Friday, June 17, 2011

Name of the Wind, Fantasy by Patrick Rothfuss – Summary and Review

One of the nice things about having an extra 40+ hours in any given week is that I have that time to engage in leisure activities that were once often neglected due to a desire to keep up with other hobbies and get a little bit of sleep now and again. Making even the leisure time somewhat productive is a goal I constantly struggle with, making sure that I have a steady stream of new things to experience and evaluate. Without an unlimited entertainment budget, however, I can't play every new PC or console game release. Luckily, with the existence of local libraries and friends with extensive collections of novels, I don't have that same problem with books. I've done enough reading in my time spent out of work that I've certainly gotten my money's worth out of my Kindle, and even limiting myself almost completely to my favored genre, fantasy, I've gotten a LOT of reading done, as I've written a bit about before.

Despite what this cover proclaims, the book really isn't  a romance novel
 with a protagonist whose head is on fire.

The most recent book I've finished (just last night, in fact) is The Name of the Wind (Book One of The Kingkiller Chronicle) by Patrick Rothfuss. I'd heard about this from friends in my WoW guild who had finished it to rave reviews and encountered it in one of my favorite webcomics. This book is the first in a trilogy that will set the stage for another trilogy using the same characters and locations established in the current books. The Name of the Wind is the (relatively) young author's first published novel, and after rejection from several publishers, he caught a break in 2002. An excerpt of the book was entered in the Writers of the Future competition, and it won, getting him the needed exposure for publication.

Originally, all three books in the trilogy were supposed to be a single long work titled A Song of Flame and Thunder, but a few changes were required before publication. The book was split into three volumes and the series was retitled in order to avoid any confusion with George R.R. Martin's series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Substantial revision was needed to reframe a single long book as a trilogy of novels, and to date two of the three volumes have been published, both making it to the New York Times Bestsellers list. Audience and critical reception to the books have been very positive, with The Name of the Wind receiving the Quill award for Best Sci-fi/Fantasy in 2007.

He may look like an average IT guy at any given University, but this man can spin a tale.

When I first started reading the series, I really didn't know exactly what to expect, and even a few hundred pages in, I must confess, at first, that I didn't “get it.” Sticking with the book past my initial reservations, I found that my mistaken assumptions were at the heart of my perceived problems with the books, and they were satisfactorily resolved once I fully comprehended what it was, exactly, that I was looking at. The book introduces a character named Kvothe, a character whose personal legend is so larger than life that he goes beyond the wildest reputations of the characters in the worlds most overpowered game of Dungeons and Dragons, and becomes one of the tall tales those characters might tell each other around the campfire.

My initial resistance to the character was rooted in too much fantasy that forces the audience to accept that a character is a total badass because the author says so, and as a result the character comes off as a little silly, but you swallow your contempt and trudge on because there's something else you like about the book. Finding a protagonist whose reputation is so over the top that it almost seems a parody of fantasy as a genre gave me pause. Then Rothfuss started to do an incredible thing. By having Kvothe tell his story in flashback to a professional historian from childhood on, the legend of the character is broken down and deconstructed. The reader is assaulted at the beginning with an impossible character with a laundry list of impressive names and titles, and step by step we are exposed to the small, reasonable decisions that make the character earn every last one of them.

The character of Kvothe has inspired a lot of fan-art and some of it is very good.
(Attribution for this piece goes to Wyrmrider at DeviantART.)

The framing story, of the legendary magician, bard and swordsman telling his story as he has retired and is in hiding from all that he once was allows us to occasionally hear the folk tales that have sprung up from events that the audience knows the true version of, allowing us to grin at how much the stories get right as well as the things that are misremembered or exaggerated. Hints about what is going on in the present fill these cracks and interludes in the main narrative which is the flashback. Once I'd understood this, I was rapidly approaching another of my incorrect assumptions, that the first book would wrap up the “origin story.” Once I figured out that the entire trilogy would have the flashback and the telling of the legend as its focus, I settled in more comfortably and realized I'd be reading all three books in the series, as well as any other works that follow up in the same world.

What I'm reading as soon as I get done posting this.

I've settled today nicely into the second volume of the trilogy, The Wise Man's Fear and gotten rather deep into it as I was in an “unavoidably detained” sort of waiting-room scenario that I was glad to have the book in tow for. So far the writing style and continued character development is consistently fantastic and evocative, showing what is meant rather than telling. This is a difficult trick to pull off, as the entire three-book series is arguably entirely exposition, but it is done deftly and I anticipate that I'll have finished the second volume and be hungering for the release of the third well before I am ready to leave for the Origins Game Fair next week. I'll be doing my best to build up a buffer and schedule articles to automatically post while gone, but if I don't comment on many blogs in the next week or if I miss a post, that'll be why.
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Alpha said...

That's some great cover art on the second book.

Jay said...

thanks for the recommendation, i'll be looking for this. :)

Brandon said...

Loved The Name of the Wind. Reading Mistborn now. Quite enjoying that.....

Irene Ruth said...

I LOVE this depiction of Kvothe done by WyrmRider, I cant seem to find it on Diviant Art right now. It is seriously the best perception i have seen. I like the Kurt Cobain/ Jim Morison feel to it! Thanks for posting!

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