Sunday, February 20, 2011

Book Review: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind

Patrick Rothfuss
Daw (2007)

When I was given The Name of the Wind I felt a little bit daunted by its length.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy long books, but I have tried to read too many (fantasy) books that are massively long without having good enough pacing, plot and simplicity (or complexity) to sustain the page count.  I was very pleasantly surprised with The Name of the Wind.  Rothfuss has created a fascinating, complex world and an interesting and nuanced set of characters with which he deftly spins into a story that is at times humorous, sad, exciting, unexpected and always engrossing.

The book consists of multiple layers of stories – in the present the protagonist Kvothe tells the story of his life to the Chronicler who has come to coax it out of him.  This present is infused with a sense of gathering gloom as demonic creatures are discovered to be reemerging and tales of strange happenings filter down into the little village where Kvothe is tending an inn.  As his history unfolds, the mysterious layers of Kvothe’s life begin to emerge.  He is recognized at the beginning as a myth – a man who has faced the strangest things in the world, who is a magician, actor, musician, begger, storyteller and many more things just hinted at.  Perhaps it is this voyage of discovery that makes the tale so compelling.  Rothfuss carries the reader along in the creation of a legend, showing us at once how the life of this mythic character is far more mundane and yet just as astonishing and magical as the tales that are told of it.

Layered within the story of Kvothe’s life are legends of the world he lives in, and like his life sometimes they hold more truth than they seem, while other times they are illusions built upon an ordinary base.  They are interwoven so skillfully that I never lost track of what story I was in or how they were relevant to each other.

At times Kvothe seemed to know a little too much of everything – and, perhaps, given his dishonest tendencies, maintains the moral high-ground with too little effort.  Additionally, his love interest Denna, was a little too unreachable for me.  She was one of those female characters that fascinate the male character with her distance and elusiveness.  She is the flesh and blood personification of Dulcinea: “she’s made of flame and air,” and as such, she is too easy to idolize and doesn’t provide any counterpoint to Kvothe’s fantasy of her.  She could very well be all in his head, which might make her more compelling than as an intangible free-spirit with hints of tragedy about her.  However, this book is only the first in a trilogy and so there is still a chance for her character to become more fully realized in herself, and not just as a object of desire for Kvothe.

The next book, The Wise Man’s Fear, is coming out at the beginning of March, and Patrick Rothfuss will be in Seattle, at the University Bookstore.  My housemate, M, and I are planning on going to hear him talk.  I am eager to discover the next installment of this compelling story.

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