thirst for knowledge in fantasy. But maybe I feel this way because I never read Harry Potter (shh, don't tell anyone :) )

Ryan said...

Samantha- What?!? you haven't read Harry Potter?? FOR SHAME! You really aren't missing too much, and The Name of the Wind is WAAAY better. Glad you liked the book, and glad you liked my review. The Wise Man's Fear should be an awesome book too.