REVIEW: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

REVIEW SUMMARY: Even infinite potential can be tempered by absolute apathy. This is an endearing tale of a boy that grows into a legend to be respected and feared.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The world turns with danger at the background, while Kvothe tries to escapes a painful past in anonymity. A twisting of fate reveals his tale and thus the story truly begins as we go back. Back to when Kvothe was a child of rare ability, growing up in a traveling troupe of performers, learning his craft. His future was before him, showing nothing but the greatest promise, living in the brightest of light. But horror unfolds, and a mythical evil takes him down a path of deep despair. When he surfaces from the darkness, the ladder before him is now ridden with splinters and razor sharp edges that threaten to cut and bleed him with every rung. He rises high and he rises fast, climbing despite the pain, battling the obstacles of everyday and of his self.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Beautiful and engaging prose; witty characters; emotive.

CONS: Incomplete — I want more…oh, wait, that’s kind of a good thing; main plot is pushed to the background; somewhat slow to start.

BOTTOM LINE: Kvothe is an incredible character, wondrous to behold. While the book may not ensnare you immediately, Rothfuss weaves you into the story slowly, until you find yourself trapped by steel bands of style, substance and wit.


I’ll start this review off simply. If you love fantasy, don’t bother reading this, just go read Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. Of the books that I have reviewed over the last year or so, this is quite possibly the best. It is hard to adequately convey just how good this book is. It may not be perfect, but it comes close. For the rest of you that insist on knowing more, or have long since made this novel’s acquaintance, read on…

Kvothe is a singular talent. A man of song and heart, cunning and thievery, power of mind and magic. He is many things. Success is always at his fingertips, and yet he is broken down by horror, stretched thin by a life turned hard and he very nearly forgets all that he was. This is a story of a boy seeking to unravel the mysteries of the universe, and a man waiting to die.

Being first person, it should be no surprise that Kvothe is the very foundation and substance of this novel. Kvothe carries this story on his shoulders, bearing its sometimes incredible weight, even though it breaks him in the process.

For much of the novel, I tried without success to dissect Rothfuss’ story and learn what made it so compelling, however it was so well written the prose was mostly invisible. So, instead I learned about life. And that’s when you know you have something special in your hands.

The book does have one weakness, one flaw that some might find issue with: plot. Largely it lacks an apparent over-arching plot. There is one, but it is far in the background, moving slowly, a specter that we wish to see more of, but have to wait until the fullness of time has come about and given us the opportunity. In the meantime, the focus becomes Kvothe: his life and his trials, and lays the foundation for what I feel are great things to come. It is without doubt a journey, though one incomplete. A beginning.

To someone who has not read The Name of the Wind, this may sound like a huge failing, and if Rothfuss had managed a stronger over-arching plot, it would have made the book that much better; but it should be noted the author’s sheer skill with telling a story is such that it renders much criticism: moot.

This book does not read like a debut, it reads like it is from the hands of a master, experienced in his craft. Yes, it had its irregularities, but one might argue that these are not a detriment and could very well be part of what makes it great. For me, I can’t wait to read the sequel. It’s out now, so what are you waiting for?

11 thoughts on “REVIEW: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss”

  1. I’m still flabbergasted that people talk about this book so glowingly. I wonder if someone switched out the innards of the massive library hardback I read with some demented fan fiction because I found Kvothe to be singularly unpleasant and the writing to be inconsistant at best.

    On any account, good that you enjoyed it. The world needs more good, long books, whether their to my taste or not.

  2. I really enjoyed the book, but I wouldn’t say it was perfect.  My biggest complaint wasn’t the lack of an overarching plot, but rather the depiction of Kvothe.  It’s just all a bit cliche — super cool, doesn’t want to be in touch with his past, awesome at everything except women, etc.  I also felt like the pacing got a little weird towards the end with the journey to the mining town and everything that launched from that.

    That said, I enjoyed every page of this book.  I couldn’t read it fast enough.  The author has a real gift for putting one word in front of the other, and it kept me interested regardless of these minor quibbles.  So I give the book a solid recommendation for anyone interested in the genre.

    I also picked up almost immediately that my wife, who does not really enjoy this genre much, would like the book.  Don’t ask; I don’t know, but I was dead-on right.  I think she read it faster than I did and asked why we didn’t have book 2 yet.

  3. Also, just as a complete fantasy geek, I love seeing nifty new takes on magic, especially when they aren’t hammered into your head with chapters full of exposition.  The world-building in this book is everything I enjoy about this type of fantasy novel.

  4. I do think it’s as close to perfect as a fantasy book can get.  Kvothe is engaging and has as many facets as a cut diamond.  The world is unique and well-developed, and the magic system is most logical I’ve read in a long time.  The story doesn’t really have an over-arching plot save for the story of Kvothe.  It’s character-driven, heroic fantasy better than any I’ve read.

  5. This book was simply a pleasure to read.  Some books have technical flaws, but simply work as great storytelling.  This is one of them.   Reminded me of the pure fun I had reading David Eddings’ work as a 14-year old

  6. Thanks, Clifton.

     

    I recall our twitter and email comments while you were reading the book, so I was looking forward to your final thoughts with interest. You did not disappoint. :)

  7. I agree with Dave in regard to Kvothe’s character. (In fact, it feels even more problematic in the sequel.) I enjoyed the book, but I couldn’t really connect properly to any of the characters. I can sit back and admire some of them from a distance (Elodin, for example, was entertaining) but there are no emotional bridges between us. When I read work by authors like Martin and Abercrombie I can’t help but care for at least one or two, even if they’re twisted and unsavoury. With Rothfuss, on the other hand, I find myself sometimes rolling my eyes at Superman Kvothe and his pals. Ambrose is also a completely flat, one note antagonist, and there is no real indication that Kvothe is possibly misrepresenting him in any way. The end of the book also lost me when it got into that little dragon adventure, although it thankfully had moments of interest due to the development of the dynamic between Kvothe and Denna.

