I haven’t finished a book in close to three years. That’s a rough guess, could be longer. But I certainly can’t remember the last book I finished. That’s not to say I don’t read – ask my wife – there’s a stack of at least ten different books at any given time on my bedside table. And that’s my problem, I read too many books. My mind shifts to another subject, my interests start to change to another genre or author. It’s like storytelling ADHD. I never stick to one book because there’s too many I want to read. But this time has been different. I finished a book. All six-hundred and sixty-two pages. And that book was The Name of the Wind by Patrick Ruthfuss. So I guess I’m reviewing books now as well.
You’ve probably seen the cover on the bookshelves of your local bookseller. That is of course if you do shop for books in a store. And that is of course if you do read books, more importantly. A luxury and a past time often forgotten in our so-called busy world of tweets, snaps and spewed-out-thought blogs. Ahem. The Name of the Wind is a fantasy novel. Some call it epic fantasy, though after reading it I’d say it rides a line between heroic fantasy and young adult fantasy. I haven’t been a big fan of fantasy novels in my adult life, it was a genre I fancied as a kid, but now I find the general world building traits of fantasy novels tedious and boring. But lately I’ve wanted to read fantasy novels. I’ve been playing fantasy video games, watching fantasy TV shows; technically I’d enjoy a good fantasy read. So, I asked some of my mates for suggestions. I was picky about what I wanted too, after reading two-hundred pages of the first Wheel of Time novel and clawing my eyes out at the blatant plot-point copy of The Fellowship of the Ring. I wanted something different. I jotted down ideas passed to me, The Name of the Wind being a strong contender for my re-entry back into fantasy.
I’m not going to review the novel, at least not a comprehensive review. I want to discuss points of the novel that I remember, for better or worse. The Name of the Wind follows Kvothe, a wizard (they call themselves Arcanists in the novel), as he recalls his life to a scribe (The Chronicler). The novels shifts from first person narration to a third person perspective as the story unfolds, and it’s done rather well. It’s easy to figure out when Kvothe is telling the story, and when we’ve jump back to present time to describe the events at hand. The story doesn’t follow a natural hero arc like most fantasy, or general stories would. It’s a re-telling of the character’s life, and in doing so the story dips and drags in sections. Kvothe’s main goal as a child is to make it to the University to study to become an Arcanist. Up until he reaches the University, the plot stumbles through the general world building that goes hand in hand with fantasy novels. To be honest, if you’re ready fantasy, usually it’s for the world and the characters that inhabit it. I’m the kid of guy that just wants to jump into a story without learning the religion and different political factions of this make-believe world. Rothfuss does a good job of his world building, and the world’s lore within it. He’s written stories within stories, and it’s because of his use of language that I stayed active in the sometimes-convoluted story.
Rothfuss is extremely poetic in his word-choice. He has a rhythm to his language, and his abstract descriptions of objects and characters are intriguing and captivating. But it also becomes tedious whenever an action scene approaches. I don’t want bullshit language when it comes to action. Keep it short. Simple. Direct. Let me imagine. Don’t spin some poetic bullshit and distract me from what’s happening in the story.
In saying that, there is little action in the story itself. Which I’m fine with. The characters were engaging, as well as the plot, especially once Kvothe reaches the University. The tone of the novel shifts, more characters are introduced, and it starts to feel like a Harry Potter novel. I say that lightly, it doesn’t copy from Harry Potter, but it catches the atmosphere and mood that those books conjure. And I enjoyed that.
Kvothe has some issues with his characterisation. For the most part I like him; he’s witty, intelligent and rebellious. But he’s also a cunt. Like a cunt you’d give a solid uppercut for continuing to be a smart ass. He’s got a mouth about him, which often doesn’t suit his character. Kvothe can be the stoic hero of the story one minute, the next he’s the dickhead at the back of the classroom who won’t shut the fuck up as he argues with the teacher. I got used to his outlandishly douchey tendencies after a while, but it was jarring at first.
Kvothe is also an absolute idiot when it comes to women. One could argue that he’s a teenager and he’s enduring the awkwardness of young love. And that’s how I felt at first. But as the story progressed, Kvothe continues to stumble around awkwardly. It becomes tiresome to read, almost annoying. He wants to kiss the girl. He knows she wants to kiss him. But he just leaves and walks his awkward ass on home. Much has been said online about how Ruthfuss, and many other male fantasy writers, craft their female characters. I won’t go into that. I’m just annoyed that within six-hundred pages, Kvothe does not kiss the girl.
As I mentioned, the arc of the story is almost non-existent. It acts as a retelling of Kvothe’s life, and in so the ending of the novel leaves no closure. As I come down to the final one-hundred pages, I found myself questioning how the book would end. And as I came to the closing chapter, I was a little disappointed. I understand that there’s a sequel, and a third novel to round off the trilogy in the works, but there was no tease for the future novels, no semi-closure for young Kvothe’s arc. If I read this before the sequel was released, I would be more disappointed.
I’ll add that I did subscribe to Audible as I started this book. I was never one for audio books, but I thought if I wanted to get through the world building and any tedious fantasy trope, an audio book might help. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the book, the performance was great, and it kept me engaged in the story far more than I would have imagined. It’s probably the reason I stuck with the book longer than I have with other fantasy novels, and the reason why I kept reading. I listened on my drive to and from work, chewing through chapters where I otherwise wouldn’t have. And I liked that. Audible, send the cheque!
I did enjoy The Name of the Wind. It was a solid re-entry point to the fantasy genre. And though I found significant flaws in both the storytelling and characterisation, I look back fondly at the overall novel. I have already bought the sequel, and even as I read another fantasy novel – The Blade Itself – I am itching to get back into Rothfuss’ world. If that’s not an endorsement for a book, I don’t know what is. Rothfuss’, send the cheque!
Now that’s a book review. Longer than I expected.