Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Name of the Wind

Written by Joe the Revelator

This 800+ page behemoth is the first in a new series by Patrick Rothfuss. It's imaginative, it's quirky, and it nearly gave me fits. It's taken about a month to recover after reading Name of the Wind. Before now, anytime I tried to explain the premise to anyone I found myself focusing on the minutia- rambling about the psychology of the characters, the mad reasoning, the many details...

I think the easiest way to explain this book would be to describe the main character as such: an INTJ playing at fantasy hero. (INTJ, as in the Jungian archetype designation) Or another way to put it: being inside the mind of a mad scientist who fancies himself a mage.

What's in a name?

The story is set up like a Tolkien novel met Arabian Nights in a bar. A curious scribe learns the true identity of a humble bartender, Kvothe the king-killer, and demands his life story. After some cajoling Kvothe obliges, and thus ensues the first installment, which covers his birth to his mid teens. This may sound like a boring setup but it's handled masterfully, and the author demonstrates why this story-within-a-story format worked for so long.

Most of Kvothe's childhood is spent explaining to the reader how the world in Name of the Wind is built; its hierarchy, its history and lore, and the way magic works. Kvothe is a remarkably bright child, having been raised in a wandering actor's troupe. He can memorize complex subjects with the speed of a savant. Math, literature, history, chemistry, magic...people with photographic memories would be jealous of this kid. It's reminiscent of the brilliant children from Orson Scott Card's books.

But brilliant doesn't always mean lucky, and a series of cruel and unfortunate incidences leaves him orphaned and beggared. Kvothe's struggle for survival in the slums is fierce and brutal, and the extremes he's willing to go to are astonishing. For example: dousing a bully with liquor and dropping a lit match on him.

Ultimately Kvothe's efforts take him to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, or the equivalent thereof in the world of Patrick Rothfuss. Kvothe enrolls to learn the secrets of magic, and eventually the identity of his parent's murderers, and in the meantime manages to make several enemies.

The Name of the Chump

My issue, and what I imagine is the burr that rubs other readers sore, is Kvothe's choice in women. The female protagonist, and the love interest whom Kvothe pines over endlessly, is a harlot.

Call a jack a jack, a spade a spade, and a prostitute a lady. This was the advice Kvothe's father gave him near the beginning of the book. I thought it was an interesting piece of advice, but I had no idea it would be foreshadowing for later. Kvothe's girl shows up with a different man every scene she's in, sometimes with the sole purpose of making Kvothe jealous.

Yet the main character still brings her gifts, takes her on dates, saves her from peril... With the reasoning that, although she's with other men, spending time around her is still better than nothing at all. Never have I read a fantasy adventure which the hero spends the entirety of the book caught in the "Friend Zone". He literally saves her from poison and rescues a village from a firebreathing dragon, and in the next scene she introduces Kvothe to her potential fiance'.

I can handle it...

If the sequel, Wise Man's Fear- now in hardback, doesn't include a set of balls for Kvothe, I'm going to burn my copy of Name of the Wind and eat the ashes. Maybe then I'll regain some of the dignity this book sapped out of me.

Despite my grievances I would still recommend this book to anyone interested in fantasy. Patrick Rothfuss is a great writer and his world-building is powerful and compelling. I believe he could potentially become as prolific to the genre as George R.R. Martin is now. But on a personal note, I hope he stays stuck in the "Friend Zone" until he's in a retirement home, where they won't allow him to keep the skeleton of his dead mother.

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