Sunday, April 10, 2011

Not Really a Review: "The Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss

As part of my ongoing mission to read my heroic fantasy this year, I finished The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss about a week ago and I've spent that time reflecting on the story. For those of you what haven't read it yet, Wind is the first book of a planned three in the Kingkiller Chronicles and is the story of Kvothe - hero, magician, innkeeper - as told through his own eyes. The books (the second book, Wise Man's Fear, is out now from DAW) have been likened to "Harry Potter for adults," and I suppose the comparison is an apt one, at least for Wind; though Rothfuss' awareness of fantasy tropes and pitfalls saves him from rehashing well-worn territory.

In this first installment, we journey with Kvothe from his small beginnings in a traveling theater company and finally to the University where he studies magic (or "sympathy" as Rothfuss as reimagined it), with some hard times between. Rothfuss' aforementioned knowledge of fantasy fiction lets him outmaneuver - or, at least, make light of - old cliches. He's a crafty fellow and just when you think you know what's coming...well, you don't.

Kvothe is, at times, a self-deprecating narrator and quite humorous. It's rare a book makes me laugh out loud, but this did on several occasions - in particular, there is a scene with a "wizened but half-mad Master" at the university who requires Kvothe to do something dangerous in order for him to be taught by this Master and, let's just say, the results are hilarious.

What really struck me in Wind wasn't the avoidance of cliches (though it truly is a breath of fresh air) or the humor, but it was the depth, the closeness, of character. I've read a lof of epic fantasy in the past and, too many times, either the characters were not developed enough or secondary characters were so utterly rendered that I didn't know why the story wasn't about them. Rothfuss, however, knows every one of the people that populate the story inside and out - I felt like I knew Wyl and Sim and Denna, as if we were all old chums - but masterfully lets us know only what we need to know, at the moment. For a story on as grand a scale as Wind is, this is no easy feat.

In March I had the opportunity to see Rothfuss read at the Borders in Oak Park. I was too timid to ask question (but next time I swear I'll ask if he really is in a beard-off with George RR Martin), but several other folks asked some great questions concerning language and dialogue, specifically about the characters in the books. A lot of Wind's character descriptions are through dialogue - in that, how they speak and what they say when they do gives the reader a mental picture of what they character looks like. Old Cob is a perfect example of this: I don't remember a single line about what Cob looks like except that he's "old" but through his dialogue I know exactly what he looks like. It's pretty cool when a book can do that.

I highly recommend The Name of the Wind for everyone. You don't have to like epic fantasy to like this book. Though I've got a few other books lined up to read before I get to the second book of the Kingkiller Chronicles, I'm eager to read it.

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