March 20th 2011, 06:17 PM #1
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"The Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
I'm going to let you in on a little secret - I'm a Tolkien fan. You're welcome. But I have never read another fantasy book besides the ones written by Tolkien in Middle-earth. So imagine my surprise when I came across several book reviews talking about a guy named Rothfuss, using such phrases as "our generation's Tolkien" or "I look forward to the day when the names Tolkien and Rothfuss are spoken side-by-side". Thems be fighting words! Can it really be that another author of fantasy has come to the scene that can assume the mantle of the Father of Modern Fantasy? Well....
I actually first heard of the book/author when I came across an article in regards to a best selling author, Patrick Rothfuss, posting an open letter on his blog to Nathan Fillion, former actor who played Captain Malcolm Reynolds on Joss Whedon's sci-fi western Firefly, offering to help him buy the rights to the series in the hopes that it could be rebooted. This is interesting enough in and of itself, but in the same blog article, Rothfuss also posted the newest review of his book "The Name of the Wind":
On the same page, Paul Goat Allen gives The Wise Man’s Fear the best review I expect I will ever receive in my whole life. I’m serious. You’d think he wrote it after I pulled his children out of a burning building or something.
Let’s not beat around the bush. I’ve read arguably just as much fantasy as anyone alive (it’s been my job for the last 20 years) and I have never read anything as so totally immersive – and audaciously innovative – as Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle (The Name of the Wind and the soon-to-be released The Wise Man's Fear). The saga of Kvothe is a timeless, towering, masterwork. The Kingkiller Chronicle – a projected trilogy – is nothing short of the 21st Century equivalent of The Lord of the Rings and Patrick Rothfuss the next coming of Tolkien.
Think I’m overstating the narrative brilliance and thematic depth of these books? I dare anyone to read this saga and not agree with me 100%.
The book itself is neat. The cover art depicts a robed standing in an open, wind-swept field with a solitary tree in the background. It's not too flashy, almost no fantasy cliches (besides a robed man), and it hints at the title of the book. Good cover art is always a plus. But obviously the story is what matters.
The story opens in a quiet inn where a silent innkeeper called Kote ruminates with his thoughts until his nightly patrons come in and break the silence with good-natured storytelling and ribbing. The scene is abruptly ended when another person enters the bar, tattered and bloody, holding something wrapped in cloths, which turns out to be the dead body of a large, spider-shaped thing, later confirmed to be a Scrael - a kind of demon. The man was riding on his horse when he was swarmed by a small mob of them and barely escaped with his life (the horse, sadly, did not). Another night-traveler simply named the Chronicler, think of him as a wandering historian who collects stories, is also attacked but rescued by Kote, and the reader starts to suspect that whomever this Kote fellow is, he's no mere innkeeper. And the Chronicler would agree and drops a bomb on Kote - he calls him by his true name, Kvothe. Kvothe - the infamous hero of legends who was thought to be dead. The Chronicler persuades the reluctant Kote/Kvothe to tell his story - the true story, not the myth that surrounds him - over the course of three days. And so the story really begins as the Chronicler takes dictation from Kvothe with:
My name is Kvothe...I've had more names than anyone has a right to. The Adem call me Maedre...My first mentor called me E'lir because I was clever and I knew it. My first real lover called me Dulator because she liked the sound of it. I have been called Shadicar, Lightfinger, and Six-String. I have been called Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe the Arcane, and Kvothe Kingkiller. I have earned those names. Bought and paid for them...
I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread the paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during the day. I have talked to Gods, loved woman, and written songs that made the minstrels weep.
You may have heard of me.
"The Name of the Wind" recounts Kvothe's younger years as part of a traveling theater troupe. He eventually comes into contact with Abenathy, an arcanist, who teaches the brilliant youngster the basics of magic, among other things. As is usually the case in these kinds of stories, Kvothe lives a pretty good life until disaster strikes. The Chandrian, a kind of Ringwraithy-but-not-really band of demonic-like creatures, descend on his family out of nowhere while Kvothe is absent, slay them all, and leave. Kvothe is left with only his life and grief, and the desire to find out who the Chandrian are, what their goal is, and how to kill them. That should be enough summary for now, lest we get into spoiler-territory.
So does this book succeed? Is it worth the purchase price? Well, first the good...
Unlike "The Lord of the Rings", there is not much action. That was never the point of the book. The story of "The Name of the Wind" is not like your typical fantasy books or fanfics. There is no Big Bad, there is no band of hero on a desperate attempt to save the world, there is no liberal use of magic, and the characters aren't stuffy or so highly noble that they speak language better suited for a King James Version of the Bible. You know the kind. This is the story of a penniless orphaned boy living in the slums, picking pockets or doing whatever necessary to survive, hoping against hope that he can make it into the University to study magic and lore in order to defeat the Chandrian who ruined his life. Besides the scattering of "action-y" scenes, the story is mostly character based. The drama that occurs between Kvothe and the others is the real meat and potatoes of TNotW. So keep that in mind if you're thinking about reading this series. However, this drama is where Rothfuss excels. I loved reading the dialogue between the characters and discovering how they relate to each other. There's not much bad that I can say here.
