Q: Did I read Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind this week?
A: You bet your balls I did. And here’s what I thought.
I am, honestly, uncertain what verdict to give it overall. Did I enjoy the baroque detailing, the legend and myth, the way the story was told? Yes, I did. Especially the old-school story-within-a-story aspects. It provides, I think, a great buttercream frosting of indirect foreshadowing, hearing the beginning of Kvothe’s story and seeing him as he is present-day. I’d read the next few volumes just to connect the pieces. And the detail–lawd, the detail! Rothfuss does a great job describing the University, creating the structure of society in which it exists through character interactions (especially, of course, those of Kvothe and Ambrose). It’s good, I must admit, to see a fantasy hero have troubles with money. Rothfuss very realistically evokes just how terribly being broke can get in the way of your hopes and dreams. It’s interesting how many other orphan hero/ines in fantasy don’t seem to have these kinds of troubles, and it’s good to see a case where even inordinate amounts of talent don’t get you everywhere immediately.
Also–people dislike Kvothe. There is, honestly, a lot to dislike about him. Someone as driven, bright and ungovernable as the man is would have a lot of enemies, as well as a lot of to-the-death loyal friends. I liked that Kvothe doesn’t always get away scott-free with doing things his own way. Again, a lot of writers forget that this sort of behavior makes you enemies. Good on Rothfuss for remembering.
And Kvothe himself? Well, Kvothe’s a determined bastard, though his determination seems to shift in focus throughout the novel. By the time the Chandrian come up again, about eighty percent through the book, I had honestly forgotten he was focused on finding them, what with how focused he was on staying in school/his playing/Denna. I understand that Kvothe, epic fantasy hero extraordinaire, is a man of burning passions and nearly monomaniacal needs. But if i had to write a fifth grade book report about this novel, I’m not certain I’d get an A. I’m still fairly up in the air on what Kvothe’s driving force actually is: there are just too many choices. To Rothfuss’s credit: I’m not sure Kvothe himself would get an A either, for this reason. I can’t, in fact, decide if this is intentional or not. But honestly–if I, the reader, can’t decide, a little more attention to this aspect of character development was probably necessary.
I didn’t like the romance here. Sorry, but I just didn’t. I think Denna’s a well-developed character–and once again, props on a well-thought out and realistically detailed portrayal of how beauty might affect the life of a bright, young, none-too-upper-class woman. Also props on realism concerning how hard it would be to find someone, in a world without cell phones, who doesn’t always want to be found. But I at no point felt the driving force of love in this relationship. Rothfuss spends so much time detailing how Denna plays with and uses wealthier men that I was left wondering if she had any real feelings at all, and if she did, how much of it could be in any way bent towards Our Hero of the Burning Passions. I liked Denna as a character, but, try as I might, I couldn’t bring myself to like Denna. Is it necessary to like a character for a story to be good? No. No, it isn’t. But there needs to be something loveable in a main character’s love interest, and with Denna I just wasn’t feeling it.
I have trouble liking Kvothe, too, at times. Again, this may not be the best way to put it–perhaps it’s better to say I feel he wasn’t properly developed, but that just makes it sound like he’s missing a testicle. But the fact remains, when I see character flaws, I expect a character to either suffer for them or learn from them or some bizarre spam salad mixup of both.
But Kvothe–oh, Kvothe. Lorren says you need to learn patience, and he isn’t wrong. You’re a little bit too clever, a little bit too quick to quip. In spite of the inordinate amount of trouble you have with day-to-day life, the big things–not getting expelled, which I’m frankly amazed never happens to you, especially after straight up skipping school for four days in a row–come pretty easy. Yes, sir, I know you’re a hero. I know you’re painfully bright. I know something horrible happened to your parents, and you’re in love with a woman who is Grade A unsuitable in many ways. But these things do not internal conflict make. If I had to put it simply, I think this is what Kvothe as a character lacks–internal conflict. There’s never much feeling Kvothe worries he’s making a mistake.
For instance, when Elodin refuses to teach him because he jumps off a roof. Instead of thinking that maybe, just maybe, he failed a test by being too eager to do a stupid thing, Kvothe dismisses the whole scene as Elodin being batshit crazy. Which he is. But still. He never learns from this. Lorren tells him he’ll get archive access back when he learns patience, and what does he do? Use a girl who likes him to sneak in. He could’ve attempted to cultivate some of the p-word, but no. Too complicated.
I understand that this is probably intentional, part of his character. But it makes him hard to empathize with. I have difficulty caring about his story because, at least in the course of the first book, Kvothe stays very much the same person, just sort of doing whatever Kvothe wants to do. This is, perhaps, the primary flaw in Rothfuss’s novel for me. I suspect, in the second one, there are more consequences in store for Kvothe, but the second one comes too late. It’s not a consequence when someone busts up your lute if you immediately make back the money to pay for a new one.
One last, minor, thing. Rothfuss harps WAY too hard on how Kvothe’s story is not a work of fiction, not a grand epic tale about a mythological hero. He harps on this so hard, in fact, that I would honestly have preferred he took an eighteen wheeler to the fourth wall and pissed on the rubble. This sort of thing only makes the mythological nature of a story MORE evident, only puts the reader at a GREATER remove from the story. Sorry. One of my pet peeves.
Overall, I did enjoy this book. Don’t get it twisted. Will I read the second one? Hell yes. But I want more from Kvothe. I want more consequences. And overall–overall–I want higher stakes, preferably in the form of some answers.