I’m a bit rusty! I think this is the longest I’ve gone without writing a post since I started this blog. I’ll try to get back into the swing of reviewing books from last year soon, but for now let’s talk about The Name of the Wind.
(vague spoilers, hard to summarize without)
The Name of the Wind is primarily a first-person narrative told by the protagonist Kvothe (pronounced, the book says, similarly to “quothe”). The main story centers on his childhood and teenage years, beginning with his travels in caravans with his theater troupe family, followed by years spent homeless on the streets of a major city, and then his time spent at a university learning magic, artificing, and other skills. The setting is high fantasy (though magic seems to be specialized and mostly feared) with more or less medieval technology.
This book is quite long, and the series is thus far unfinished with an expected publication date of the third and final book of the trilogy sitting somewhere around July 2022, based on a quick googling. If neither of those bother you and you like heroic fantasy with creative magic and lore laced with mystery and dread, then you might enjoy this book. Reader beware, though, the vast majority of the references to and writing for the women characters is eye-roll-worthy. It gets better briefly, but then goes back to annoying. I did like the book overall, though, and will probably pick up the second one when I feel the fantasy itch again.
I really enjoyed the first part of the book with Kvothe in his family’s caravan, learning basic ‘sympathy’ (one of the magic systems) bindings from Abenthy. Kvothe’s parents had a healthy relationship dynamic, pretty much everyone in the troupe was kind to each other, and it was interesting to learn about the lore and magic in bits and pieces from Ben’s teachings and Kvothe’s father’s songs. But of course, in a fantasy novel about a tragic hero, if the protagonist has a good family dynamic then something horrific and brutal is going to happen to them. The Chandrian slaughtering Kvothe’s troupe was not a surprise, but it fit well as a dramatic end to his peaceful life and the predictability of the tragedy for this kind of story heightened the dread.
The next section of the book was a lot harder for me to get through. It felt like the author was trying to offset Kvothe’s intense Mary Sue syndrome with a hefty quantity of gratuitous suffering while he lived on the streets in Tarbean. When I glanced over Goodreads reviews for this book, most of the negative reviews seemed to take issue with Kvothe’s great-at-literally-everything characterization. I get that, but I also think it kind of makes sense for a story about a living legend. Ordinary people don’t tend to become legends. The book picked back up for me when Kvothe gets to the University, and readers get a welcome relief from the Tarbean hardships gauntlet with Kvothe getting a few quick wins at the school. From there, the book hits a decent rhythm in following Kvothe’s progress through his classes and his struggles to keep up his finances. I liked the sidequest-like subplot of Kvothe earning his talent pipes by performing with a broken lute string the way he learned to in the woods in the time he spent wandering after his parents were killed. The Name of the Wind has a satisfying habit of bringing its apparently minor details back into the narrative in important ways.
The dramatic climax of the story (the showdown with the draccus in Trebon) was fulfilling in this way, bringing together many elements from the rest of the book that hadn’t seemed too important until the last act. It really feels like a culmination of Kvothe’s learning at that point in his life. He uses the heat-sink magic demonstrated in the fire in the Fishery to put out the burning buildings in Trebon. The denner resin that had been mentioned off and on throughout the Tarbean section, and Kvothe’s misunderstanding of how it would affect the draccus, becomes the reason he must confront the draccus. The draccus itself was thoroughly foreshadowed with the book about draccuses coming up a few times, including Kvothe borrowing it from Devi. The loden-stone that he uses to move the iron wheel was foreshadowed somewhere but I forget exactly how. The iron wheel itself was like the one in the tale that Trapis told about Tehlu using to destroy and seal the demon Encanis.
The Name of the Wind is a very story-conscious story. Stories feature prominently in action of the frame narrative, with the patrons of the Waystone orienting us to the world with stories about the Chandrian and Taborlin the Great. Kvothe learns most of what he knows about the villains in his world through stories from Ben, his parents, Skarpi, and Trapis. And Kvothe’s narration features lots of comparisons in the style of “if this were a fairy tale, here’s how it would have gone; but it isn’t, so this is what really happened…” I think those comparisons fall a little flat, though, given what I noted above about Kvothe being boringly flawless; the story nearly is a fairy tale, it just has more details and Kvothe is poor, which is pretty much the main source of all the trouble he has. I did, however, really like Bast’s remarks toward the end of the book about how we change to fit the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves: “It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. The story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”
My primary issue with this book, by far, is the way Rothfuss writes women. Most of the time the women characters, which are few and far between to begin with, are flat, monolithic, and waiting to be saved. Kvothe constantly describes the women in his life as sex objects and mysterious otherworldly creatures instead of fellow humans with depth and feelings. Sure, he’s telling the story of when he was about 15 or so, and maybe 15 year old boys would think of women that way. But he’s at least 25ish (as far as I remember) in the present, so why would a 25 year old keep mentioning how horny and awkward his 15 year old self was and how beautiful and unknowable all the women in his life were if he’s not still that dense? Kvothe’s descriptions of women are deeply irritating and one-track-minded, going so far as to mention how a draft blowing a blanket against one of his friends made her silhouette look naked. Come on. There were tons of my-eyes-are-going-to-get-stuck-in-the-back-of-my-head-if-I-keep-rolling-them-this-hard passages like “You wouldn’t think a girl in bandages with a blackened eye could be beautiful, but Denna was. Lovely as the moon: not flawless, perhaps, but perfect” (555). This nonsense briefly abates in the middle of the Trebon adventure with Denna, but picks back up again in force when she becomes inebriated from the denner resin and the author seems hell-bent on making sure readers know that Kvothe totally could’ve gotten with her at that time but is such a good guy for not hitting on a woman who isn’t sober. I’m probably going to pick up book two, so my fingers are crossed that the author’s characterizations of women get better.
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