1/28/13: I need to add this aside because since writing this review I have realized that this is one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read. I have a bit of an explanation in my review for Scott Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora: “The writing was exceptional, and the books were dark and fun and funny and sad, but I initially thought they were rambling. After reading the first two books, I woke up to the fact that I only thought they were rambling because for the first time in ages, I had no idea what the hell was going to happen. It was going somewhere, just not anywhere I had ever been before. I read each of those 700+ page books 3 more times, found something new each time, and am on a level of excitement for the third book that I haven’t reached since I was standing outside a Barnes & Noble at midnight waiting for The Order of the Phoenix to be released. Fucking awesome.” Both Rothfuss’ first book and its sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear, are meticulously plotted works written in highly intelligent language. I have never been happier to be mistaken. My original review is below.
This was recommended to us by a friend of a friend. I am sometimes suspicious of recommendations, because often people will suggest you read something without taking into account your tastes. For instance, I love the Sookie Stackhouse books and think they’re hilarious, but there are very few people I’d recommend them to: they’re just not for everyone. Still, a good fantasy read is hard to find, and I sure wasn’t doing anything else at the time, so I decided to take a hit for the team, as my husband was still in the middle of catching up on A Song of Ice and Fire in preparation for A Dance With Dragons.
About fifty pages in, he asked me how it was. “Slow,” I answered, “but not utterly dull.” After about 200 pages into this nearly 700 page book, he asked again. This time, I replied, “I still have no idea where it’s all going. But I’m along for the ride.”
Having finished the book, I still have only a guess at where it’s all going, but I like where I’ve been with it so far. The book reads as a prologue of sorts, to the story of Kvothe, a man who used to be a hero and has now, for unknown reasons, sentenced himself to a quietly smothering existence as an innkeeper in a quiet hamlet. He tells his story to a Chronicler who recognizes him despite the innkeeper alias. Kvothe tells the Chronicler he will need three days to tell his story; The Name of the Wind represents everything that was told on Day 1.
The book is rambling and often apparently directionless. A few enemies are introduced throughout the book, but the book isn’t about Kvothe finding and destroying these enemies. A love interest is introduced, but the book isn’t about how the two lovers form a relationship and whether they stay together. The book ends up being about how Kvothe, a boy, becomes “Kvothe,” the hero people tell stories about and who feels compelled to bury himself in obscurity. Even so, this volume in the series doesn’t get us all the way there. Luckily, his exploits along the way were engaging enough to keep me reading. I was curious to see how Kvothe, the obnoxiously brilliant and arrogant boy, becomes the self-loathing barkeep.
There are many words written concerning practical elements of everyday life in this fantasy world. Some may find this tedious and unnecessary; it’s probably unnecessary, but I didn’t find it too tedious. I like details about fantasy worlds, because I’m a big fantasy fan, but the level of detail may alienate crossover readers, or even fantasy readers who favor stories with more physical action, or more epic scenarios. The book has drawn some comparisons to The Lord of the Rings, but I didn’t see much to tie the two together except for, perhaps, the use of various ancient myths and enemies as a means of driving the plot. The Name of the Wind takes place on a much smaller scale, though there’s room for it to grow in the next two books. Some may find the University Kvothe attends reminiscent of Hogwarts, but this school is imbued with more realism and based on a non-wand-based magic system that we are taught to believe grows out of the laws of physics.
I appreciated Rothfuss’ very obvious familiarity with both the classics and other fantasy/sci fi books. There’s at least one brief (though possibly unintended) reference to Dune. There are also elements of Earthsea series, The Odyssey, and the Old Testament, among others. Rothfuss uses these elements skillfully to create props on which to rest his story. I have already ordered the next book in the series, The Wise Man’s Fear, in which I hope to see the material in this first book extrapolated to sustained plot arcs with bigger consequences.