Also worth mentioning is how magic is used in this book. In typical fantasy books/movies/games, magic is overt, all over the place, and ambiguous in how the wizard actually does what he does. This is all well and good but Rothfuss has a very different, very interesting take on magic. Magic, here called Sympathy, is more scientific - okay, it obviously won't work in our world, but it operates under its own laws in the fantasy. It's a bit hard to explain but the way Sympathy works here reminded me very strongly of quantum entanglement - if you have an iron will capable of operating on a higher plane than most people and if you can link two similar things together (say, a hair from someone's head with the actual person) and manipulate one (say, holding the hair over a fire) you can affect the other object (say, giving the person that the hair came from a burn). It's all very complex, but it's a very unique take on how magic can operate in other conceivable universe. Rothfuss also borrows heavily from ancient mythology in the form of "True Names". In short, if you know the True Name of something (be it a tree, a person, even a God, or as the title suggests, the wind) you can exert a certain measure of control over it.
Another thing I like about the book is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. As you might imagine from an author that is an avid supporter of Firefly, humor and witty one-liners are not uncommon and it's generally unpretentious. No purple prose here or stuffy dialogue better suited for art critics, no sir. The book has made me actually laugh out loud on more than one occasion. Take for instance this scene, wherein Kvothe attempts to be taught True Names by a master of such things who, as it turns out, is a bit insane:
I went to stand beside him on the edge of the roof. I knew what my third question had to be. "What do I have to do," I asked, "to study naming under you?"
He met my eye calmly, appraising me. "Jump," he said. "Jump off this roof."
That's when I realized that all of this had been a test. Elodin had been taking my measure ever since we met. He had a grudging respect for my tenacity, and he had been surprised that I noticed something odd about the air in his room. He was on the verge as accepting me as a student.
But he needed more, proof of my dedication. A demonstration. A leap of faith.
And as I stood there, a piece of story came to mind. So Taborlin fell, but he did not despair. For he knew the name of the wind, and so the wind obeyed him. It cradled and caressed him. It bore him to the ground as gently as a puff of thistledown. It set him on his feet softly as a mother's kiss.
Elodin knew the name of the wind. Still looking him in the eye, I stepped off the edge of the roof.
Elodin's expression was marvelous. I have never seen a man so astonished. I spun slightly as I fell, so he stayed in my line of vision. I saw him raise one hand slightly as if making a belated attempt to grab hold of me. I felt weightless, like I was floating.
Then I struck the ground. Not gently, like a feather settling down. Hard. Like a brick hitting a cobblestone street....
...Eventually my sight returned, leaving me blinking against the sudden brightness of the blue sky. Pain tore through my shoulder and I tasted blood....
...as I lay there, Elodin stepped into my field of vision.
He looked down at me. "Congratulations," he said. "That was the stupidest thing I've ever seen." His expression was a mix of awe and disbelief. "Ever."
And my last point - is Rothfuss the next Tolkien? To put it simply, no. For all the praise I can hoist onto this book, I can't say that. Tolkien's word is light-years more detailed than Rothfuss' in every aspect you could think of. I also think that the story of the Ring was far more riveting and special. I know I only read one book and the third book of the trilogy has yet to be published, but from what I've read thus far, I can't affirm the claim that Rothfuss is our generation's Tolkien. That's going a bit too far.
So in summary, this is a great book and I heartily recommend it for fantasy fans or people that enjoy a good character-based story and I eagerly look forward to reading the two remaining books.
***Rest in peace, Curtmudgeon!***
"I hate Manwe's posts because I hate babies and America." --Augustine2004, August 6, 2011
Then Morgoth turned upon Húrin, and he said: 'Fool, little among Men, and they are the least of all that speak! Have you seen the Valar, or measured the power of Manwë and Varda?
Do you know the reach of their thought? Or do you think, perhaps, that their thought is upon you, and that they may shield you from afar?'
'I know not,' said Húrin. 'Yet so it might be, if they willed. For the Elder King shall not be dethroned while Arda endures.'
The Words of Húrin and Morgoth, "The Children of Húrin" by J.R.R. Tolkien
April 11th 2011, 02:34 PM #2
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Re: "The Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
Just a few comments:
Originally posted by Manwë Súlimo
Also, it's hard to counter your statement about playing the lute without getting into spoilers, but I think you forgot how it was he was able to play with broken strings. It wasn't simply that "he's just that good" as much as prior events had led to this ability.
How much that offests his Mary Sue-ness is mostly personal opinion, of course, and I do somewhat agree with you. I kind of got the impression that for all his seeming awesomeness in the first book, he was going to get himself into serious trouble in the second book. There has to be some reason the great Kvothe is now nothing more than an innkeeper, after all.
Your description of sympathetic magic works ok, but this is probably a better description.I am more or less around.
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