This is not a book review.
It’s a rant. A love rant. That’s a thing. Don’t question it.
If you haven’t read The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, then shame on you. If you haven’t even heard of it, I feel terribly sorry for the you and rock you’ve been living under. Your name may in fact be Patrick Star. But this is about the other Patrick.
I was young and impressionable (18) when I plucked the book down off that shelf in my local Waterstones, just out of curiosity. I read the back and smiled at the blurb and carried it over to the counter. Seriously, I had no idea it would be my favourite book of all time. Just like you never know you’re gonna fall in love with that dude at the bus stop. The UK cover was pretty enough to pull me in at a glance, but it’s the stuff inside that’s really important.
I want to marry Patrick Rothfuss’s words. All of them. A polygamous word-commune thing.
Meet Kvothe. He’s a singer, traveller, actor, liar, linguist magician, or “arcanist” in the lingo of his world. Take all this, a knack for storytelling, a dash of youthful arrogance and bravado, and you have what is the best bildungsroman I’ve ever read. It’s in first person too, in case there isn’t enough Kvotheyness for your palette.
He’s had enough of the rumours and he’s telling his own story.
That’s the frame Rothfuss has set the tale in – Kvothe is slightly older, depleted of magic and music, and hiding in a backwater inn. The first thing we are told about him is that he is waiting to die. He is dictating his story to the Chronicler, a travelling story-collecter who has tracked him down to the piss-end of nowhere. The concept came out of nowhere and slapped me round the face. When do read a fantasy book where the hero sits down to tell you his tale, without an omnipotent narrator giving you all the information? Never, until now.
Let me get started on the writing. Every single word in that 800 page book has a purpose. There’s no fluff. No long-winded descriptions of every bluff of rock or twig and blade of grass. There’s enough. Just barely enough that you’re left half-starved and still full after the last page is turned. Sights, smells and sounds are so evocative it’s like you’re there, tromping after Kvothe with weary feet and staring eyes, just watching everything.
That’s not to say the setting eclipses the story. The story, gods, the story. Or should I say stories? This meta-fiction at its finest. The world is rich with stories, some from religions which no-one has practised for a thousand years, some from folk-tales, some from legend and rumour, and some, like this, from the hero’s own lips. I’ve read this book several times. Each time, it feels like I’m taking my place at Kvothe’s table, nudging Bast out the way for some room and picking up my mug of ale. Ready to hear the tale told again.
Since we’re on feelings here…I fell in an awed, terrified love with Kvothe. Through his own eyes he is very human, very fallable. To everyone else he is this idol. The man is untouchable, with a mind so quick and eyes so sharp he can see everything about you in thirty seconds flat. That’s intimidating. You can feel his regard right off the page. Even if he has become this humble-faced innkeep, there are flashes of the man that became the legend. And shit, is he scary. I don’t think I’d want to meet him in person.
Other characters make the tapestry just as rich: Bast (<3), Simmon, Wilem, Fela, Auri and Elodin. Each has their own very real personality and place in the story – no-one is left behind in the glory of Kvothe’s growing fame. He doesn’t think himself above all these people, even if impetuous youth and unbridled brilliance get him into many, many scrapes.
And then there’s Denna. Yep. Denna. I do not have the hatred for her that many fans do. I’m a little more cynical than to expect the love interest to be a dewy-eyed, sheltered lady. That shit gets old, fast. Denna is a puzzle. I like puzzles. I’ve spent my many rereads of the book, and its sequel The Wise Man’s Fear trying to figure her out. I’ve got a few leads, nothing concrete. There are much smarter people out there with better theories, but I’m with-holding judgement on Denna until the last book. She is thoughtless, vague and free-spirited, but she’s kind of awesome too. (Also, we’re seeing her through the POV of a sixteen year old boy. Genius or not, hormones.)
Rothfuss has been said to renovate the fantasy genre. I’ll agree, but I wouldn’t dump this in the fantasy genre. Don’t pigeon-hole it, please. It’s…more than that. And less. It’s a story. A really fucking good story. You can tag it with as many labels and genres as you like, but if you boil it down, it’s a damn good yarn.
That is a lot of feelings. 900 words of feelings for a book. I am going to end this blog entry and go pick up my copy of The Name of the Wind. If you hear someone laughing, and crying, it’s probably me.