Tuesday, November 1, 2011

"The Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss

Though I'd had The Name of the Wind on my radar for awhile, I ended up starting the novel mostly by happenstance. I wanted to try checking out an e-book from the library on my Kindle, and The Name of the Wind was immediately available.

Rothfuss' novel is a traditional fantasy that's largely successful, though it's not without its flaws. Taking place in a typical medieval setting, The Name of the Wind follows Kvothe, a young and talented traveling performer who is exposed to magic (called "sympathy") as a boy and later travels to the university to study. It's easiest for me to discuss by breaking down some of the story's strengths and weaknesses:

Weaknesses:
1. Over-reliance on fantasy tropes: I'm certainly well aware that it would be difficult to create a wholly new fantasy series. But when you add up an intrepid young man, a wise teacher who teaches the protagonist magic, a family tragedy, the rough and tumble life of a street orphan, and a rich and snobby rival at school, it's hard not to see the story as cliche. Nevertheless, I could have handled most of the tropes, even the "so talented he's way above everyone else in everything his does" protagonist, if it wasn't for Kvothe's rivalry with fellow student Ambrose. I found the Draco/Harry conflict tiresome, and this was even worse.
2. Unfeeling romance: Most fantasies have some kind of romance, but for it to work, the reader has to believe the feelings and desperately want the lovers to end up together. Nonetheless, I just didn't buy the relationship between Kvothe and Denna. I couldn't understand his feelings for her, and I felt no spark when they were together. And, though I can stand some idiocy when it comes to relationships, Kvothe's absolute insistence on being a moron and thinking Denna doesn't have feelings for him was irksome to no end.
3. Age unbelievability: Kvothe is supposed to be fifteen, but he always felt older. Some of that may be because he's surrounded by older characters (since he was so smart and admitted to the university way before anyone else--see complaint #1), but I just couldn't see a teenager of that age acting similarly.

Strengths:
1. Story format: The reader is first introduced to Kvothe as a slightly older man, past all the adventures he is famous for. When a writer comes to town, Kvothe tells his story, and the novel switches to first person as the reader learns of Kvothe's life. This format provided a nice view of who Kvothe is--we know he's renowned yet currently in isolation, and the happiness he does experience as a youth is shadowed by the knowledge of what will become of him. My one complaint in this area, though, is how the structure was used to introduce the romance. At one point, Kvothe stops in his story, going through a long spiel to the writer about how difficult it is to describe the woman, how she will soon be entering the story and it's so overwhelming. But then, when he reveals who the woman is, the reader realizes the woman had already been introduced (to both the reader and Kvothe) earlier in the book! There was no reason to create tension for a character that had already been introduced, and it felt like a cheap narrative trick.
2. Unique form of magic: All fantasy worlds have some kind of magic, and the "sympathy" in Kvothe's world was certainly interesting. The magic relies on the relationships between objects and the transference of power between.
3. Kvothe: Okay, I liked the protagonist. He's stubborn and cocky and often stupid, but he's also brave and righteous, and you have to like him for that.

Whew. In the end, I did enjoy The Name of the Wind, despite a slow patch in the middle where Kvothe mostly obsessed about how he had no money. There are some interesting secondary characters as well, particularly Master Elodin and Bast, whom I'd love to hear more about. And, if I could excise Ambrose from the story, I'd eagerly pick up the sequel (and, who knows, maybe I'll pick up the sequel anyway). In the end, I'd rate it similarly to other fantasy beginnings like Wizard's First Rule and A Game of Thrones, though it's much less dark than those two.

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