|2007, DAW Books. 662 pp (hardcover)|
“As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men.”
-Patrick Rothfuss (The Name of the Wind)
So stipulated, at almost 700 pages, Rothfuss’s debut novel, The Name of the Wind, should have enough words to stoke a mental inferno.
But even for all its hype and commercial success, I'd have gotten more spark from an empty Bic.
For a book its publisher claimed was the best fantasy manuscript they’d seen in thirty years – likening it to George R.R. Martin and Tad Williams – this book tips the scales with too many elements that are just average or awkward.
The story revolves around Kvothe, who we find as an unassuming innkeeper in a backwater village as the tale begins. But when a travelling scribe named Chronicler comes into town, we learn Kvothe is something of a legendary figure – one whose influence has somehow affected the world for good and for ill. At the scribe’s request, Kvothe reluctantly agrees to recite the story of his life for Chronicler to…well…chronicle.
This leads to one of the book’s awkward facets – the entire narrative is presented as a flashback. Kvothe recants the events of his youth to Chronicler, who dutifully scribbles them down. We learn of Kvothe’s childhood days growing up as a travelling bard. His hard times as an orphan on the rough streets of the city of Tarbean. His eventual admittance to the university and exploits in the study of magic. His pursuit of the beautiful and free-spirited Denna.
But little, if anything about the events surrounding the “present” Kvothe (the appearance of demonic creatures, Kvothe’s descent into a shadow of his former self, his Fey companion Bast) have any discernable relationship to the tale he relates of his earlier days. Ever.
As this is the first installment of The Kingkiller Chronicle series, these connections will presumably be made clear in the sequels. But when the end of book one comes, we still don’t understand the relationship between the events surrounding the Kvothe reciting the narrative and the events of his life story.
In fact, when the end of book one comes, it’s not really the end of anything. Kvothe simply tells Chronicler something to the effect of, “That’s a good place to stop,” and the story cuts off mid-flow. I’m all for cliffhangers and hooks leading into the next volume, but the story arc of a given volume should stand on its own. This one doesn’t.
My final gripe before covering some of the good parts. Adverbs.
When I decided to get serious about writing, the first thing those more experienced in the craft pounded into my head was the wisdom of Stephen King:
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
The Name of the Wind has enough “ly” dialogue tags to take us all the way down to the Ninth Circle. And back again. I submit to you this example, plucked from some of the earlier pages:
“I’m joking, Bast.” He gave a weak smile. “Still, it would have been nice.”Real-ly?
“No, Reshi, it most certainly would not have been nice, " Bast said emphatically. “People would have come from all over to see it,” he repeated derisively. “Indeed.”
|"The road to hell is paved with adverbs." - Stephen King|
Still, for all its awkward construction and prose, The Name of the Wind does shine in a few areas. The magic system is original and fascinating, riffing on the ancient notion that knowing the true name of a thing gives power over that thing. The university Rothfuss has dreamed up is a rich, well-executed setting – deliciously stratified and full of contentious politics. And Kvothe’s love interest, Denna, is an interesting and conflicted character. So much so that most of the time she upstages the protagonist.
Future installments may add more momentum and deliver on the vague promises of the opening volume. But with all the flaws in The Name of the Wind, it’ll probably be a cold day in Cocytus before I end up reading them.