on March 19, 2007
It seems to me that every year there are more books I want to read and less time for me to read them. Because my time is limited, I'm guilty of picking up the books by my favorite authors first, and fitting in new authors only when it's convenient.
Due to a stroke of luck, I've had an advance copy of The Name of the Wind by my bedside for over six months, just waiting for me to open it. Unfortunately, deadlines of my own kept getting in the way. But in a way, it's lucky that I didn't crack this book until just a few days ago. If I'd had this tale to distract me, I'd have been even later getting my work done.
I loathe spoilers, so I'm not going to discuss the plot of this book. I will say it has all the things that I demand of a book. The characters are real, the action is convincing and it has a compelling story to tell.
One of the things I like best about this book is that the magic is absolutely rooted in the book's world. Nothing seems contrived; the consistency is excellent.
The characters are very well realized. That means that when the protagonist does something clever, it's believable. And when he does something youthfully dumb, it rings just as authentically true. Because the characters are real and the magic is true to its own world, I closed this book feeling as if I'd been on a journey with an entertaining new friend, rather than sitting alone looking at words on a page.
This one is well worth some of your precious reading time. I'll wager that the books to follow it will also be.
on April 5, 2010
I've spent the past hour and a half reading all the negative reviews for this book and I've seen some patterns emerge. First, people criticize the book on matters of preference, not literary quality. Second, people have had a bad reading experience because they expected something different than what the book really is. The truth is, there are many 5 star reviews (that I think the book deserves) that are not written in 5 star fashion. Many people do not know how to properly describe the book in a way that helps possible readers know if they would like it or not.
Here's the thing. I like this book a lot. I think it is one of the best books I've ever read. Here is what it's not: A fast-paced novel, a novel about the epic world-changing deeds of a hero, completely original, for everyone. The novel is not about world-changing feats of heroism. It is a slow-paced book about the development of an incredibly intelligent, but relatively normal boy, how he becomes a legendary figure, and some of the problems he faces in fostering that reputation and living up to it in the end. It is not the most original fantasy novel to ever hit shelves. It's originality comes not from it's world or characters (for goodness' sake, look at the map with the book. It's obviously an adaptation of Europe. Just like middle earth or countless other fantasy settings). The originality comes from subject matter more focused on the coming of age of a young boy and how, due to the existence of his impressive intelligence and the existence of a logical type of magic, certain events shape him into a legendary figure. There are plenty of cliche plot points, but not ones that I couldn't fully relate to. That said, the character is a very intelligent, but often foolish and arrogant, teenage boy. Not everyone can relate to him, but that also doesn't make it a bad book.
What I loved about this book was the main character. I have read many fantasy books with unbelievable characters. Often times, their behavior seems overly emotional or angsty. When I think about the people I know, I feel like people are often times as irrational as characters in those books, but I tend to not be. I can't stand when character conflict is built up on small disagreements that would easily be solved if one person cleared up a misunderstanding by simply talking to the other party. Very few such situations arise in this book which makes me happy because I seldom let those situations arise in my own life. The love story, while simple puppy-love is something myself and all of my friends went through at some point in our teen years, and I love that the main character is afraid of failure and making mistakes. Often times his problems come from lack of action rather than stupidity or brashness. Almost every man, whether he admits it or not, has a deep fear of failure. Kvothe is so real on so many levels, and his actions follow logically with his personality. It was impossible for me not to get fully immersed in the story.
All of that said... one last thing. I would be remiss if I didn't also say that this is the first book I have read that made me cry since I read "Where the Red Fern Grows" in 5th grade. And I cried like a freaking baby.
I always read the negative reviews of books I liked. For one, I think people can be much more detailed about what they don't like than what they did. Second, I just want to know what made people dislike something I liked.
There seems to be an overall theme amongst the negative reviews that Kvothe is unlikable--but most of these reviews contradict themselves. They don't like him because he's arrogant, but then also complain that he's too perfect to be realistic and has no flaws. I think Rothfuss's intentions were to make Kvothe's arrogance one of his biggest flaws. Imagine you caught on to many subjects in school very fast, were number one in your class and had a relatively quick wit. You'd probably be arrogant, too, as I know the smart, popular people in my high school were. And it's Kvothe's arrogance that constantly gets him into trouble.
The theme of Rothfuss's book, to me, is the difference between the reality of a man's life and his actions, and the stories other men tell about him. That's why we begin with him in a quiet inn, then cut to local patrons telling wild tales. We are introduced to a character, The Chronicler, whose sole purpose in "life" is to find the truth about stories, to debunk myths and legends. But fantasy books *are* the stuff of myths and legends--dragons, fair maidens, faeries, wizards. So how do you tell the story of a renowned magical hero without the requisite exaggeration and outright lies? Without turning the hero into an unrealistic beacon of flawless unrelenting perfection? You tell both stories--the ones people want to believe, and the story that comes closest to the truth. And the truth is Kvothe is a rash, impulsive, sometimes selfish and very often stupidly arrogant man. These traits get him into endless trouble, which he sometimes weasels his way out of through his wit and talents.
