Reviews: The Name Of The Wind
Love/hate protagonist, painful editing and worldbuilding
The Mary Sue debate goes back and forth ("He's the best in the world at everything he does!" "But he's flawed because he's really proud of it!") but the bottom line is that the right audience will empathize with our hero, everyone else will not. Kvothe is an unspeakably brilliant teenage male with all of the atrocious judgment and egotism that could be expected of same. As such he's enormously appealing to a teenage male audience, who will feel empowered by the idea of a lonely genius unappreciated by his peers and awkward around girls who proves so much better than everyone else. The character is highly unappealing: his motivations are vague, he cheats whenever possible, he steals when it suits his ends, he believes everyone else is too dumb to understand, he never uses his abilities for the good of others unless it coincides with his desire for reputation, and his pursuit of Denna is an unhealthy obsession. Beyond Kvothe, the plotting and editing are fairly painful. The author really likes the impact of paragraph breaks and uses them frequently, which disrupts reading flow. Dozens of pages are burned on day-to-day tedium that could easily be abridged. Minor characters' names are reused throughout the book and even misspelled within a chapter. We get sentiments like "It was the first time I'd seen someone armed at the University" and "It was the first time I'd seen her in a dress" used multiple times, which is just sloppy. Finally, the worldbuilding the author engages is extremely obtuse. Weeks are "spans" but he never tells us more than it's longer than 8 days. Days of the week have been renamed Mourning and Felling but there's no information on how they relate to each other. Coins are a jumbled mess of iron shims, pennies, and drabs; copper pennies, half-pennies, and jots; silver bits, pennies, and talents; and gold marks with no countries of origin or conversions. The author loves pointless synonyms: a loan shark is a gaelet, or copper hawk, or shim-gall, or a let, but none of these are ever used again. Even our protagonist is variously called Kvothe, Kote, Reshi, E'Lir, the Arcane, the Bloodless, Kingkiller, and Maerdre (The Flame, The Thunder, or The Broken Tree all in one term), which is just a self-important mess. All told, it's a disappointing drag-out mishmash that needs a good editor. But if you're a fifteen-year-old male misanthrope, it'll be right up your alley.
Surprisingly realistic fantasy
I know I'm not the first to mention Ender's Game in connection with The Name of the Wind, but it's really a good comparison. While some people look at Kvothe and see a Sue, to those of us who grew up as the smartest kid around, it has the exact same "ring of truth" to it as Ender's Game. This is the story of a gifted child coming of age, and both his numerous talents and his numerous flaws are portrayed quite realistically, even in a highly fantastical story. Because this is the story of a gifted child coming of age in a Heroic Fantasy world, he ends up becoming a (somewhat) heroic character. The other thing that's truly surprising about the way many people speak of this story is the way they talk about Denna as detracting or distracting from the plot. Such an accusation seems particularly bizarre because Kote makes it quite clear early on that she is the plot. This becomes more clear in the second book, (Kvothe's travels would never have happened if he hadn't had to leave the University for a time as a direct result of actions undertaken to retrieve the ring Ambrose had stolen from her,) but even in the first, she plays a very important role in moving the plot along at several different points, and even before beginning to tell his story, Kote mentions he loved and lost in his brief version of his life story, and the first time he tries to begin telling the story, the first thing he thinks of as "the beginning" of what's relevant is Denna singing with him. To understand the story, it's important to understand it for what it is, and not try to impose some other structure on it and then get annoyed when it fails to live up to that structure. And the narrative makes it clear from the beginning that, above all else, the story of Kvothe is a tragic romance, and like any Tragedy, it's the story of the fall of a great man due to his own mistakes and flaws. Before our Tragic Hero can fall, though, he has to be established and built up. The Name of the Wind is that story. Kvothe explains how he got his start, he explains how he became interested in learning about the Chandrian and the Amyr, he explains about his studies at the University, about beginning to build his reputation, and about meeting Ambrose and Denna and his relationship with both of them, laying the groundwork for the rest of the story. The author does an amazing job of mixing the realistic (who didn't go to school with personalities like Ambrose, Fela and Simmon?) with the fantastical, making the magic into a real part of the setting and exploring what characters do with it a la Brandon Sanderson, so that while the magic fascinates and delights, it's the characters and their interaction with each other that truly draws you in and keeps you captivated. Which is, after all, the point: it's the story of the characters.
