Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Review: Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Title: Name of the Wind
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Information on series: Part 1 of the Kingkiller Chronicles, an incomplete trilogy.
Audience: Adult
Rating (scale of 1-5, with 5 being highest): 5

TL;DR: A talented and charismatic hero takes his first steps toward greatness, power, and a dark destiny.

I may have my nerd-card revoked for admitting this, but I have an astonishingly hard time finding fantasy novels that I can tolerate, let alone like. I don’t dislike the genre. I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons for years and am more than happy hold forth on gnomish subspecies or the relative merits of wizardry and sorcery (in fact, every time I go to the reference desk I’m secretly hoping that today will be the day someone comes in with a meaty question about orcs or displacer beasts). After some consideration, I’ve determined that the problem is usually one of tone. Many authors seem to confuse “epic” with “self-serious.” Others veer in the opposite direction and produce novels that are just long strings of dwarf and elf jokes. In The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss strikes a refreshing balance between dour and frivolous and spins an engrossing tale of monsters, magic, and intrigue.

As the book opens, we learn that the main character, Kvothe, is a man of legendary power, known by such awed appellations as “Kvothe the Bloodless,” “Kvothe the Arcane,” and “Kvothe Kingkiller.” However, fate has turned against him and, following some undisclosed calamity, he’s holed up in a backwater hamlet waiting to die. When he’s discovered by a collector of legends, Kvothe agrees to relate his story and the book takes off, careening through forests, alleys, taverns, and palaces, detailing the creation and destruction of a hero.

The story that follows definitely prioritizes atmosphere and narrative voice. Rothfuss doesn’t aim for action movie pacing, but instead takes his time building complicated characters in a fully realized world. Plot elements move into place slowly and deliberately, forming a complex structure.

Rothfuss balances self-importance and self-effacement in a very concrete and effective manner. The young Kvothe of the main story is clever and ambitious, convinced of his own brilliance and eager to prove it to the world. At the same time, the older Kvothe of the framing story is all too aware of the tragic folly of his younger days and undercuts the heroics with a wry fatalism. This duality is riveting, drawing the reader in for both the vicarious thrill of success and the train-wreck voyeurism of defeat.

Not that anyone knows the full extent of Kvothe’s power or the exact nature of his downfall. The Name of the Wind is the first book of a trilogy. The second book, The Wise Man’s Fear, was published in March of 2011. The final book, tentatively titled The Doors of Stone, doesn’t have a release date and can’t come soon enough.

Read alikes:
The Magicians by Lev Grossman: Another trilogy-opener in which a powerful hero heads off to a magic academy. Good for the many fantasy readers who like that particular vein of world building in which theories of magic are detailed.

The Neverending Story by Micheal Ende: Though written for a younger audience, The Neverending Story may appeal to readers who enjoyed story-within-a-story structure of Name of the Wind and its grand mythic elements.

Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb: For readers looking to delve further into high fantasy. Captain Althea Vestrit fights to protect her magically sentient sailing vessel from pirates and slavers. Hobb’s story unfolds at a leisurely pace, making room for plenty of world-building detail and character development.

Readlikes suggested by Jillian: 

Blood song by Anthony Ryan
The Warded man  by Peter Brett
A lot of Robin Hobb’s other books would appeal, as well.

*back to impatiently awaiting book #3* 

Review by Andrew Fuerste-Henry --Carnegie-Stout Public Library

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