Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Name of the Wind review

    It's rare I get to read a really good fantasy novel. I've not lost interest in fantasy, far from it, but it takes quite a bit of originality to interest me. There's exceptions: The Lies of Locke Lamora, The Heresy Within, George R.R. Martin's recent Westeros novellas, and the old school D&D fantasy series GnomeSaga.

    The latter is particularly noteworthy because it shows my requirements of originality are quite flexible. Mostly, I'm just bored with many fantasy worlds. I might visit but it's rare I want to say. This is why I stick with ones I know, even if it means I read more video game fiction than is probably healthy. Say what you will about Dragon Age and World of Warcraft but they're old friends even if rather cheesy.

    Then someone recommended The Name of the Wind.

    This is a really good fantasy novel.

    It's not a work without flaws but at a hefty seven-hundred-plus pages, it's a novel with a lot of meat to it. The world doesn't leap off the page the way some do but it doesn't have to because Patrick Rothfuss manages to create a setting which feels plausible. If there were a world with magic in it as a functional, every day part of life, then this would probably look like it.

    There's a few terrifying things like fairies, monsters, demons, and a race not-too-dissimilar to Ringwraiths but they're few and far between to the fact magic is primarily used for practical purposes. You have to go to university to become an accredited mage so the vast majority of magic-users are little more than guys who fix wagon wheels and enchant hammers.

    The premise is Kvothe (pronounced "Quoth") is in hiding. A legendary bard, wizard, and swordsmen with a somewhat exaggerated reputation, he's lost faith in himself. Despite being able to fight five spider-demons at once, he's suffered enough setbacks he's decided to spend the rest of his life pretending to be an innkeeper. This gets interrupted by a man called "Chronicler" who has come to hear Kvothe's story in his own words. Kvothe is reluctant to tell it but promises to share the entirety over the course of the next three days.

    Will relating his story remind him of why he became a hero in the first place?

    Maybe. Maybe not.

    The majority of the first book takes place in the magical university Kvothe studies in. Patrick Rothfuss has a lot of fun satirizing real-life academia in a way I found to be amusing. The primary problem Kvothe faces isn't Lord Voldemort or Draco Malfoy but paying his tuition. As someone who made the mistake of getting student loans, I sympathized strongly for our would-be wizard.

    Kvothe is a little too skilled in many places, possessing the abilities of just about every sort of fantasy class you can think of. He's an inventor, wizard, swordsman, musician, and all-round genius. The one weakness he has is he's absolutely horrible with people. Kvothe is blind to what people are really thinking, is all-too-easily fooled, and has little skill at persuasion. It's amusing Kvothe can invent a mystical lamp perfect for thieves, spies, and assassins but doesn't pause to think this isn't the sort of thing he should off at a university testing. There's also a gut-bustingly funny moment where Kvothe assumes being told to jump off a house is a test of his worthiness to become a wizard.

    The supporting cast is excellent and while no one is quite as memorable as Kvothe, himself, there's quite a few I developed an affection for. I'm particularly fond of Bast and Chronicler, as both are quite entertaining. Albeit, I lost a great deal of affection when Bast threatened the latter's life. The character of Denna is one I'm of mixed feelings about since she seems to represent "the one that got away" a lot of men have, who is never as interesting their adorers seem to think.

    The humor of the book is probably its best quality. The author is never unaware Kvothe isn't as smart as he thinks he is and this results in some hilarious situations. In addition to the aforementioned scenes with the lamp and house-jumping, I also enjoyed poor Kvothe's awkwardness around women. There's one place where all men are equal and that's not knowing how to talk to a girl you really like. Even Innkeeper Kyote (going under the name "Kote") is funny as our hero pretends to be a worn-out, tired old man as part of his cover persona. This wouldn't be funny if not for the fact he's about twenty-five.

    The Name of the Wind doesn't have any great epic plot. Despite being called the Kingkiller Chronicle, there's no kings being threatened or nations in peril. This is just the story of a poor magical grad student and his rather bizarre adventures. I like the fact the author takes time to build up to Kvothe's legendary reputation and how much of it, as we find out, is based on what people want to believe versus what happened.

    And what happened is impressive enough.


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