Sunday, March 11, 2012

Book Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Writers of the Future Award winner Patrick Rothfuss' debut novel is a sailing example of how very detailed a character study can be. The Name of the Wind is the name of the novel. It's the story of the magician/warrior/hero/antihero Kvothe raising himself from a favored son of a traveling minstrel troupe in the beginning of the book to a shining example of mysterious innkeeper with a more mysterious past, also at the beginning of the book. It makes a sort of sense when you read it. The novel is constructed Frankenstein-wise in storytelling format, where the bulk of the tale is bookended by oldish Kvothe sharing his history. And goodness gracious but Mister Rothfuss is devoted to this character's history. Plot is suspended for some five hundred pages in the middle of the book to allow all the nuances of Master Kvothe's character to be thoroughly explored. Admittedly, Master Kvothe is an engaging character to follow, both witty and driven. He's an ideal tragic hero, quite built up with spectacular advantages above his peers, but his amazing amazingness never manages to annoy one because one finds oneself too bloody irritated by Kvothe's incredible failings which more than counterbalance his remarkable genius. The book is layers of Kvothe's victories carried up by the blunders he causes himself to need to repair. The cycle is amazing. Kvothe does something to set you in awe, and you are in awe for a page or two until he makes you smack your forehead with the book because he's gone on tripped something terrible. Then you're interested for the next fifty pages because you want to find out whether he fixes it again. Then he does...then he trips again, but worse. Bang on the litso, flash in the glazzies.

The cycle is exhausting. It is also fortuitous because the book lacks for enormous stretches one aspect which this critic would consider essential: plot. I's interesting, because I think that perhaps M. Rothfuss had been watching a lot of very good TV while writing The Name of the Wind. The book is constructed quite episodically. There are many small plot arches, driving the story forward in hops. But except for infrequent brushes with the initial conflict introduced inside the first hundred pages, M. Rothfuss he suspends for the next four hundred fifty pages. The book is seven hundred thirty pages long. Way more than half of the book has zero plot. Four hundred fifty pages are pure character development. It's entertaining and beautifully described character development, but every twenty pages or so it makes you say, "maybe the story starts on the next page..."... then it doesn't.... Shit, dude. Long time to sit around and wait. Then, ooh ooh, then the reigition of the plot comes upon what I would term a tenuous note at best. By damn, I'll take a tenuous note after reading for five hundred fifty pages.

Grrgle.... You may ask, why would I read through it that far? The fact of the matter, my fair compatriots, is M. Rothfuss has a way with words. He has a gift for description and a knack for characters. His every character is both familiar and original, maintaining a comfy level of, "oh, yeah, I know that guy," without lapsing into cliche. The characters are peopled upon a backdrop with a similar level of comfortable nearness just quirked to the left enough to feel original. Kvothe and his fellow spirits are not actors and their world is not the movie set that fantasy is often set upon. Kvothe is alive in a world, touchable and present, and you could almost walk through the book into the streets with him.

Almost. I extend this as high praise. And, therefore, I do recommend this book. I do not recommend it to everyone. I do not recommend this book to people who value plot and intrigue, nor to those frustrated by zig-zags in story and floating conflict and suspended promises. My recommendation for The Name of the Wind goes to those kids who love winding descriptions, love the opportunity to really get their fingers twisted in the dirt and really get to be on first name terms with the story's ghosts, and especially to those kids who need a long book to fill the time between things. The Name of the Wind's every page is a window into another world. It's a good, long, meandering trek into a poetic place. Them that like that, and are okay without much story, will love this book.


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