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.