Book Review: The Name of the Wind

Name of the Wind Cover

I gripe about Fantasy a lot.  I typically don’t care for pseudo-Medieval European settings, featuring lots of familiar peoples and creatures.  A lot of the work I put into my Conquest of the Sphere setting is designed to move it away from this seeming default.  And a lot of books are on my ‘no thank you’ list because of it.  I enjoy the TV series ‘Game of Thrones’ just fine.  But read the books?  Nope.  Read Terry Goodkind’s series?  No way.  Robert Jordan?  Not on your life.  So, why did I end up reading Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind?  I’m not 100% sure.  I’d had it recommended to me by a few people with taste I don’t consider to be dreadful.  I ended up seeing Rothfuss talking about writing in a few interviews, and I liked some of what I heard.  I don’t know.  Whatever the case, I picked up this 722 page long behemoth and cracked it open.  My writing and reading time are, unfortunately, a bit of a zero sum game.  Time I take for one means time I take from the other.  For the last month, most of my read/write time has been devoted to this book.

Here’s the thing.  It’s good.  I really enjoyed reading it.  The characters are interesting, the world is well fleshed out, and the story is compelling.  It’s a bit like a Dickens story told in a Game of Thrones style fantasy world.  In spite of its page count, it didn’t feel bloated or self indulgent.  It felt like the right amount of book for the story.  And I am still interested, at the end of this monster, in reading the second part.  I am not a fan of long books.  I find them to usually be tedious and almost always in desperate need of a powerful editor.  My rule of thumb, which serves me fairly well, is: if you can’t say it in 250 pages, you’re probably not saying it right; and if you can’t say it in 500 pages, you’re definitely not saying it right.  When you look at epics, crammed with detail, a huge cast of character, and a great & grand story like Dune, and it’s 500 pages…Well, a lot of books don’t come close to living up.  Yet, I didn’t have a problem with The Name of the Wind’s high page count.

Kvothe (sounds like Quothe) is a character from a different time.  I mention Dickens, but I could also mention Edgar Rice Burroughs or H. Rider Haggard.  Kvothe is competent and naturally gifted.  He’s not perfect.  He doesn’t always make the right choices, and he’s not always in control of the situation.  But he’s got skills and he’s got brains.  It’s refreshing in a genre that seems packed with ‘chosen’ idiots.  I’ve seen this book compared to Harry Potter, which I find a bit odd, though it does feature an academic setting for part of it.  The Name of the Wind has a profound sadness, a sort of nostalgic melancholy hanging over the whole.  It reminds me of hopes and dreams of youth, lost to time and the realities of the world.

Storytelling and music are key components of the tale, too.  There is a love of the story and of the song.  It put me in mind of so many nights, curled up in the attic of my childhood home, listening to Led Zeppelin, Heart, Emerson Lake and Palmer, and The Pogues, reading books and dreaming of other worlds.  I think that speaks not only to the story and the character, but to the author.  Rothfuss writes quite well.  He has a smooth style and is able to give his characters distinctive voices.  The only failing on that latter point for me was Kvothe’s friends Simmon and Wilem, who I’ll admit, I couldn’t keep straight.  Still, overall, Rothfuss does a fine job juggling a lot of characters.  He also does a good job of capturing some of the confused adolescent mind.  Kvothe’s stumbling with authority, bullies, and women all hit familiar notes with me.  

I can wholeheartedly recommend giving this book a read, especially if you’re less averse to Fantasy as a genre than I tend to be.  It’s a very well crafted novel, and worth the time.

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