You may or may not have heard of Patrick Rothfuss' debut. Word is beginning to spread around the internet, so chances are that you'll be hearing more and more about this one soon. Last fall I received an email from Rothfuss' agent, Matt Bialer, asking me if I'd consider reading an ARC of The Name of the Wind. Bialer revealed that Betsy Wollheim, Daw Books' president, considered the novel the best fantasy debut she's ever read in over 30 years as an editor. Well, let it be said that a lot less is required to pique my curiosity! Both wanted me to be one of the first reviewers to get a crack at it, and I wish to thank them for thinking of me. Apparently they respect my reviews. . . Imagine that!;-)
Of course, when a debut comes with such high praise on its front cover, it's impossible to treat it as just another debut. For obvious reasons, all of a sudden you find yourself judging it against works such as Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World, Tad Williams' The Dragonbone Chair, George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, Stephen R. Donaldson's Lord Foul's Bane, and other opening chapters of superior series. Understandably, this can have positive as well as negative repercussions.
In a nutshell, The Name of the Wind recounts the tale of Kvothe, a young man destined to become the most powerful wizard the world has ever seen. It begins with Kvothe's childhood years, first as a member of a traveling troupe of musicians and artists, and then as a street urchin forced to fend for himself in a violent environment. Later, the story shifts to his adolescence, at a time when he is admitted to the University, renowned school of magic.
Reading along, I found the structure of the story a little odd. The better part of the novel is comprised of Kvothe's back story, with only a few scenes occurring in "real time." Having never encountered something like it, I discussed it with Betsy Wollheim. She did shine some light on the matter, and it turns out that Rothfuss' first trilogy will focus on the main character's past, with occasional tantalizing hints of things to come. A second trilogy will then recount Kvothe's "present" tale.
The Name of the Wind is told in a first person narrative. Hence, other than those "real time" segments told in the third person, most of the book is told from Kvothe's perspective. Those who have a problem with single-POV narratives similar to that of Robin Hobb's The Farseer and The Tawny Man trilogies, consider yourselves warned. The main danger in using the first person narrative is that the entire story rests on the shoulder of a single character. If you like Kvothe, terrific. If you don't, that's where it gets tricky. I had no problem with that facet of the novel, but I'm acutely aware that some readers don't care much for the first person perspective.
The worldbuilding doesn't play a big role in this debut. And yet, Rothfuss hints at a much vaster depth, hopefully to be explored in future sequels. The author has an eye for details, and the story does come alive as you turn the pages. The magic system appears to be well thought of and interesting, and I'm eager to learn more about it.
The Name of the Wind is a character-driven book. As a first person narrative, it can't be anything but that. The supporting cast is composed of a relatively small number of characters, which is rather rare for a book of this size. I'm looking forward to learning more about them in the upcoming installments.
The novel suffers from only one flaw -- a flaw shared by various Daw books: it's too long. I feel that Rothfuss' attention to details slows the pace in several portions of the book. Now, the tentative pagination of The Name of the Wind weighs in at 904 pages, making this debut a heavyweight. I feel that some scenes could have been truncated and others excised without the readers missing out on any major plotlines. In my opinion, this would quicken the rhythm and improve the overall quality of the book.
Unlike some debuts that are not easily accessible -- Hal Duncan's Vellum and Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon come to mind -- I'm persuaded that The Name of the Wind can appeal to both neophytes and long-time fans of the genre. As such, it's similar to both Brandon Sanderson's Elantris and Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself in that regard. It's also a throwback work, which brought fantasy novels likes Raymond E. Feist's Magician and David Eddings' Pawn of the Prophecy to mind.
Although a bit overlong, The Name of the Wind is a solid and ambitious effort. Two years ago I would have claimed that it could well be the debut of the year. But Hal Duncan and Scott Lynch have forced us to look at debuts in a different way. Still, Patrick Rothfuss wrote an auspicious debut, and I'm curious to discover the rest of Kvothe's tale.
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