Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

This is going to be a short review. If you have not read THE NAME OF THE WIND by Patrick Rothfuss, and if you are a fan of epic, character-development style fantasy, then read it. I highly recommend it. I loved it.

Review over. Begin analysis.

THE NAME OF THE WIND (NAME for short) is a character development novel. Many moons ago, I wrote a commentary post on how I love character development novels. In my world, a character development (CD) novel is a novel where the development of the character is the plot.

My favorite CD novels to this point were The Clan of the Cave Bear and The Deed of Paksenarrion. (For the purposes of this post, I will leave off beloved CD classics, such as Les Miserables and Jane Eyre.) I can now add a third to the list. NAME muscles its way in between Clan and Deed.

I judge CD novels with several criteria. One, how lovable is the character? Two, how believeable are the character's motivations? And three, how much depth does the villain have?

My favorite CD novel, Clan of the Cave Bear, scoes strongly in all three areas. We watch Ayla grow from a young child to a girl-woman in her early teens, and we cheer her every step of the way. Her motivations are strong and convincing. She has been pidgeonholed into the role of a neanderthal female, and she has abilities well beyond that role. Her spirit chaffs under the yoke imposed by her beloved adoptive neanderthal family. And her curiosity and intelligence gets her into trouble again and again.

Broud, her foil (love that word!), has great depth. Despite his jealousy of her, he is willing to set it all aside when she saves his son's life. Only when he realizes that she witnessed his humiliation does his hatred well up again. He is a villain who struggles--the best kind.

NAME doesn't quite meet this ideal, which is why it hasn't knocked Clan off its pedestal. Kvothe was wonderfully loveable--right up until the point where he entered the university. Then, he changed on me. Before, he was a street rat who struggled to survive. Once in the University, he became foolishly arrogant. He needlessly antagonized a teacher and made an enemy of him over what seemed to me to be nothing more than a temporary setback. He also needlessly--in my opinion--made an enemy of another student. True, the student was a bully and did something very cruel. But the way Kvothe handled him--and the teacher--didn't do much to earn my sympathy. Instead, I felt that he he earned his enemies. I would have thought that all his years as a street rat would have instilled a bit of humility in him.

I also found myself questioning some of his motivations. He went to get a risky loan because he had "no way" of earning any money. Surely he, with all of his much-lauded brains--could have thought of some way to earn some cash. It's not like he didn't know the expense was coming. It seemed like a plot crutch to me.

It may seem like I'm beating up on poor Kvothe. But it's only because of the novel's excellence that the flaws stand out more. I would not have been so harsh with a lesser novel. Rothfuss has set the bar very high for his sequel, but it is not, I don't think, unsurpassable. Auel, with Clan, was unable--in my opinion--to ever match the excellence of Clan of the Cave Bear. The Valley of Horses was good, but it was marred by a love interest that was not worthy of Ayla. I read each successive book with less and less enthusiasm until today, when I have never bothered to read The Shelters of Stone at all.

As for the villains? Hemme and Ambrose have ample reason to hate Kvothe. I don't like or approve of their actions, but I understand why they hate him. As for Haliax, it is more difficult to say. According to legend, he was once a hero, once "among the best of us", but when his wife fell deathly ill, he sought unnatural power to heal her. The power didn't save her, but he was corrupted by the power. He tried to kill himself, but the power kept bringing him back.

I have a bit of trouble with the idea of a man becoming evil or doing something evil in order to bring about something good. Yet I see it again and again in fantasy, Anikin Skywalker being the most famous example. What do such people do with their consciences? I know the author wants to make the villain sympathetic, but sometimes I just want a Dark Lord. There are plenty of ambitious men in the world who are willing to do and say anything to achieve power. The best villains, in my mind, are the ones who have a flaw in their evil nature. Which, of course, is a spark of good. Lanre/Haliax has a spark of good, so this may be forthcoming in future books.

I'd love to see Haliax defeated by his on inherent goodness. In Les Miz, Javert became obsessed with capturing Jean Valjean, and he turned it into his life's work. When confronted with Jean Valjean's decency, he literally couldn't live with himself.

(It is a mark of this novel's excellence that I even think of reaching into the rarefied airs of Victor Hugo to find a villain against witch I can unfavorably criticize Haliax.)

What more than saves Kvothe's story is Kvothe, himself. The older Kvothe. The thirty-or-so-year-old Kvothe. The Kvothe who tried and failed to write his own story. The Kvothe who is waiting to die. This is a Kvothe who I can love.THE NAME OF THE WIND is a story told in the frame of Older Kvothe dictating his story to the famous Chronicler. Book one is Day One of the dictation. When Kvothe is dictating, the story is in first person. Elsewhen, the story is in third person. It works really well.