    It’s certainly not a bad book — in fact it entertained me and kept me reading through to the end. The language is also lovely in places, particularly the beautifuly crafted first page or the tender description of Kvothe attempting to earn his pipes. It’s a good read, but it seems to pale in comparison to the massive hype surrounding it, and having a genius protagonist is a gamble that didn’t work for me. (In terms of highly gifted protagonists in the realm of fantasy/sci fi, I actually much prefer the depiction in ‘Ender’s Game’.)

    Somehow the book is still enjoyable, though. Rothfuss is able to rise above the problems in the narrative through his elegant, warm writing style.

  8. Thanks for the comments, everyone. Sorry for the late reply.

    @T.N. Tobias – Strange how everyone’s taste can be so substantially different, right? It’s all subjective. I’ll admit that the ending of the book certainly floundered a bit, but not enough for me to change my overall take.

    @Dave – I know Rothfuss was trying to build up the relationship with what’s-her-name at the end of the book (Denna? He kept changing it), but I agree, it took up too much space.

    I suppose it can be said that Kvothe is too good, but his world was so hard on him that he pretty much needed everything he had, and more, to just keep afloat.

    Funny you sould mention that about your wife, I was thinking the same thing, though I have yet to fully convince her to try it out.

    @Sensawunda & @Roddy Reta – It was great fun, loved the prose, can’t wait to get a chance to read the next one. Roddy, I was a fan of the Belgariad and Mallorean as a kid too, those were my first entries into fantasy. Doesn’t hold up as strong under my adult eyes, but still lots of fond memories.

    @Paul – :-) Good, it was a difficult review to sum up.

    @Hearthesea – I’ll admit I had a similar complaint about relating to the other characters, but eventually I wrote it off as a problem with the first person narrative (at least for Rothfuss). The present story arc that is third-limited comes off better for each character, and I assume as the story catches up to the present that we will leave first person behind and go entirely to third-limited. So perhaps that will quell that minor complaint. For me I was thoroughly entranced by Kvothe’s struggle that it was ok, that he was the main—and often only—attraction.

    Martin does do some incredible characters doesn’t he? I just started re-reading Game of Thrones and I am remembering all of its goodness all over again.

  9. I read the review above with interest. I am currently just over half way through this title, which I thought I was going to enjoy – certainly the first quarter or so of the book was very promising indeed. I liked the author’s style and although the book was a bit slow and slightly lacking in direction, I assumed that it would be picking up soon. But I am now seriously doubting that’s going to happen. In fact I have started looking at reviews wondering if I should persist or not.

    These are my issues with the book so far:

    Lack of a compelling story although there is a possibility of a revenge plot along the way, this doesn’t seem to be materialising very fast. There’s little apparent desire for Kvothe to do much about it. He survives and wants to study magic.

    When he was scraping a living as a beggar why didn’t he use some of the magic/sympathy he had learnt to help him – seems like a major plot flaw to me?

    Stories told by characters are a blunt expository implement in my opinion – dull and ineffective way to communicate background – the ultimate tell not show.

    My biggest concern though is that if this title is said to be one of the best of current fantasy, then what state is current fantasy in? There is little actual story-telling as far as I can tell, and the interest in Kvothe’s humdrum life start to pale rapidly. I am also reading Lev Grossman’s The Magician’s, and this is a much more interesting account of a young man/boy learning magic.

    Apart from GRR Martin and Joe Abercrombie, current fantasy writing in a traditional fantasy setting (i.e. not urban) seems to be bereft of story-tellers.

  10. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m glad to see that the beginning is described as “slow.” That lets me know I should stick it out. I’m listening to the audiobook, and was excited to get ahold of a book nearly 30 hours long that had such good reviews.

    But I was over two hours into it when I realized there was not a single named female character yet (the first female line of dialogue came at 3 hours 18 minutes, and was spoken by his mother). I’m not about to say that gender diversity defines a good story, but to me it doesn’t bode well when an author forgot to write about half of the entire human species. I’m really hoping that the role of females in the book will eventually extend beyond their reproductive capacities.

    I really want it to be good, so I’m going to keep listening and hoping for a great payoff. I too see the powerful similarity to David Eddings and wouldn’t be surprised if it weren’t at least partly intentional, by which I mean, it seems like Rothfuss must have liked his work and accepted it as an influence. So far I haven’t pinned down why I like Pawn of Prophecy but find the first 4 hours of the Name of the Wind so boring. Certainly Rothfuss’ prose is more polished and thoughtful, and less riddled with accidental racism, so shouldn’t I like it better? Sadly, no, at least not yet.

    I think a big part of it is Kvothe’s awesomeness. I’m already really sick of just being told that he’s awesome, I want to see him do something – something other than get straight A’s, that is. When I was his age, my teachers said the same sorts of things about me to my parents (she can do anything, she’ll be so successful, etc) and I can tell you in absolute terms that intelligence is NOT the advantage people think it is. Mostly, it gets in the way, to be honest. So, to me, hearing that he’s such a quick learner isn’t impressing me much because I know how little it really means if the passion to learn never develops into a passion to DO anything with the knowledge. If only, if only I could have SEEN him fight the monsters in the first act! Stupid Chronicler, why did you have to get knocked out instantly and ruin everything!

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