Derivative and predictable, and yet...
This book is derivative, it actually seems entirely dedicated to playing Heroic Fantasy tropes as straight as possible. Whether the lampshade hangings on them justify the book's genericness is in the eye of the beholder. For me, it makes the book all too predictable. One has literally seen almost every event in this book somewhere else. However, however, for all the run-of-the-mill nature of the plot and the mostly boring and/or annoying characters (Bast in particular got on my nerves for being entirely useless to the narrative and needlessly antagonistic, like a fly that won't leave no matter how much you swat at it), its structure itself makes an aspect of it extremely fascinating: the inner mythology, with all its twists and turns and contradictions is mesmerizing. More than whatever Kvothe and Denna get up to, the thing I care most about when it comes to the end of the series is to find out what really happened in the ancient times. Lanre, Selitos, Iax et al. I want to know what they really did. It's when the book is dealing with the myth arc that it really caught my attention. It's one of the most interesting experiments in myth building and analysis I've read, even if the plot rarely justifies them or even pays attention to them. It also merits a mention that, for all of his lack of originality (even the inner mythology mostly consists of stuff from real world mythologies and other works, though still mashed in an interesting way, as I've already said), Rothfuss is definitely a good writer. The book feels far shorter than it really is. All in all, if you don't care about ground breaking or don't find lack of originality a detriment (I fall in this second camp) and are a fan of fantasy, The Name of The Wind is worthy read.
Okay Story, Godawful Sue
Rothfuss has made an interesting, fairly well thought-out world, with a number of interesting characters. Unfortunately, Kvothe is such an unpalateable Mary Sue as to make the book almost unreadable; he's awesome at everything he tries, he's always right, and the only people who dislike him are strawmen. The story is okay, but Kvothe's character absolutely ruined it for me.
Review of Wise Man's Fear - Now with 50% less Denna
The second book in the King Killer Chronicles is something of an improvement on the first. However, despite being extremely readable (it's the sort of 900 page book you get through in 3 or 4 days) it still has problems. Of the two biggest the first is Denna and the romantic plot tumour she represents. Although she does drop out of the narrative for several hundred pages about half way through, meaning there are fewer chapters you'll feel the urge to skip or skim than in Name of the Wind there's always the constant worry that she'll reappear and bring everything grinding to a halt while Kvothe moons after her. The question of how a young, attractive, unescorted woman is able to travel through a mostly medieval setting to wherever Kvothe happens to be, without being regularly raped, remains frustratingly unanswered. The second major problem is pacing. The first book spends most of its time detailing Kvothe's first two terms at the University (each term lasts two months apparantly) in far more detail than is really necessary. While the second volume is a little better in this regard, in particular a middle section where Kvothe leaves the University for a couple of terms and things actually happen - including a revelation that Bast previously was unaware of and which terrifies him - proves that Rothfuss can write tightly when he tries, it still ends with Kvothe back at the University and just turning 17. Given that the framing sections imply that Kvothe is an (in)famous badass responsible for some major events, which have not even been touched on yet, it's very difficult to see how Rothfuss can bring the story to a satisfactory conclusion in just one more volume, especially if he continues to devote so much space to the minutia of the University (and Rothfuss really does seem compelled to describe absolutely everything that occurs there, no matter how trivial) and, of course, Denna who is, in my opinion, one of the most irritating female characters in fiction. However, notwithstanding the above and other problems there is not space to go into here, the series is still well worth reading if you want something undemanding to while away some time.
Character Development, ahoy!
