Overall, this book seemed to me like a cross between Harry Potter and Dan Brown. While I have some liking for the Harry Potter books, they’re by no means great literature; where Dan Brown is concerned, I agree with Stephen Fry’s description of The Da Vinci Code as ‘complete loose stool water, arse gravy of the worst kind’. To be fair, Patrick Rothfuss has a little more talent for writing than Dan Brown, but he doesn’t have the knack of writing an exciting story.
The book can be separated into two alternating parts. It begins as a third person narrative, focusing on ‘Kote’ an innkeeper. But he is tracked down by a scribe who is looking for the legendary hero Kvothe. Supposedly reluctantly, but, as it appears on the page, all too readily, Kote admits that he is Kvothe and agrees to tell his story, but only if he can do it properly, which he estimate will take three days. The second part of the book is that story, a first person narrative of everything that has ever happened to Kvothe since he was a boy.
It details his upbringing as a travelling minstrel, his education from his goody-goody parents and a convenient wandering ‘arcanist’ (magic-user), the murder of his parents by some mysterious beings (and his convenient escape from a similar fate), his trials as a homeless boy in Tarbean, a hive of scum and villainy, his entrance to Hogwarts – I mean the University, his convenient rise from first year to the equivalent of a PhD student in the space of a few months.
The whole thing is pretty tedious and annoying and lots of it make no sense. Kvothe is supposedly a worldly-wise child prodigy, but he lacks the presence of mind to find himself a part-time job. Another annoyance is Kvothe’s repetition of the expression ‘If you’ve never experienced x then you can’t hope to understand.’ It crops up about half a dozen times and gets more annoying and patronising every time.
One of the things the reader can’t hope to understand is the attraction of Kvothe’s female friend, Denna. I don’t understand the attraction. She’s pretty annoying. There’s also something dodgy about her which is hinted at in the book, but isn’t revealed. Despite his vast intelligence, immense charisma, wonderful good luck etc etc, he’s never so much as kissed a woman by the end of the book (I mean by the end of the story within the story) – which allows the author to turn Kvothe’s blindspot towards Denna’s suspicious behaviour.
Near the end of Kvothe’s narrative, the two of them team up for an adventure regarding a dragon (the dragon is pretty interesting and original, and still fairly daft – it’s a vegetarian: it eats trees; it sets them on fire, rolls on them to put them out then scoffs the wreckage). This episode reminded me of the American guy and the French woman in The Da Vinci Code: one of them has a good idea then gets stumped; then it’s the other’s turn for a good idea before getting stumped; repeat ad nauseam. In The Name of the Wind it’s not quite so unpleasantly clunky as Dan Brown’s effort. But then there is the moment when Denna tries to eat a mysterious substance, which turns out to be a famously potent, opium-like drug. And the reader is supposed to respect her.
The book reads like the publisher decided to skip the editing process before printing it. I feel sure a good editor would have told the author to cut out about a quarter of the book. There also other editing problems. Everyone speaks in modern American English – a personal peeve, but one that I don’t have with older US fantasists like Stephen R Donaldson, George R R Martin and Robert Jordan – men who know how to strike a tone appropriate to the subject matter, men who aren’t writing for the Harry Potter/Twilight generation. There are a few straightforward mistakes. On page 103 you read, ‘He gave a great sigh that seemed to leave him deflated.’ On the very next page you read, ‘He gave a great sigh that seemed to deflate him.’
The translation from American to British English is patchy. Trousers are referred to as ‘trousers’ in one place and as ‘pants’ in another. As you know, many words that are spelt ‘-our’ in British English lose their ‘u’ in American. The word ‘tremor’ is spelt the same in both versions, though. Except in The Name of the Wind, that is. I don’t which is worse: the idea that the British editor just did a find and replace job for ‘or’, or erroneously changed the spelling of that word.
Despite all its tedious and pointless effort to set down every single event of note in Kvothe early life, the book retains a certain readability. The narrative drags terribly early on, but gains a little momentum towards the end. The structure of the book, swtiching back and forth between third person and first person story within a story, deserves some kudos, but like much of the book seems quite pointless, done only to appear clever. The characters, scenario, plot and writing are all completely stock, all the interesting events are well-insulated by large chunks of exposition, infodump and lame attempts at characterisation, scene-setting and self-conscious cleverness.
I find it baffling and annoying that this book seems to be so well-received.
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