Title: The Name of the Wind
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Year Published: 2007
Serialization: First of trilogy, cuts off pretty arbitrarily
Premise: Kvothe Kingkiller has done lots of cool stuff in his life. Stuff that resulted in him acquiring an apprentice of demon origins and training him while owning a tavern in an out-of-the-way town and avoiding reminders of his former adventurin’ life. Except the reader only gets mysterious allusions to said Stuff in bits and pieces of cryptic dialogue between Kvothe and his apprentice as they discuss the recent rash of demon attacks in the region… until the Chronicler, a man we’re meant to revere as THE bard, comes to town and harasses Kvothe into telling the entirety (and I do mean entirety) of his life story so the Chronicler can preserve it for posterity. The story will take three days to tell. This book is the first of those three days.
Review: Maybe the somewhat whimsical plot summary gives it away, but I didn’t think this book was that great. A lot of people I know and whose opinions I respect really enjoyed this book. The AV Club thought it the best fantasy book of the past ten years. I really wanted to like it, partially because I hadn’t read anything pure fantasy in a while, but… nope.
My main problem with the book was just that it was really… typical. It was almost like a road map of why fantasy fiction often doesn’t get taken very seriously, and I kind of wish it had been written as a parody instead. Every single event that occurs in the book is taken as this revealing epiphany. Everything the protagonist does is magical and special. The characters were kind of flat and one dimensional–the girl was mysterious, the friends were supportive, the bully was evil, the teacher was biased–and the entire plot felt more like an amalgamation of “events designed to make you care about the character” that weren’t actually very good at building a coherent plot.
Here’s what happens. Obviously spoilers, but I’d say it’s safe to read on for reasons I’ll explain below.
Protagonist has loving family. Protagonist has mentor in magic. Protagonist turns out to be better at magic than anyone, ever! Family gets killed. Protagonist has a rough life on the streets and learns So Many Lessons About Survival. Protagonist goes to magic school, where his entrance exam is better than most upper year students are capable of doing. Protagonist is so good he skips grades. He has a gang of Good Friends, a Nemesis, a Prof Who Hates Him, and the rest of the staff adores him to pieces. The girl he has a pseudo-romance with is Beautiful, and The One Every Other Boy Wants But Can’t Have. They go on an adventure. He kills a dragon. There’s lots of thinly veiled religious allegories and ancient myths and predictions.
It’s all very Fantasy 101. Those plot points are so generic and predictable it’s as if nothing’s happening. If I had had something to do the next day and set the book down halfway through, I doubt I would’ve felt much loss.
The reason it got a 6/10 rating was because it was, in a word, entertaining. It was a good enough read that on a weekend when I had nothing planned and no obligations, I stayed up until 7 AM to finish it. The writing wasn’t too dense and I didn’t feel like I had to stop and re-read or process anything, and the plot was reasonably paced so as to keep me sort of interested, so I’ll give it credit for keeping me amused for 8-9 hours… but that’s where my praise stops, more or less.
Maybe it’ll pick up once the plot progresses more, but at this point I don’t know if I even want to pick up the sequel when it comes out.