I don't think there are many books that explore characters' personalities as well as this one. The style is refreshing, with Kote telling the story of how he became a living legend. At first, to me, Kvothe seemed too perfect. He masters everything quickly, he's remarkably intelligent, with a smart-mouth and a bright future. However, that is Past Kvothe. We know his present day self, Kote, is quite different. So while Kvothe and his life at first seem perfect, fate soon manages to hit him with the misfortune stick. And boy, does he keep getting hit. He uses his intelligence and skill to survive, but we also see him get into a lot of hot water for his arrogance, temper and impulsiveness. He has to work for his good results, and often ends up with bad ones instead. The books explore in detail his philosophical musings, his desires (yes, that includes the tiresome mooning over his love interest), his fears, and knowledge - which I think are fascinating. Kvothe isn't the only interesting one either. For all the hate Denna gets, she is a curious character. Her motivations, particularly the way she continuously leaves, make you wonder about her past and what exactly she is afraid of. Kvothe's friends and the Masters have interesting and diverse personalities (you aren't likely to confuse Fela, Devi and Auri's scenes). And some of them really, *really* stand out, like Elodin, who must own at least 50% of the most amusing scenes/dialogues in the book. At the same time, he doesn't feel overblown, it again makes you wonder how he ended up that way. While the book doesn't go into great detail into world building as we know it (politics, wars, nature, etc), it creates a rich culture, full of interesting quirks that are often rooted in history. The stories within a story are also very engaging. And the magic system feels unqiue, whilst having a strange scientific quality to it, which is interesting in a genre where most authors go for more 'classic' magic systems. Reminds me a little of Mistborn's magic system in that sense. The different parts that make up the magic are also interesting, and it's nice to have a truly academic character as the lead in a book for a change. Over all: a wonderful, absorbing book, and perfect for anyone who thinks character development is the linchpin of a good story.
Why you will probably love The Name Of The Wind, Unless you hate it.
The book is awesome if you have a working knowledge of fantasy to the point where you can enjoy good writing for it's own sake. The main character can be considered a Mary Sue, but is both a) A special case- he's a hero of legend, what do you expect? b) saved by his Rothfuss's cleverness and the lack of attention his sueishness is given.You see, when taken objectively, without currently reading the book, Kvothe is a Mary Sue. While you read it, it doesn't matter. In The Warded Man, for example, Leesha Paper starts out threatening to become so and does in the second book upon learning to ward like magic. Everyone loves her, she has no faults and picks things up immediately, becoming better than the expert main character Arlen in a month or two.(Note before continuing, The Warded Man still kicks ungodly amounts of ass.) Kvothe, on the other hand is not overly recognized for his Badassery, and is improved further by narrating in his depressed present voice. In regards to his "obnoxious personality" I would put forward it makes it more entertaining, and makes you feel like he is more flawed than he is, which is good. Secondly, this book is beautifully written, but especially in the university sections of the second book, nothing much happens other than teases and foreshadowing. Most of this could be excised, but it shouldn't be, as it is wonderful and funny. However, if you demand action, this is not the book for you. If you like the Fellowship of The Ring, including the beginning, you will like this. If you found that boring, read the Night Angel trilogy— it's where the action at. But seriously, if you aren't an action junkie, READ THIS BOOK 4.7 out of five.
Lost potential—a boring story.
This book took me a month and a half to read despite books the same length usually taking me a week to get through. Why? It's uninteresting. Kvothe is a blatant Mary-Sue. Apparently he's supposed to be flawed, or the author wants us to think he is and outright tells us so. But his "flaws" don't come off as such. His only one besides being pretentious and boring is his occasional stupidity, which just gives the impression of his being out-of-character rather than the impression of an actual flaw. The plot is... virtually nonexistent. Kvothe goes to some special school after spending over a hundred pages in a city when, if he was really that intelligent, he could have found some way to leave waaaaay before then. After reaching the school, stuff happens. Characters dislike him. Whatever. We're supposed to hate them. Meets...the queen of sues, Denna. Apparently things keep on happening and they end up out in the country. And there's a dragon-thing. Doesn't seem like much of a plot to me. There was potential, though. If a more sympathetic and less sue-ish character had existed and there had been a decent plot, the book could have been a satisfying read. But the world just isn't built upon, either. We have no idea where things are, or what the world is like. Where are things in proportion to one another? What does this place look like, anyway? This story just could have been so much better. There is the occasional bit of humor, but it's only every couple hundred pages. The entire book could have been about four hundred pages shorter without sacrificing anything. The writing, also, is just boring average fantasy-style prose. It's nothing special. TL;DR? This book could have been better but as it is it's a waste of your time.