You are given Kvothe's many legendary titles (like Bloodless) and then learn the slightly less-than-mystical reason why he was given that quasi-true moniker. What's masterful about Rothfuss's work here, however, is that even when you tear down the myths about Kvothe and get to the "real" story, Kvothe still emerges a hero. If that is too unbelievable for you, if it's not realistic for a character to be truly heroic and truly talented and truly great despite his flaws, then you won't like this story. It's just not cynical enough for you.
This is the kind of novel that fantasy readers dream of reading. It's the kind of novel would-be writers dream of writing. Excellent writing, deeply complex characters, careful revelations and wonderful plot twists. I haven't enjoyed a debut fantasy novel this much since Barry Hughart's "Bridge of Birds" or Rosemary Kirstein's "The Steerswoman."
The protagonist, Kvothe, is seemingly hiding as an innkeeper. But there are nasty creatures about, that may or may not be attracted to him. After Kvothe rescues a bard, he ends up telling the bard his life story. So you get the back story on a nearly-mythical wizard, mixed with increasingly dark events happening in the present. It is an extremely effective way to to tell a story. It certainly kept me up all night. And I can truthfully say I savored each of the 660 plus pages.
Maybe the best part is that Rothfuss, in his blog, says all three books in the trilogy are written, and will be released at one year intervals. I can't wait.
This is about as good as high fantasy gets. An imaginative, powerful and compelling story that is exceptionally well told. My compliments to Mr. Rothfuss. And my very highest recommendation to readers.
With hundreds of reviews and several customer discussions on its Amazon page, "The Name of the Wind" aroused my curiosity. Some negative comments appeared calculated to smear while some positive comments seemed equally overdone. I do not doubt there are both heart-felt one and five star reviews posted here, but isolated comments from both camps seemed disingenuous. I had to see what all the fuss was about. (Congratulations to anyone who thought such disagreement and vitriol would help market the book... you got me!)
Of 722 total pages, I estimate that there were less than 200 pages of compelling narrative taken altogether. Most were located in the latter half of the book. It was not necessarily poorly written, there was just a lot of pointless detail. Ignoring for a moment the overarching plot device of a legendary hero narrating his tale to a scribe, the narrative of the book can be reasonably broken down into the following sections: 1. Kvothe as a trouper with his family; 2. Kvothe as a street urchin in the large city of Tarbean; 3. Kvothe at the university. The first two sections take almost 250 pages. They could have been greatly abbreviated without any ill-effect to the story. The final section also suffers from dead weight resulting in very slow pacing.
The first-person narrative introduced some difficulties for me. Kvothe seems to dearly enjoy hearing himself talk. Maybe as a hero it is his right, but he seems just a tad too pleased with himself at times. Some quips were witty while others fell flat. Some thoughts were inspiring while others were corny or self-evident. He actually says, "Attend to me as I draw back the curtain to reveal a long-kept minstrel's secret..." (page 477). Groan! I wonder if Chronicler rolled his eyes. He took himself and his tale a little too seriously at times. In a few instances, Kvothe hints at a greater context or another anecdote but refuses to share it. It felt like a bit of a cop out (planting a seed in the reader's mind without actually working for it; i.e., fully developing the narrative).
Another bitter pill for me was that a lot of the drama seemed forced or contrived. Every time things were going well or smoothly, the rug would inevitably be pulled out from under Kvothe. The tension did not seem to arise organically. Instead, it felt like the author set him up just to knock him down again.
The characterizations suffered on a couple fronts. Various characters were tired clichés (mean-spirited schoolmaster, haughty rich student) and others were not well developed. Kvothe's two best friends at the university (and their relationships) seemed weakly established.
It appears to be en vogue of late for fantasy novelists to verbalize their conscious efforts to defy the conventions of the genre. A theme throughout this book is that things did not occur neatly or tidily because this is not a story or fairy tale. Yet it still read just the same to me. Apparently telling us the story is not a story is no reliable means to escape the conventions. This is not fantasy literature's first flawed hero or legendary figure who is revealed to be less than his image.
I struggled to finish the book. It was only on my last day of reading that I decided to rate it at three stars instead of two. There is some pretty good stuff here. There's just a whole lot of frustrating nonsense you must be willing and prepared to wade through. I honestly do not know if I will read the next installment(s).
on February 4, 2015
On the bright side, Rothfuss creates a world of interesting places with fascinating mythology. Sadly, he fills it with some of the most boring characters in fiction. I made myself finish it because I wanted it to get better, but as I got further into the story I was rewarded with more and more moments of eye-rolling and wondering when it would be over.
