You know how sometimes a book, or a movie, or a concert gets so hyped up in the press and you have such high expectations that when you finally get around to reading/seeing it, it disappoints? That’s what I was worried might happen when I decided to read The Name of the Wind. I purposely came to it late, hoping to wait until Patrick Rothfuss was nearly finished with the trilogy before I starting it. But, the book has received so much attention that it became inexcusable for me, as the editor of this website, not to read it. So I did — in two days. (It’s a huge book.)
And I’m very happy to report that The Name of the Wind did not disappoint — I was completely enthralled. The pace was quick and never lagged. The plot was tight and had just the right amount of mystery — I always understood what was going on, but Rothfuss regularly added new elements, twists, and layers to keep me wondering where this was going and what would happen next. In fact, by the end of the book, there are more unanswered questions than answered ones. Throughout, the writing style was smooth and pleasant, with enough wit, humor, foreshadowing, and artistry to be intellectually stimulating, but never pretentious. Furthermore, the magic system in Rothfuss’s world is thoroughly explained to us, bit by bit, and it is complicated and makes sense.
Perhaps most important, Mr Rothfuss writes excellent characters. I especially appreciated what he did with his hero. Kvothe’s circumstances are familiar; he’s an exceptionally bright kid whose parents are killed by something evil, nobody cares for him, he manages to get into magic school on long odds, he has trouble fitting in with both students and teachers, he makes two close friends and one rich and handsome enemy from a powerful family, he’s obsessed with finding out about the evil people who killed his parents, he regularly gets punished for his exploits at school, he has no clue about girls, and he actually meets one who lives in the pipes under the school … Hmmm… This does sound familiar.
But I’ll bet that most people who read The Name of the Wind never thought of Harry Potter, because Kvothe and his world are new and refreshing. Kvothe is a product of his liberal education and a lot of time spent trying to survive on his own as a beggar. Sometimes he is selfish, sometimes he is cruel, sometimes he does the right thing. At one point in the book, while Kvothe was living on the streets, he had an opportunity to help someone in distress (a particular distress that Kvothe himself had experienced). I was nervous — worried that Rothfuss would ruin his careful characterization by having Kvothe perform a heroic deed too soon. But, no, Kvothe pulled a Kitty Genovese, which gave me a deeper respect for Mr Rothfuss. During Kvothe’s maturation, we see him make more right choices and fewer wrong ones, but he is complex and inconsistent enough to make us lack confidence that he’s going to turn out okay. And that makes for a very interesting story.
I’m very much looking forward to continuing this mystery; so much so that I’ll pre-order the hardback of The Wise Man’s Fear (something I rarely do).
Patrick Rothfuss is a much-needed bright young star in the fantasy field. Let’s hope that he can keep it up!