But I haven't said much about the plot. If you get the book, you'll notice that the cover blurb doesn't say much about the plot, either. Instead, it says these words that have been widely quoted by now:

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.

You may have heard of me.

So begins a tale unequaled in fantasy literature . . .
and so on and so forth.

And the music. Can I say something about the music? I am a middling musician. I play violin and piano at the intermediate level. I love both for different reasons, but nothing equals the violin, I 't think. When you get a good vibrato going and your fingers are sliding up and down the fingerboard almost of their own violation, landing on that upper C with perfect intonation, you can make that violin weep. But the strings? They can be a bitch to keep in tune. My violin seems to like a bit of humidity. I was forever tuning it when I lived in Arizona. I tune it here too, but the strings seem happier. They also seem more apt to unravel. Nothing like twisting those knobs only to feel a sudden zzzzip! followed by a dismaying slackness. And they are a bitch to replace.

Kvothe plays the lute. In one scene, he is on his own, with very few possessions other than his lute, and he is living in a cave. To pass the time, he practices his lute. I thought to myself, "The author had better think of the lute strings."

Boy does he ever. It becomes a major plot point. Bravo. I can't find anything on the author's website about him being a musician. But I bet he is.

Ok, I've been writing this for an hour and a half, so I think I've said all I want to say. The book lives up to its hype. Get it, read it, enjoy it. And thanks to all of you who stuck with me to read this lengthy post!

Long ago, I put up a post on the opening chapters.
Amazon USA, UK, Canada


LoopdiLou said...

Wow.. In between Clan and Deed?? Though in my list of most loved books Deed is higher then Clan, I will grant you Clan is better at CD... I may have to pick this one up though. Except that I read Clan and Deed around the age of 11 so they have that.. childhood nostalgia going for them.

Tia Nevitt said...

I first read Clan as a teenager and Deed in my 30s. I reread Clan many times, the last time at some point between ten and fifteen years ago (my late 20s, I think). Clan stands up very, very well to a "grown up" rereading. Her subsequent novels do not, in my opinion. My reread of the whole cycle ended with The Mammoth Hunters.

Our reading favorites are remarkably similar!

ediFanoB said...

What an impressive post.

First of all I never read Clan - I didn't like the setting - and I never read Deed ... so far.
After reading your blog I googled DEED in order to get more information.
FInally I decided to buy and read the DEED omnibus within this year.

Anyway you put a lot of interesting thoughtson the table. I'm no musician but I've been touched by reading the scenes when Kvothe is playing the lute.

I look forward to read THE WISE MAN'S FEAR.

Tia Nevitt said...

I have the DEED omnibus. I loved the trilogy, but it does have its flaws, most of which show themselves in the final volume.

I should have added that it seems to me that Rothfuss MUST be a musician. He knows enough about music to know about minor keys, and he understands the difficulty of playing a stringed instrument that is missing a string. I wonder if he knew about Paganini? Paganini was a famous violinist of another century, used to remove his strings to amaze his audience. Here is a quote from Paganini, himself:

"Looking for variety in the programs I executed at court, one evening--after having removed two strings from my violin (the 2d and 3d), I improvised a sonata entitled 'Scena amorosa,' the 4th string representing the man (Adonis) and the treble string the woman (Venus). This was the beginning of my habit of playing on one string, as this sonata was much admired, and I was asked if I could play on a single string. I replied: 'Certainly,' and forthwith wrote a sonata with variations..."

Apparently, Paganini mounted the G string where the A string goes. Not only would this make playing easier, but it would prevent slippage of the bridge, which is only held on the violin by the pressure of the strings.

The truth really is stranger than fiction!

ediFanoB said...

Blogs are a well of knowledge and your post about Paganini is a shining example for this.

K. said...

Tia, this is a terrific post. Very insightful and well-put. I enjoyed reading this very much!

Tia Nevitt said...

Thanks! I think you'll like the book even better!

Anonymous said...


Two things:

1. There is a snippet of the sequel to Name of the Wind over on Pat's Fantasy Hotlist:


2. Elizabeth Moon is working on a sequel to the Deeds of Paksenarrion. She's even set up a separate blog just for updates on her progress.


I haven’t read Rothfuss’ novel yet, but only because I’ve been putting off 1st person reading lately. I know I will be purchasing and reading this series sometime in the future though. From the bits I have read it’s clear Rothfuss is an excellent writer.

Thanks for the review!