Today, I’m reviewing The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.
You can find his official site here: http://www.patrickrothfuss.com/content/index.asp
*SPOILER WARNING* There may be minor spoilers in the review below. *SPOILER WARNING*
Under normal circumstances, I tend to like my fantasy either epic or dark. In my opinion, this book falls into the latter category, but not exactly in the typical way. It’s not dark in the same way as, say, The Black Company or the First Law series. Rather, it’s dark in that really bad things just keep happening to the protagonist.
Kvothe, the protagonist, tells only part of the story himself. The story switches between third and first person perspectives as Kvothe tells his tale to Chronicler, a person who, well, chronicles things. I tended to like the first-person sections of the story better; the author has a strong voice, and Kvothe is a smarmy bastard. He’s also an unreliable narrator. That, to me, is an excellent start. Unfortunately, either due to the character’s actual qualities or Kvothe’s embellishments, the character comes across as being a bit of a Marty Stu.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I enjoy a competent protagonist. I just think it gets a little excessive with Kvothe, especially when it concerns his intellect and skill at coercion. I’ve nicknamed him “Ender Lamora”, since he seems to possess many of the qualities of both Ender Wiggin and Locke Lamora. Really, this story has some strong parallels with the Lies of Locke Lamora in general – the character struggling with poverty as a youth is one of the biggest ones.
Here’s the distinction; Locke’s genius helps him work his way out of that poverty. Any time that Kvothe works toward the same, some random happenstance seems to pull the coins right out of his pockets. This was tragic early on in the story. Toward the end, it’s really a bit repetitive. When Kvothe ends up with some very valulable materials late in the story, my first thought was, “I wonder how he’s going to lose this.”
Anyway, since I’m pretty new at this “reviewing” thing, I’m going to take the easy route and break this down into categories.
Characters: On the plus side, Kvothe is a likable protagonist. As a reader, I wanted him to succeed. I enjoyed watching him grow, and felt for him when he failed. He was, however, a little inconsistent in his level of competency and maturity. This could in part be attributed to his youth, as well as Kvothe himself narrating the story, but overall I felt like there were a few too many circumstances where the character slips from genius into naivete or mediocrity within the span of a few pages.
…and don’t even get me started on how *he* uses the word “span”. Apparently, in his world, it means, “Any unit of time I feel like.”
The supporting cast is, sadly, a little bit weaker. There are some important characters, to be sure, but none of them (save perhaps the main love interest) see any major development. The ending of the book showed some promise in this regard, but ultimately, this is Kvothe’s story. I’m fine with that to some extent – one of my own works is similar in that regard – but I’d still like to see at least an inkling of backstory out of some of the other characters.
Late on in the story, we’re also bombarded with a wide variety of female characters. After the first couple, this goes from simply giving the character romance options to reading a bit like a harem anime. There’s the sweet girl he rescues, the unobtainable girl, the crazy animalistic girl… It felt a little like the author was overcompensating for the lack of a consistant female in the story by taking a shotgun and loading it with character sheets, then firing it at Kvothe.
I may be exaggerating just a little.
Anyway, overall, I liked the characters in the story – especially the primary villain, who *did* get some backstory, even if it is probably unreliable. Shades of gray are always fun.
World: The setting of the story is well-represented here. The map, the various songs and stories throughout the book, and the character’s descriptions all help the reader get an idea of what the setting is like. I thought the use of songs and rhymes was excellent and kept in the theme of the book.
In terms of content, my feelings are mixed. I like that the people we’ve seen thus far are monotheistic; that’s a stark distinction from many of the generic fantasy settings out there. It’s also important to see that not everyone agrees with the religion, and there are stories that may seem to contradict it – it gives the reader a lot to think about.
Most of the creatures in the story seem non-traditional, which is cool. I like seeing new races and monsters. That said, the story does include fay – but with little explanation of how the fay in this setting are similar to or different from the fay in other settings. This bothered me a little, because the D&D concept of “fay” is very broad and dissimilar from the traditional mythological definitions. I expect we’ll see more answers on this later, but the presence of fay in the story without a reasonable explanation of what “fay” means bothered me a little.
The magic-users in this world – referred to as “arcanists” – are also the primary scientists. This is cool and believable. On a personal note, however, I thought that the technological level of the science was a bit too high. Surgery with anesthetic, for example, seemed out of place. This story doesn’t take place on earth, so tech could have advanced differently due to the presence of magic or a different culture, but overall I thought the modern-level chemistry and medicine felt a little off.
I enjoyed the “sympathy” style of magic introduced in the story. The more powerful, overt magic was handled more poorly, in my opinion. I do like that it clearly has some side effects, but overall, I felt it was poorly developed by comparison to sympathy. I expect to see more on this in the sequel, however, which may alleviate my concerns to some extent.
Writing: As I mentioned earlier, I though the first-person sections were more compelling than the third person ones. The only real exception here was the third person ending, which I thought was fantastic. Really, it’s one of the best endings I’ve read recently. Overall, I felt that the prose was very strong.
Concept: The story has a good premise; it’s actually somewhat similar to one of my own novels, though I focus on a very different type of protagonist. I like the idea of a character telling his or her own story, complete with embellishments. When I finished reading, I was definitely interested in reading more.
Originality: Thumbs up on this one, with the exception of the later magic system. Sympathy is cool and unique. The author’s take on dragons is very interesting. The story itself has a lot of overlap with others – the early poverty echoes Locke Lamora, the scenes at the University will likely draw comparisons with the innumerable other “genius at a magic school” books. That said, the character’s goals are very different from your typical mage boy – if unoriginal in the genre as a whole. The overall package felt distinct enough that I never felt like the book itself was overly derivative. In fact, I suspect the author was intentionally subverting some traditional fantasy tropes, which was cool.
Immersion: I actually teared up once, late in the story. I laughed a lot. This category gets a 7/7 arbitrary score.
Overall: In conclusion, this was a thoroughly likable book, even if I have a few minor issues with it. I’d like to see the side characters given a bit more development; right now, even the main character’s “apprentice” feels a little one-dimensional. I would also be happy to see more about how magic works, the mythology of the setting, etc. No huge complaints, though. I’ll be looking forward to the sequel – I think this book deserves one. Possibly several.
Side Note: I’m already seeing a bit too much overlap in my review categories, so I might strip them down a bit in the future.
Coming next: The Conqueror’s Shadow by Ari Marmell. Probably.