Mount Readmore Book Review, 2018 107/200
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Finished on 6/27/2018
Told in Kvothe’s own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen.
The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature.
A high-action story written with a poet’s hand, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that will transport readers into the body and mind of a wizard.
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Kingkiller, Fantasy Classic
A modern masterpiece, or an overblown mess?
I’ve tried reading this once before- four years ago. I never finished this for of a lot of reasons: I was in school and didn’t really have the time to read this epic; the author used tropes which made me uncomfortable; I was reading this at the same time as WORDS OF RADIANCE by Brandon Sanderson, and WORDS just overshadowed this. The list goes on.
I decided to give this famous (and notorious) bit of Fantasy a second go, partially because I didn’t give it a fair shake the first time and partially because I’m part of a book club which is presently reading it.
I had trouble deciding whether I loved this book, or hated it.
This book is told in a nontraditional style. For starters it employs a frame story, where Kvothe is recalling the story of his life and that story-of-a-story is being written down. It’s also nontraditional because the author actively didn’t care about things like plotting and pacing when he wrote this book. This is a man’s life, and people’s lives are unevenly paced and poorly plotted because that’s how life works.
Unfortunately (for me at least) I don’t like to read poorly plotted and unevenly paced books.
Now I’ll say right now that Rothfuss is a skilled artist: his prose is good and at times great. While his prose never quite matches up to luminaries like McKillip or Gavriel Kay I think he can turn a respectable phrase or two. And his dialog… his dialog is simply magnificent. I’d love to read a Harry Dresden book written by Rothfuss. (Can you imagine Kvothe-level sass coming from Dresden’s mouth?!) Further I’ll complement him in his supreme capacity to write an asshole as a protagonist, and still make him charming- that is a feat I’ve yet to see matched.
However THE NAME OF THE WIND refuses to paint within the lines of the Three Act Format or The Hero’s Journey (or invert the 3 Act Format/Hero’s Journey, or play with the tropes to make something new). Instead Rothfuss chose to talk about mundane things like tuition and lab accidents and feuds with fellow students, with no linking strategy between them. Do you know why those old and dusty formats are so commonly used in stories? It’s because they work.
Whenever I write one of these book reviews I focus on characterization, plot and pacing. Those make a three legged stool to keep a story upright. If one of those legs is shorter than the others, the story becomes wobbly. But if two of those legs are entirely missing, then we have problems.
So, here we go.
Plot: Vast swaths of the book contain plotlines which go nowhere. The antagonist portrayed in the beginning of the book isn’t related at all to the climax at the end of the book. There are entire vignettes in this story which could have been deleted entirely and no one would have been the wiser. These are signs of fatty, lazy writing in my mind.
Pacing: Vast swaths of this book are boring as sin. By Telu, the original reason why I quit reading this years ago was because it was so boring, and I was tempted to quit multiple times again on this read through.
THE NAME OF THE WIND ignores the artfulness of a well plotted and well paced story for seemingly no reason. It goes counter to convention merely for the sake of bucking convention.
This book was a hot mess, with no internal structure linking one scene to the next.
And yet… and yet I liked it anyway.
The book was self-indulgent: the author couldn’t be constrained to little things like a proper plot or not boring his readers to death. Rothfuss is a good writer who can break all the rules and it’s good enough anyway.
As I write this I’m debating whether I loved it or hated it. I want to say ‘do not recommend,’ but I just can’t. Just because this book doesn’t play by the normal storytelling rules doesn’t mean it’s not good anyway.
Recommended, but this isn’t a book for everyone. I have no clue how Rothfuss managed to pull this off. I can only respect the author for writing such a magnificent abomination.