Review: The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss

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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.

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3 thoughts on “Review: The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss

  1. Sometimes I find it interesting how often our tastes in books align without us discussing them! One thing I remember about reading this is how it seems an interesting subversion of the classic “Hero’s Origin Story” but then I sit down and think and realise, it’s not. It’s just that the tone of the one telling it is that this was his life and he didn’t find it extraordinary.

    And I totally agree that I didn’t feel enthused about Denna. I don’t know if this is intentional, or if Denna/Rothfuss somehow confused “mysterious and aloof” with “cocktease”. Not that every target of romantic affection needs to give up the goods, of course, but it just felt like another deliberate “subversion!” for subversion’s sake.

    ‘Course, I quite liked the book, but it took time for me to arrange it in my mind to a point in which to recommend it to folks.

    Should be interesting to see your thoughts on the second book. Especially a particular part in the middle.

    1. I think it took reading your comment to figure out exactly what it was about Denna that bothered me. And, probably to everyone’s surprise, I’m not going to call sexism on this one. Though, I must admit, I’m sorely tempted to do so.

      So Denna’s got a free and innocent spirit somewhere deep in there, right? A spirit much battered and bruised by the tragic fact that, to make her way, she’s been passed around like a vagina-flavored ice cream cone between every wealthy man in the city. In a world where women have few opportunities, this is a sad and necessary thing.

      But it’s not that sort of world.

      Denna is a bright girl. This is made abundantly clear through her mnemonic ability. She’s emotionally mature–more so than Kvothe–enough to see him talking to another girl and not immediately start pouting about it.

      There are other bright girls in this story. I think of Kvothe’s other female buddies, Fela and Auri and even Devi. All three are/probably were University students. One runs a successful, if not totally legal, business. Though, admittedly, Auri ‘s something of a cipher, Devi doesn’t seem to be too terribly high on the food chain and Fela seems moderately wealthy at best. They’ve all gotten by without dating to make ends meet. Why, then, is it so tragic that Denna’s had to do it? There are other alternatives, several, that don’t include golddigging or the workhorses Rothfuss describes. So her lifestyle IS, to some extent, a choice.

      There you go. That’s where Rothfuss’s character angle falls apart on me for real.

  2. There was romance in the first book? Hahaha Ah, Denna. She struck me as a proud golddigger, and a tease, and enamored by Kote but ultimately unsure how to handle him, so she keeps her distance. In my opinion. Kote does the same, I think. She wants him to treat her like the other men do, and he doesn’t, so she doesn’t know whether to be complimented or insulted by it. Kote wants her close, but knows no other way to pursue her other than his own, and gets burned, so too stands a little at a distance. My opinion.

    And yeah. Kote has many women in his life. Not least of all his shill, his escort, his mystic, some musician, his childhood playmate… I’m only a sixth into Wise Man’s Fear. So far he’s keeping his Chandrian focus much better than the first.

    You’re entirely right about all this. Being me, though, when I read it, I looked at the school of magic, its setup, its execution, its depth. Rothfuss has effectively created a place so well-thought-out I can truly believe it exists somewhere, and the magic is as firmly planted in science as anything Stephenson could write. The branches make perfect sense, and that’s something I’ve missed in Fantasy since, well, The Dragonriders of Pern.

    Kote? Dude’s lucky-as-shit. Or unlucky-as-shit, given his early life. At the same time, he’s a gypsy, then an orphan, then tries to fit inside the mold of a university. You say he doesn’t change but I find him changing a lot. Yeah he keeps climbing through windows like a chimney sweep, and is as scrappy an Omega male as I can imagine, but he attends classes, finds solace in being told no, starts learning about women, finds a place to pour his soul into his music. His methods don’t change much, but his focus changes entirely. He wears the mantle of civilization, even if the skin is still untamed. If that makes sense.

    Rothfuss doesn’t seem to want to make this guy cow down, ever, until whatever happens that sends him to the Inn at the end. I may be wrong, but I’m looking only at the first book for comparison.

    Still reading Magicians. I’m not much of a reader, to be honest, so I’m a little slower at it than most. Heh!

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