Book Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Quite a mouthful of a title. I know.

Given this isn’t on Amazon.com or whatever, I’m going to give my straight-up opinion, writer-style, on this piece.

Any writer worth his salt (and ladies, too. Just keeping it consistent) will be able to read which parts of a story is the writer’s personal experience, and which parts are made up. I’ve been doing it for years, whether it’s a novel, a play, or a movie (usually Indie). The difference between a novel that’s easily forgotten and one that turns into a “Classic” is one where the line between real and made-up blur together seamlessly.

Fantasy stories are some of the hardest-hit in this department, because 1) it’s inundated with every Anime obsessor, deviantartist, and RPer trying to make a name for themselves by writing 30k word fanfic movie-books, and 2) selling fantasy as real is so much harder than selling someone living on the beach with coconuts for shoes.

Fantasy classics are few and far-between. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings comes to mind, where no self-respecting AnimRPartist would spend so much time developing the world behind the characters. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is another solid example, along with most anything Anne Rice pre-evangelism (Memnoch the Devil, anyone? Her magnum opus and outpour of painful rage at her husband’s untimely death). Those books have a dedication to them. A possible timelessness–where the writer had more than a story to tell; he had a world to tell. Unfortunately I don’t include Gaiman or Pratchett (though I could the latter) because they don’t resonate so strongly with me anymore. Pratchett’s work is some of the greatest satire I’ve ever read, and Gaiman’s American Gods nearly destroyed me 1/3 of the way through. But they are easily forgotten.

Which brings me to the book review: The Name of the Wind. The first in a series, this debut novel showed up in 2007.

The story spins around the young years of a living legend, Kvothe (Kothe. Took me nearly half the book to say it properly in my head, even though he used a different spelling at first. Awesome, Chris. You idiot.), who took on the mantle of many names because they benefited his societal growth. He goes into detail about how he was a travelling high-born gypsy, how he lived on the streets of a city, how he managed to get into magic university. Simple fantasy story. Simple and straightforward and NO.

It isn’t. I don’t know what spurned this man forward in his writing, but Rothfuss writes a story that’s impossible to put down. He tells stories of stories, collects religious/historical references, divines the workings of sympathy (a kind of magic) (Oh So Love It) and how NOT EASY it is. Like running a marathon, for one. Or powerlifting 400 pounds. (Spoiler: he learns to split his mind in two and play games with himself). The world is fleshed and perfect, even in the limited view Rothfuss presents. The working of society is perfect, and the brilliance of the main character barely outruns the brilliance of everything else.

There’s so much of Rothfuss in this story it’s incredible. There’s so much NEW danger in it it’s also incredible, and by NEW danger I mean there aren’t elves or trolls or goblins. Instead, Fae people roam the world, misunderstood as demons (think Dragon Age II’s Fenris or Salvatore’s Drizzt Do’Urden), and regular, human people are dangerous enough to warrant dedication. I don’t remember the last time I devoured a book with such intensity. Sometime in high school, I think. Probably The Hobbit. Maybe Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

Will this novel become a classic? I’m not sure, but the man writes like a storyteller. Every character is a piece of Rothfuss. Some of the scenery feels a little contrived, not to mention every other sentence contains a passive verb (surprisingly hard to ignore, now that I’m more experienced). You can only “had listened” so many times before you go, “Damn it, man! He’s still listeneding!”

I give it five thumbs up. I’ll read the second in the series, and the third, and Mr. Rothfuss might have a reader-for-life in me. Last time THAT happened was Dan Simmons, and the time before that? Lovecraft. And that’s about it. I hoped Robin Hobb would do it, but after her first trilogy she petered out to sellout land–or, more like, uninterested land.

Home run with this piece of sexy. I also hear the second book is out. I’m too poor to own it, so it might be a bit before I comment on it. My advice: if you’re a burgeoning High Fantasy writer with a love for worldbuilding and a good story arc, read teh F out of this. That is all.

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