Sunday, 18 May 2014

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

It isn't that there is anything particularly new here, but it's done so well that that doesn't matter. It is, after all, not so much about what it's about as how it is about it. (I know that may sound strange coming from me, given that I've spent so much time bemoaning lazily used fantasy tropes the last couple of months. The keyword there, though, is lazily.) So while this is not revolutionary in terms of epic fantasy, it is damned well-told and thoroughly engrossing.

Part of what I particularly like is the framing device. In other hands, I think this would have fallen flat, but it works for me here. We are being told a story about the past, by a figure of legend. So, we know he survives, but we also know he has at some point in the past, been a huge figure of myth and mystery, and that he has somehow fallen or been exiled or self-exiled himself to the life of a failing bartender in a small village. (A small village that might be under attack by demons. Why did it have to be demons?)

And this works remarkably well - the tension is not about whether or not he survives - we know he does. It's finding out how that path was travelled and what raised him so high and then brought him so low.

This book is barely the first part of that story, but this as a way of creating tension in unexpected ways is very well done. (It also circumvents my desire to read the last few pages partway through. I know I'm not the only one who does this, as my review of Gone Girl that is at least half about that particular tendency is my most popular review ever.)

Kvothe, the figure of legend, accompanied by a fae, and tracked down by not just a storyteller, but THE storyteller in this world, is the narrator. As he tells his story, he starts as a young boy travelling with his family of entertainers - a good life, until his father stumbles on knowledge some would and do kill to keep. Lost and destitute, he becomes a streetrat, and these sections are harsh and unwelcoming.

Finally, he gains his initial heart's desire - entry to the magical university, where he skirts to bare lines of poverty while trying to scrape together tuition every semester - think Harry Potter without the bank vault full of gold. And with more danger. And serious rivalries. And being banned from the Library.

The edge of poverty really adds something to this book, and Rothfuss is eloquent in explaining what that does to Kvothe's decision-making processes - he's not prone to thinking of consequences at the best of times, but when driven to the line, makes even bolder and riskier choices.

Kvothe is, of course, as befits a mythic hero, also a great musician, and it is through that that he meets the love of his life for a second time. And a third time. But this is not an easy relationship, and there are secrets yet to be told about this woman. I like the difficulties here, and although it serves to keep what he wants continually out of Kvothe's grasp, it seems rooted in the female character, rather than arbitrary problems that you might see elsewhere.

This is good writing, boys and girls. And while it may have many of the trappings of epic fantasy, it does them well. I am looking forward to the next chapter of what made Kvothe so awesome, and what his eventual downfall was.

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