“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts. There are seven words that will make a person love you. There are ten words that will break a strong man’s will. But a word is nothing but a painting of a fire. A name is the fire itself.”
We all like comfortable fantasy. We all like to sit down and listen to a tale. We all like to know how a story ends. This is the formula that makes Patrick Rothfuss’s debut a winner. It’s not in his prose, or his characters, or his story. It’s in the way he spins this yarn, in the compelling manner of each short chapter, and the promise of what is to come even when we know part of the answer.
I’m not going to ramble on about what this book is about. If you’re apart of the SFF community, and you haven’t heard of this, where have you been? Granted, it’s taken me about eight years to actually find the book and read it, but that’s details.
The quick summary, though, is that Kvothe, a legend in his own time, is narrating through a frame story, his life from the time he wandered in a troupe to his many near expulsions in University. The story reads a lot like Harry Potter, but much stronger. Little less accessible, but not by much.
What is hard to get into is the many short stories tacked together in the middle. I’m a fan of tight narratives, and The Name of the Wind is not that. It is many short stories or novellas thrown around as a memoir, or chronicle if you will. That’s not to say it’s bad, just not something I click with easily. On top of that, the attention to teachings creates a slow pace. While that creates an immersive story, I wish Rothfuss had instead taken the thick plot and covered it on the world, if that makes any sense.
The Four Corners is not a notable place. Besides it being a faux Middle Ages story set in the traditional European setting, I had no sense of the land. There were dragons. There were traveling circuses and bards. There were demons and monsters and magic. But there was nothing new brought to the table.
And I think that creates my biggest complaint.
“Bones mend. Regret stays with you forever.”
I like stories that experiment with new ideas, especially when it comes to world-building. Unfortunately, these stories get shoved under the table of New Weird and receive passing glances. People become afraid of pushing the boundaries of SFF not solely in social aspects, but in simple imagination.
I could give Rothfuss props for doing something interesting like eliminating a Patriarchal system in a Medieval setting, or some kind of fun gender swap of power to make Kvothe’s story that much more powerful. But we don’t even get that.
We get a stereotypical story with a near Deus ex Machina protagonist. It’s fun and well written, yes, but as I said, it adds nothing to SFF.
Now, does that make it wrong, or a bad book? Heavens no. There are moments of a genre savvy author slipping through, as in the case of Kvothe’s unreliable nature, Fela’s wish to not be a damsel in distress and her acceptance of it, and Denna’s remarkable character motivation to what has become such a divisive cast member. But we need more than a mere dragon that eats plants instead of humans. We need something strange, something different, and possibly a little edgier.
The final is where Rothfuss redeems his book.
“You have to be a bit of a liar to tell a story the right way.”
While the prose might be underwhelming after reading oodles of hype for it, and the characters bland set pieces, the whisper of what’s to come is what drives me to read the next volume. I stayed up at night to finish this story, to see what the next twist might be, because there is an air of foreshadowing that the author has in spades.
And as I turn the final page, I begin to wonder: Is Kvothe the bad guy?
If Rothfuss wanted to turn the SFF community upside down, he would do this. Very rarely have I ever seen this executed in big name brand Fantasy, and for a book that is said to “sit beside The Lord of the Rings,” this would make its mark on the world. People love a good charmer, a strong character that keeps pushing the plot. Most anti-heroes achieve this, but what if Rothfuss threw his narrator over the edge? How amazing would that be?
If I haven’t sold you on trying this book out, just sample the first page. The rest of the story doesn’t have that same wonder, but it does have pockets here and there. Other than that, it’s comfortable and different and slow and a page-turner. It’s a safe contradiction that could be so much more. It’s also rated as one of the best debuts of the past decade.
But more than that, it’s sheer fun.
“Call a jack a jack. Call a spade a spade. But always call a whore a lady. Their lives are hard enough, and it never hurts to be polite.”