This is the story of Kvothe, who is absolutely freaking amazing at absolutely everything. Every obstacle comes across as another chance for the author to show you how truly stupendous and clever Kvothe is, what an amazing musician he is, what an amazing fighter he is, how incredible he is at magic, how quick witted and silver tongued he is, how good at math, medicine, acting, urban survival, wilderness survival, horseback riding, underwater basketweaving... you name it, and he's already mastered it.
Other than Kvothe, there's a parade of completely undeveloped characters who primarily serve the roll of also showing how awesome Kvothe is. These include:
- Kvothe's friends, who exist to occasionally tag along with Kvothe and not do much.
- Kvothe's enemies, who are all sinister and have no apparent redeeming qualities. Their primarily role in the story is to be repeatedly outwitted by Kvothe).
- Kvothe's teachers, whose primary role in the story is to be secretly impressed by Kvothe's amazingness while putting on mysterious airs.
- Kvothe's love interest, Denna. There are pages devoted to telling you how indescribably perfect she is. After a few of those passages, I wanted to gouge my eyes out whenever she made an appearance.
All of these characters have names, but for the most part you won't really care what they are. If this were a movie, they'd be listed in the credits as things like "Boy #1" and "Angry Teacher." Did I mention how heroic Kvothe is?
on November 14, 2011
My name is Kvothe. My awesome heroic account narrated by me is pure truth, I assure you. Do not worry folks. You're looking for a review. I'm giving you one. We'll get to that in a minute. But first, find some time to listen to me.
You don't have time? What makes you think you can leave here, knowing what you know? (I said this exact sentence in my book.)
Now you want to listen to me after I gave you a death threat? Good. When you take note, do not presume to change a word I say. (I also said this in the book!)
I'm gifted. Not just gifted in one way, I'm gifted in every freaking way. I'm skilled with music, acting, medicine, chemistry, alchemy, things you might call magic. In fact, anything cool, you name it.
When I was only about twelve, I devoured in months lessons grown-ups would take years to learn. I had flash-fast, word for word, page for page memory. They ended up paying me instead of charging me for tuition. I was the youngest in quite a while. In barely a week, I owned a teacher so hard, embarrassed him in front of the class, making him hate me for life. In return, I was punished unfairly but also rewarded with a rank students took years to earn - I only took a few days. I saved women. One of the most beautiful girls in the school even invited me into her room, which I refused, of course. I was too pure to do that. I bested my rivals every time we confronted each other, in this book, at least. They accepted me as one of the musical genius, and I was the youngest to gain that recognition, even after my rival played dirty and tried to ruin my performance. By hurting him, I earned another rank. And the best part is, it didn't stop there.
You see, I was brilliant. Not just your run-of-the-mill brilliance either. I was extraordinarily brilliant. (I said exactly this in my book too. Word for word!)
Not yet apparent in this book, but printed on the back cover, I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. My name is Kvothe, not Mary Sue. You may have heard of me.
You see, I said I would give you a review, but I don't even have to. Because by the time you reach here, I'm pretty sure you get the point.
on June 2, 2010
I'm completely mystified by this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the first quarter of the book, but then the book just fell apart.
First, Denna. Are we supposed to enjoy reading about the maddening and nonsensical non-relationship between Kvothe and Denna? I couldn't decide if I was supposed to like Denna or see her as the evil temptress our hero's misplaced love for whom will bring about about his downfall. In the end I'm still not sure, and Denna remains a non-person, a sketch of a character with little to recommend her. I found myself disconnecting from Kvothe because of her. It wasn't just that she was unworthy of his affections, although that's true. It wasn't just that Kvothe was such an inept, passive, fumbling, virginal twit when it came to pursuing (or decidedly not pursuing her). A little bit of that as part of a growing process in a teenaged character makes sense. But it was that the book seemed to focus completely unselfconsciously and without irony on a clueless teenager in the friend-zone with a troubled, wounded-bird-type teenaged girl. Is high school drama of this low variety what we really want in a fantasy novel?
2nd, the Chandrian. Has there ever been as mystifyingly unscary and uninteresting a supernatural villain as the Chandrian? After (almost) finishing the first book, I could care the less about them. And the fact that I didn't find the Chandrian a compelling villain took away from the tragicness of the death of Kvothe's parents and made me ambivalent toward his desire for revenge. And those terrible nursery rhymes that hold the key to understanding them (what's their plan? What's their plan? Chandrian ugh). Not well done.
3rd, the world. I know really next to nothing about the world Kvothe lives in. I don't know the politics, history, much of the culture or anything about the surrounding nations. There are plenty of fantasies that are intentionally vague about faraway lands, but this doesn't seem to be something purposeful here, but rather something the author just didn't have time for.
