Thursday 11 August 2016

REVIEW: The Name of the Wind

I'll give this 5* with no begrudging. I'm pretty easy with my 5*, they're not reserved for the best book I've ever read, just very good books. I thought The Name of the Wind was "very good". I read it in what for me was a very short span of time - it had that 'more-ish' quality that best sellers need.

Can I see what makes this the single best selling epic fantasy for a generation (apart from George Martin's series)? No. Excepting that perhaps the lesson is that to be head and shoulders above your competition in sales "all" you need is to be better by a nose - after that the non-linear dynamics of the market take over and elevate you to godhood.

I loved the writing, and that's very important to me. Rothfuss often treads the thin line between prose and poetry, and fortunately it's excellent poetry that he brushes up against. The quality of the writing breathes magic into even fairly ordinary scenes, and makes some of the important ones extraordinary.

The story itself is mostly compelling. It uses the reverse of the device I saw recently in Blood Song of a framing story that's not in the first person, delivering up a first person narrative. Our hero, Kvothe has bags of attitude and is a total genius at everything. To balance out his 'all power' we have his poverty, bad luck, tendency to dig himself into a hole, and his powerful enemies. 

Kvothe's real powerful enemy sits in the background as a motivator (& presumably story for books 2 & 3) while his 'school-boy' adversary at the university fills in for bad guy for most of the book.

Like Blood Song, and many other really successful books, TNOTW is at its core a school story. Harry Potter, Wizard of Earthsea etc all feature magic schools, for Blood Song and Enders' Game it was a battle school, but the point is that the schools + lessons + masters combo sells bucket loads if you write it really well and plumb it into a compelling larger picture.

With magic the school system also provides a painless way of educating your readers in the magic-system you have (by virtue of it being delivered through formal education) elected to use.

Was there anything wrong with it? For me the whole 'and then I broke another string' and 'I was very hungry and dirty in Tarbean' sections were rather slow and lengthy - I understand their role in the story but they felt overplayed. And at the end the whole business with the draccus felt tangential and diluted the endgame for me. But no, nothing of great significance.

A final observation: throughout the book we (like Kvothe) are constantly aware of money. Kvothe's poverty is a driver and source of tension. He is constantly coming into money, losing it, incurring costs. We almost know the contents of his purse at any time and the price of all his needs. To me this was very reminiscent of Dostoyevsky's work (and to a lesser extent, Dickens) where a similar focus on the number of coins in our character's pocket is maintained and the need to cover their expenses drives much of the story.

In short though, given the impossible level of expectation built up by years of hearing how incredible this book is ... the text made a very good attempt to live up to its reputation.

You can 'like' my Goodreads review here, if you like.

An index of my reviews.

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