I just spent about two months of my life trudging through Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind and now look back at the experience with decidedly mixed feelings. The e-book was 872 electronic pages long. If you have read many e-books, you know that is a door-stop sized e-book. And it is just volume 1 of a 3 book series. There are long books that make for very brisk reading. Unfortunately this is not one of those books. Not much happens in all those pages. Other shorter and probably more worthy books that I want to read have been piling up, patiently waiting for me to finish The Name of the Wind. I am one of those poor souls who, once taking up a book, will finish it no matter what. There have been enough occasions when a slow start turns into a terrific finish, so I hate to quit a book in the middle. My policy on quitting a series of books is not so strict, however. If an author can’t establish my interest in the first book of a series, than it’s time to move on to another author.
Regarding spoilers, I will just discuss the general structure of the book and some characters, but if you want to read the book without any foreknowledge, then stop reading this post now. First of all, the book is not all bad. It is Mr. Rothfuss’s first book and there are some very good parts to it. Inside these 872 pages there is trapped a good 300 page fantasy novel. The problem is that not much happens in those 872 pages. The book is essentially one long flashback of the life history of the central character, a magician turned inn-keeper named Kvothe. The start of the book is promising, with a group of bumpkins that could have come out of a Thomas Hardy novel sitting in Kvothe’s inn relating stories that hint of dark forces on the move: demons, black supernatural spiders, and so forth. Kvothe is soon revealed to the reader as more than just an inn-keeper. He has a deep past, which the reader will spend the rest of the book starting to explore (I suspect this is the subject of all 3 books). He has a student named Bast who lives in the inn who is non-human and concerned that this teacher is just a shadow of his former self. Along comes a chronicler named, aptly, Chronicler, whose job it is to write down Kvothe’s life story, which for some reason needs to be written down. So the beginning of the book is just a frame to set up the autobiography of what might be one of the most insufferably annoying central characters of any book.
Kvothe experiences tragedy early in his life, is forced to live as a beggar for a while, eventually gets himself entry into a University that among other things teaches magic with eccentric professors, has a rivalry with a rich kid, meets a girl who constantly dumps him for superficial relationships with other men, and spends the book trying to find out about a group of evil beings known as the Chandrian who were responsible for the tragedy in his life. There is much that is reminiscent of Hogwarts here though I have to admit this is coming from someone who has only read one Harry Potter book and seen just a few of the movies. Anyway, Kvothe spends much of book trying to get into the University Archives from which he was banned early on because of a stupid action on his part in order to research the Chandrian so he can track them down, only to find the books in the Archives are indexed chaotically, so maybe it will take another 872 pages to find the right book. So there is very little plot. Things do happen, but much of it is uninteresting and there is little that drives the story forward.
Kvothe himself is fairly annoying. Seemingly without much effort he is a master lute player, master magician, and generally just better than everyone else. Nevertheless he spends the book impoverished, only occasionally translating his skills into material rewards. His arrogance constantly gets him into trouble. He is overly trusting and quite gullible for such a self-proclaimed genius. And the great love of his life, Denna, just seems like a caricature of a superficial female, using her good looks to mooch off of men that she doesn’t really care about, and constantly walking off and abandoning our main character. One wonders what he sees in her. Other characters such as Wil and Sim, Kvothe’s student friends, are interchangeable, and Ambrose is a stereotypical school bully without redeeming qualities. The female characters are mostly flat too. Denna gets the most time on the page, but in not endearing at all. Fela is present mostly to have someone to be rescued by Kvothe. Auri is a half-mad former female student who lives in the sewers and admittedly is charming. The other half-mad character, Professor Elodin, is also well-drawn and interesting. But overall it is hard to get excited about a book when most of the main characters are self-centered and annoying.
As mentioned the book could have used a good editor. Are editors a dying breed? I have read many recently published books that have extra fluff that should have been cut out. And I hate to be a grammar Nazi (that’s my wife’s job), but both the author and his editor need to review the principal parts and usage of the verbs lie and lay. “He lay a firm hand on my shoulder…” (page 95) is not correct. This error is repeated countless times in the book. It is ironic because Rothfuss thanks in the Acknowledgments his high school English teacher. I’m sure his teacher is proud of his student, but I can picture him shaking his head at some of the grammar.
So, will I read the remaining two books (only one of which is published so far)? Maybe. I’m curious how it turns out. I would bet the second book is tighter than the first. First novels are first novels, and, as someone who has never written a first novel, I can appreciate the accomplishment. Meanwhile though, other books beckon me…