Interesting concept, great style
One of the things that struck me about this world Rothfuss has created is the magic system - for science inclined people like myself that idea of magic is always accompanied by a nagging afterthought (the Conservation of Energy Trope in essence). Rothfuss' system deals with that issue in a way that struck me as making a great deal of sense - it has roots in quantum theory and Matrix logic (i.e. believing it is real makes it real) and the combination comes across as unique and intriguing. One of Rothfuss' strengths is his characters - there are (perhaps justified) accusations of the character being a Marty Stu, but the fact is that each chapter told by the protagonist makes it seem believable and almost realistic. I found that the author was able to capture the essence of how an intelligent child reacts to the world around him in a way that not only seemed realistic but very natural. Finally, I would like to dedicate some space to writing style - it has just the right balance of description and dialogue to make the even the relatively dull sections riveting. However, in the way of criticism, there were several instances where an infodump was attempted and failed - the story of Tehlu was one such; I just couldn't get myself to care about it and though it was vaguely important in the story later, it certainly didn't feel like it on my first read through.
Polished 'til it Shines, or How to Save a Mary Sue
Wikipedia states that it took Patrick Rothfuss 7 years to write the first book in the Kingkiller series, the Name of the Wind. That shows. The work that has gone into the book is astounding; everything flows along at a perfectly calculated pace, and even the places where relatively little happens is saved by the excellent writing and clever language, reminiscent in many ways of Pratchett. Characters are lovingly crafted (with a few exceptions) and you feel like you are dealing with humans, not clichés, even if many embody a common archetype. The character I'm most impressed with in this book is Kvothe. I will be honest: I had him down for a blatant Mary Sue in the first 50 pages. I was pleasantly surprised by the way the book handled him later. Yes, he's a prodigy who is extremely intelligent, perceptive and charismatic and also can play the sound of Soft Winds Ruffling the Rye Fields or some such stuff on his lute. Strangely enough, he doesn't become a Mary Sue. Instead, we see someone who struggles, who despite his gifts are far from always the stronger party, who is, in the end, human. Hell, the whole premise of the book is to take his character down a notch! This is one of the great strengths of the book. It's not flawless; at some points, particularly when on trial in front of the university masters, it feels like the universe picks favourites. The irritating moments are few and far between, though, and it certainly manages to avoid the atrocity it could have been. I'd say that this book is what Harry Potter would have been like if it was co-written by Tolkien and Pratchett. Make of that what you will.
The Name of the Wind: It kinds of works.
The thing that will most stop you enjoying this book, and it's a big one that's been mentioned in other reviews, is the main character. I've read Eragon, and enjoyed it and didn't find the character annoying at all, but found Kvothe's wealth of talents, general attitude and lack of flaws off-putting. However you will stop minding after a bit, or even at all, because the REST of the book is pretty awesome. Whether Kvothe is travelling with his parents in the troupe or trying to survive as the lowest-of-the-low thief as a pickpocket in a busy city. You will be swept up by a well-imagined and memeorable world full of grey characters and strange myths. The magic is interestingly potrayed, as are how it's dealt with. Perhaps the novel mainly works because the author doesn't expect or need us to like or even sympathise with Kvothe, he is simply the lense through which we find out more about the world and get to know it's inhabitants. So worth a read? I'd say so, or at least a try.