4th, the writing. What the heck was the point of this long, wandering interlude where Kvothe goes to the village to investigate the wedding massacre? This book has no pacing or focus. It speeds up, slows down. Rothfuss adds characters that don't contribute anything to the plot and then forgets about them. The dialogue is snappy at some points, but at others it is completely incongruous with the setting, e.g. "witty" romantic banter while standing in the aftermath of a massacre or facing down a drug-addled lizard (seriously?!??!!!?).
All in all, I read the book, and at times I was completely drawn in. I would say the 2nd half of the book was extremely disappointing. I think that the author had an unfinished manuscript with some potential, and his editor did him a disservice by publishing it as is. For a good first book in a series that's a bit long and winding look at The Darkness that Comes Before. Compare how much happens in that book with how much happens in the Name of the Wind.
on July 13, 2015
Ursula LeGuinn and George RR Martin said this is the best thing written in over a hundred years! I whole-heartedly agree! At the beginning of this summer, I climbed a mountain in Switzerland one morning and started reading at the top. I couldn't put it down! When I started to get up several hours later, I noticed spiders had built webs from my shoulders to the nearby shrubbery! I hadn't moved for so long because the author's writing is THAT enthralling! I've already bought copies for three close friends!
on January 24, 2013
I was actually quite surprised by how many people actually like this book that much. I probably underestimated the power of Mary Sue characters. Apparently a lot of people still really like this kind of perfect people doing amazing things in fantasy genre. My major issue with this book is its main character Kvothe and his many adventures.
Kvoth is perfect in every possible way, even flaws (his arrogance or naivete) are portrayed in a positive light. He is extremely smart, when I say smart, I don't mean IQ 180 kind of smart, I mean "arguably the smartest the person in the world" kind of smart. Early on in the book, the author spend entire chapter describing how he learnt the most difficult language in 1 week, and how he deciphered a complicated code in mere hours. He's extremely talented with music at a very very young age, not only he can play songs, he can play emotions, he can play scenery, he can play 7 string lute with 2 string broken, he can play THE most complicated song with 1 string broken and still stun his audience and won the price. He's handsome (that goes without saying, all fantasy people are handsome, unless they're bad guys or unimportant peasants). He is the youngest to be admitted in THE university (seems there's only 1 university in this fantasy world), and he's the youngest to receive a highly regarded credential, and he's the one who achieve that credential in the shortest amount of time. I can go on and on and on about how amazing and absolutely awesome this person is.
The book also created bunch of supporting characters, much like the Harry Potter books. All the good guys adores Kvoth, and all the bad guys hate him. You can basically separate good guys and bad guys not by their own deed, but by their attitude towards Kvoth. Everything happened to him happened out of bad luck or malice of bad people. He always thrived triumphantly against devastating disasters. Even when he made mistakes out of his own arrogance, the book go extra miles to justify his action, throw in a villain to take the responsibility for Kvoth, and make everything all sympathetic again for him.
Halfway through the book, I have nothing but loath and disdain for this character, not because he's a villain, but because he's the most self-important and arrogant little brat I have read, and the book worship this guy like some kind of demigod, giving him all the excuses, removing all his responsibilities, creating all the opportunities for him to be awesome.
What's not helping is that I was reading A dance with Dragons at the same time, and the comparison makes the book even more unbearable. On one hand, I have amazing characters like Cercei and Arya with incredible depths and personality; on the other hand I have Kvoth, with his incredibly unbelievable smart and talent, and being love by all the secondary characters through out the book. On one hand, I have the complicated interpersonal relationships between multiple characters with love, hate, lust, manipulation, betrayal all tangled together, you don't know where love stops where betrayal starts; on the other hand, I have the black and white, hate him or love him, 2 dimensional relationship that Kvoth seem to enjoy with the people around him, and the most juvenile puppy love that's probably only a little bit better than Twilight.
Character development aside, the book is also annoys me to no end with its endless rambling. I do believe the principle of "show not tell". The author not only tell too much, he felt the need to justify his narrative every step of the way. For example, Kvoth went through a tragedy early on as a child and he wandered the woods in a numb state for a while. The book have to constantly remind me "oh I'm just a little kid, I went through such horrible tragedy and I'm totally numb". Yes I know, I just read that chapter 10 minutes ago, I didn't suffer amnesia and forget all about it! Don't tell me you're numb and sad, show me. The book justify Kvoth's every action, every plot twist, as if the author is not confident at the intelligence of his readers and he feel the need to explain it again and again.
All in all, the book is a huge disappointment with its tedious narrative and abysmal character development. I absolutely do not want to keep torturing myself with further reading.