Thursday, February 22, 2007

Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Let’s get strait to the point – The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss may be the best debut of high/epic fantasy I have ever read. Daw Books is marketing this novel pretty heavily by providing ARCs to many bloggers/reviewers – instead of the normal cover art is a letter from the president Daw essentially stating that this is the best first fantasy novel she has read in 30 years of working as an editor. I can see why she would say this.

Kvothe (pronounced ‘quothe’) is the great hero of the land, a man of legend who is equally admired and scorned as tales of his life have grown into life of their own. We are introduced to this larger than life hero as a humble inn keeper, living under an assumed name far removed from the lands of his past. He has moved on and only looks forward to a boring life and his eventual death.

A man known simply as The Chronicler tracks Kvothe to his hideaway and encourages him to tell his life’s story – the real story, unstained by the embellishment of fame and oral tradition. Kvothe reluctantly agrees and starts at the beginning – his travels as a boy in a clan of nomadic troupers.

The Name of the Wind is the first installment of the already completed (but not yet published) trilogy – The Kingkiller Chronicles. The tale Kvothe tells us is of childhood and adolescence, ranging from happy memories of family and mentor to fighting for survival as an orphaned urchin, and ends with his time at the University and hints of exciting and tragic events to come.

I realize that the above description doesn’t capture the implied excellence of my opening, however, the story is wonderfully told. The prose is not the love of language you get from some writers, but neither is it hindrance to the story – in fact, I have to say it’s utterly forgettable in an almost perfectly simple way. The writing invites complete immersion in the world Rothfuss has created – the story flows, and I can’t easily recall a book that was harder to put down.

As excellent of a job that Rothfuss does with the telling of the story, he may actually exceed it with his characterization. Good characterization is essential to good writing, and great characterization makes for phenomenal reading. I’ve only rarely encountered writing where characterization is almost totally achieved by showing it. Rothfuss does not ‘tell’ us about his characters, he shows them to us – we learn all we need and more about them from their actions, manner, and even dress. It’s because it’s so rare that it stands out so brightly in the book.

In spite of the glowing review I’ve given so far, the book has it’s downsides as well – though they are thankfully easy to overlook. This is yet another epic fantasy saga set in a medieval world that his heavily influenced by Northern European myth and folklore, particularly Celtic – I daresay the genre has plenty. Our hero is just another greater-than-life orphan from obscure roots – thankfully Rothfuss takes what at least feels like a fresh approach. What is probably the greatest offense of this book is the lack of a true ending. It doesn’t end at cliff-hanger or anything, but there is no resolution beyond a rather arbitrary halting of a story that wasn’t intended to broken into three pieces.

I know that I don’t need yet another series to read, and that many of you feel the same way. This book will start to generate some hype over the next few months and there are grounds to debunk the hype; however, for fans of epic fantasy, this is a must-read. I’d not compare it to Martin, Jordan, Bakker, or Erikson – Tad Williams is probably the best fit, though it already exceeds anything I’ve read by him. Were you a fan of much hyped The Lies of Locke Lamora last year (I am) – this is a better written and equally engaging story, if in a bit of a different vein. The Name of the Wind rates an 8 out of 10, even with the sub-par ending – I strongly recommended it.

Related Posts: Review of The Wise Man's Fear


Ian Sales said...

This is yet another epic fantasy saga set in a mediaval world that his heavily influenced by Northern European myth and folklore, particularly Celtic ... Our hero is just another greater-than-life orphan from obscure roots...

I don't get it. These are the very things that cause most high fantasies to blur together into one big amorphous mass. How can a new novel be that good if it fails to rise above them?

Neth said...

These are common tropes in the epic fantasy genre, but just because they are common, doesn't mean they can't be done well - this book did it very well. The quality of writing, ploting and characterization really puts raises it above the masses.

I feel that it does rise above these tropes, though I can see how that is not enough for some people - which is ashame because this is a very good book.

Carl V. Anderson said...

I've seen mention of this book eslewhere, glad to hear that it at least lives up to some of the hype.

It doesn't frustrate me when I see similar novels being published in the fantasy or science fiction realm. If I like something why would I not want more novels to read set in similar worlds. I prefer that an author makes an effort to not be an exact copycat of previous works, but the rich tradition of european mythology and folklore continues to be a treasure trove of potentially wonderful story. If an author has found his or her 'voice' and is skilled at their craft that is what matters to me.

It is interesting when authors try to take the fantasy and sci fi genres in new and different directions, especially when done well. I just don't understand the close mindedness of some people, authors included, who feel like anything that even slightly smacks of Tolkien, etc. is worthless.

Every genre of fiction has a glut of similar novels and this can often be the result of publishers trying to cash in on the latest trend. At the same time there are many, many good novels out there that were written by authors inspired by previous novels who long to put their own stamp on the genre. I applaud them for following their heart and writing the kind of novels that they want to read.

I tend to shy away from series as well but this one sounds more appealing since the other books are allegedly already completed.

Good review Neth!

Neth said...

There is a short interview with him at Publishers Weekly. It mentions that the books are written and will be published at one-year intervals (good news - very little waiting).

While this book does generally follow in a well trodden tradition - the voice does come off as unique. When reading this book I never had the feeling that 'I've read this before' or thoughts of a 'copycat'. Rothfuss isn't re-inventing the genre by any means - he's just doing a damn good job of telling a story.

RobB said...

A good, fair review. I'm giving him a pass on the ending, I wasn't expecting a resolution. Once I realized it was the first of a trilogy.

Odd timing about our reviews, no?

This book really is something special.

Neth said...

Rob, yes the timing is curious - I'm guessing we received it at similar times - oh well, I'm not willing to call it a conspiracy...yet.

After Pat's review, I didn't have very high expectations of this book, so I ended up being very happy when it far exceeded those expectations. We'll be hearing about this one for a long time.

Neil Richard said...

Well, I "discovered" this book over the weekend. Guess I should be paying more attention to what you review.

Shame on me.

Neth said...


Of course, everyone should pay more attention.

It is a good book and I'm glad you're enjoying it.

fool of gold said...

Great review. I agree with the general story being nothing extraordinary, but I think as long as the author is a good storyteller, he can write about anything he wants, and it'll turn out great. I can't wait for Day Two.


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