Friday, March 14, 2014

The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss (Kingkiller Chronicle #1)

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)I had very high expectations going into The Name of the Wind.  It was strongly recommended to me by several friends whose opinions I trust implicitly, and of course this has a very high rating on Goodreads, really the highest of every rating I've ever seen.  So...I was kind of let down that it didn't live up to those expectations.

Don't get me wrong.  The Name of the Wind is a good book.  I enjoyed reading it.  That said, I don't think it's the five-star book everyone I know made it out to be.  It's a bit unusual in that the "plot" of the story has already taken place; it's all in the past, and the hero, Kvothe, is telling his story to a scribe.  This makes it read kind of like the autobiography of a self-proclaimed hero.  This format, while unusual, didn't actually lend itself to plot extraordinarily well.  It's mostly just Kvothe going from place to place and doing stuff, most of which isn't really connected.  He's with his family.  His family gets killed, he lives as a street rat in a city.  Then he goes to the University to become an arcanist.  All enjoyable to read, but there's not compelling plot behind them.  The thing that could most easily be construed as plot, his desire for revenge against the semi-mythical Chandrian, only really comes to the surface twice in the almost seven hundred page book.  Really, all the parts I would have liked to know more about--the Chandrian, Elodin the Master Namer, the story of Taborlin the Great--were discarded almost as soon as they came up.

There is also a surplus of characters in this book, and I don't think it's well-served by it.  While several characters do come back after their initial comings and goings, most are discarded as soon as Kvothe moves on.  While this isn't exactly unrealistic, I would have liked to see a more tightly-knit cast of characters, in which everyone served more than one purpose and made multiple appearances.

As for the world...I liked it.  I didn't love it.  I thought there were some neat elements, like the Chandrian, but they weren't fully explored in this book.  Rothfuss probably comes back to them in the later books, but really, if you want to hook my attention, you have to give me more than just two mentions of the central plot-drivers.  Other than that, though, this was a very typical fantasy world.  The University reminded me of several other fantasy academic settings.  In physical form, it was reminiscent of Jordan College from Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass, a huge structure that just keeps growing in a rambling manner.  In character, it reminded me mostly of Greenlaw College and Glasscastle from Caroline Stevermer's A College of Magics and A Scholar of Magics, respectively.  The Archives had the flavor of the library of the Clare in Garth Nix's Lirael.  The magic system was interesting, but also not revolutionary.  There are actually what seem to be two concurrent systems: naming and sympathy.  Naming is nothing new in the fantasy genre at all, and sympathy--binding things to effect each other, using a weird form of belief called "Alar"--wasn't that new either, though it did go by a new name.

Also, the happenings in the present time kind of come across as more interesting.  The small town where the "present" timeline takes place is being invaded by scrael, demon-like creatures that...I don't even know.  Rothfuss doesn't explain it.  He presumably wants to keep us hanging until later books, which is extremely pretentious.  Don't mention something in the first five pages if you don't expect to explain it until a thousand pages later--three hundred pages of which aren't even included in the book you mentioned it in.

Again, that's not to say that this is a bad book.  It's quite an enjoyable read, and I would be interested in reading the second and as-of-yet unpublished third books.  However, I won't be rushing out to buy them, and I don't think it's the amazing, earth-shattering five-star book so many people think it to be.

3 stars out of 5.

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