Patrick Rothfuss: The Name of the Wind

The 2007 fantasy ‘The Name of the Wind’ is Rothfuss’ debut novel, but it would be very difficult to tell from this book if not given the information beforehand. The book picked up one of the short-lived Quill awards in 2007, as well as a young adult Alex award in 2008. The book is not billed as YA, but I can see the reasoning. The book is a typical slab of fantasy running to 662 pages, but the writing is clear as a bell all the way through with none of the extraneous scenery chewing that many fantasy authors use to pad out their cash cows. That said, there is some fat that could happily be trimmed, with the setbacks that the principle suffers frequently end up with him being returned to his starting point.

The novel follows a young itinerant player named Kwothe (as in quoth the raven, from what I can tell) as he learns to be a wizard at a University, and along the way attempts to discover his parents secret. So far, so par for the course. That said, I can’t bring myself to criticize this book too heavily, for there are a couple of things that really make this a well above average fantasy. The framing narrative of the older Kwothe telling his life story to a scribe is darker than the main narrative by quite a long stretch, and goes some way to alleviating the relatively safe action in the book. The second saving grace i have already mentioned, and that is the quality of the writing. Rothfuss’ characterisation is surprisingly mature, with a varied supporting cast that are well developed personalities in their own right. The author is particularly good at writing people who are slightly touched, where he plays off a sense of disenfranchisement with innocence and humour.

Rothfuss has also managed to avoid what I have come to think of as the Tolkien trap, where vast swathes of a given fantasy authors brick thick opus are devoted to lengthy infodumps about largely irrelevant foundation myths. Instead, this subject is dealt with in a rather more realistic manner. Snippets of tales and legends are handed over through folk tales and songs, much as in the real world, and this helps to give Rothfuss’ world-building a sense of a mysterious antiquity instead of a heroic genealogy. Likewise, there is the obligatory world map at the beginning of the book, but it seems to be pretty much shoehorned in to keep the plebs quiet. The focus here is defintely very much on character rather than tracing the progress of the action across the misty mountains analogue.

Overall, The Name of the Wind is a strong start to what will undoubtedly become a long running fantasy epic, especially as this year follow up novel, A Wise Man’s Fear, had such a buzz about it. I will be particularly interested to see if Rothfuss follows through on the fleeting moments where his form of magic (‘true’ names having power, an old saw but not too belaboured) seems to integrate with semiotics. Mainly though, I will read the follow up because this novel is just damn good fun.


~ by Snake Oil on January 20, 2012.

7 Responses to “Patrick Rothfuss: The Name of the Wind”

  1. This was one of my favorite reads this last year and it was a welcome return to this sort of fantasy. Other than dipping into some work or another by or about Tolkien every year (because I am a HUGE Tolkien geek) I largely stay away from this kind of fantasy. But Rothfuss’ book had such buzz and every time I caught an interview with him or popped over to this blog it was apparent that he is a fan-boy himself I couldn’t help but start liking the guy and just had to read this book. I thought it was great. Interesting characterization, world-building details woven into the story, as you pointed out rather than info-dumped, and enough action to keep the story moving forward at a nice but not frenetic pace. I was most impressed, and enjoyed the occasional breaks where the story came back to Kvothe and his companions at the inn.

    He has committed to this being a trilogy by each novel being one day to tell a 3 day story, but that being said I’ve heard from friends who have read A Wise Man’s Fear that they don’t see how he can possibly end it with just one more novel. I’m not big on lengthy series, so I hope he pulls it off.

    Reading this led me to trying out Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, which is different enough that I didn’t feel like I was on a high fantasy kick and showcases Sanderson as an incredible talent as well. I felt like his world-building in this one eclipsed Rothfuss’ in weaving in details and I was enormously satisfied with The Name of the Wind. I am going to try to work A Wise Man’s Fear into my reading sometime this year and hope the wait isn’t forever for book three.

    • You can probably tell from the review that I enjoy a bit of Tolkien myself. It does give you a bit of a downer on most fantasy as you can see where the authors idea’s were generated from, and mostly they are just pale imitations of the master. So many fantasy series these days are written cold bloodedly because any old shit with a wizard in it sells.

      I did have a big ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ thing last year (bandwagon jumping you say? Me? Nah.) which is fantastic low fantasy, but got a little tired of it as there is just so much padding. You can tell Martin loves the genre and he is doing interesting things with it, but he is also without question stringing it out like an addict who can see the bottom of his baggy.

      I’m thinking of dipping into Ursula Le’Guin’s ‘Earthsea’ at some point this year, and maybe even glancing at the ‘Wheel of Time’ cycle, but I’m not sure if I have enough hours in my life for the last. I will also have a look over at Sanderson on your recomendation. Thanks!

      • Nobody did it like Tolkien and I wish they would quit trying. I much prefer people at least try to make it look as if they are doing something different. I realize Tolkien isn’t the first to write this kind of fantasy, but he is a unique world-builder and the imitators of that kind of world building will always pale in comparison.

        I read A Game of Thrones and really enjoyed it but haven’t felt the urge to go back to the series. I’m sure I will at some point, but I’m getting to where I just want him to finish it first.

        I didn’t mind jumping on the long wait that will be Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive because it is more of the kind of fantasy I enjoy. Sure, bad things happen, but it doesn’t seem to be trying to be something dark like GRRM. I prefer a little less grit to my fantasy.

  2. I almost bought this book last time I was book shopping, but ended up getting Ender’s Game instead. I’ll definitely have to pick it up at some point; it looks fantastic.

    • Sadly, I haven’t read ‘Ender’s Game’, so can’t really say whether you made the right choice or not, but this book is definitely fun and, considering its length, a really easy read. Definitely worth picking up.

      • Ender’s Game is a favorite and the sequel, Speaker for the Dead, is even better. Can’t wait to know what you think Grace.

  3. […] on from The Name of the Wind, Wise Mans Fear is Rothfuss’ second novel, and that is what makes me angry. The […]

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