Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Name of the Wind: Review

In which I once again thoroughly dislike a book that my bestest friend in the whole world loved and sent me as a present. I'm sorry to have to let the team down, Paula...and Ryan and Carrie and Michelle (and all my other friends who read and loved this book), but I'm just not feeling it. I wanted to. I really did. It sounded like a spectacular premise. Y'all seem to think The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss was amazing (and so did a bazillion folks on Goodreads). But...

Who doesn't give a flying fig about Kvothe, who is perfect at everything? Um...that would be me.


I spent nearly 800 pages waiting for Kvothe the Wonder Kid to impress me as much as he's impressed with himself and searched in vain for any real plot structure. Yes, I realize that this is the first book in a trilogy. But there really ought to be a sense of a story arc within this book. Here's what happened: Kvothe (pronounced like Quoth) has been living incognito as an innkeeper for the last so many years with his bestie Bast. Along comes a storyteller called Chronicler (aka Devan Lochees) who recognize the humble innkeeper as the Awesome. Legendary. Perfectly Heroic. Kvothe. Kvothe, after a bit of wrangling, agrees to tell his story. 

So...Kvothe grows up with a troupe of performers--not just any performers: THE Greyfallow Players. Where he learns ALL the things about performing. He's the best singer and the best actor and the best...well, you get the idea. They hook up with a man Kvothe calls Ben who teaches the young man about magic and science and all things. And Kvothe learns ALL the things much faster and more perfectly than anybody else has ever done before. Until Ben falls in love and leaves the troupe. Then along come some bad guys (Chandrians, we think) and they kill everybody in Kvothe's troupe, including his parents, and almost kill Kvothe, but he's spared. 'Cause he's the hero. He goes off and lives in the woods for a while and survives because once upon a time a man traveled with them who taught the boy (he's not even 15 yet at this point in the story) ALL the things about living in a forest--how to trap and dress animals, what plants to eat, what's good for boo-boos, how to move soundlessly, blah, blah, blah.Then he moves on to a town where he has to live off the streets and he teaches himself how to beg most effectively and how to pickpocket without getting caught and how to pick locks and blah, blah blah. And he's the BEST at ALL the street-smart things. Because he is. And then...he goes off to "Magic University" (where Ben always knew he'd go and be awesome) and even though he hasn't enough money to get in and is still only about 15 he takes the entrance exam and answers ALL the things in the most perfect way possible. And they let him in as the only student ever on fellowship. Because he is AWESOME (in case you haven't been paying attention). And he learns ALL the things better than anybody else has ever learned them because...(you know, AWESOME). And--sure, he has people beat him up and he runs into a dragon-like thing and he has to rescue a girl (Because that's what the women-folk are for in this story--to have babies (specifically Kvothe's mom to have Kvothe) OR to be rescued and/or drool over Kvothe)....but he always triumphs. Why? Because he's AWESOME. There is that pesky Ambrose at the university who takes a huge dislike to our wonder boy and plots revenge--but we won't find out about that until the next 800-page book (maybe--I don't know. I haven't read it and don't plan to). And by the end of this book the plot (if you want to call it that) has gotten us exactly to this point. Wonder boy is still at university and there are hints of Ambrose's revenge to come. Ta Da!

I realize that epic heroes are a thing in fantasy. I'm good with that. BUT I might have swallowed Kvothe's awesomeness a lot easier if A. His best pal Bast had told the story and it didn't come off as Kvothe's ego trip. "I'm awesome. I've always been awesome. My whole family and the troupe and the instructors at university and just about everybody (except Ambrose) thought I was awesome."  and B. The backstory had been condensed WAY down. Give us a condensed version of Wonder Boy's history and get on with the really interesting bits that are hinted at: Who or what are the Chandrians? Why--really (I know why Kvothe decides)--did they kill Kvothe's whole troupe? What are those evil spider-like critters that are introduced at the beginning of the story and what happens NOW with Kvothe and those things? Why does the book open with Kvothe waiting to die? He seems to be only in his twenties--why not send him off on a current adventure and show us right now why he's so awesome. SHOW--don't tell us "once upon a time when he was 15" stories. 

I'm sorry. But I was completely underwhelmed by this "epic" fantasy story. Bast and the Chronicler and their interactions were WAY more interesting than Kvothe. When Kvothe first started telling his story, the actual storytelling was pretty good. I was ready to settle down and be entertained. But then when the story seemed to consist of him telling how perfect he was at learning everything--he always learned whatever it was much quicker than anybody else--and very little real action took place, Rothfuss lost me. When I finished and still didn't feel like I had even the first hints of why this character becomes SO legendary, I felt let down. I wish I had spent 700+ pages reading something else.  for the hints of a good story, the occasional bursts of good prose and fair storytelling, and the few quotes that I gleaned.

Quotes
A poet is a musician who can't sing. Words have to find a man's mind before they can touch his heart, and some men's minds are woeful small targets. Music touches their hearts directly no matter how small or stubborn the mind of the man who listens (p. 113)

My parents danced together, her head on his chest. Both had their eyes closed. They seemed so perfectly content. If you can find someone like that, someone who you can hold and close your eyes to the world, then you're lucky. Even if it only lasts a minute or a day. (p. 120)

There's no good story that doesn't touch the truth. (p. 202)

I made my choice and I regret it to this day. Bones mend. Regret stays with you forever.

Music is a proud, temperamental mistress. Give her the time and attention she deserves, and she is yours. Slight her and there will come a day when you call and she will not answer. So I began sleeping less to give her the time she needed.

8 comments:

Cath said...

Excellent review, Bev. Completely agree with all that you said. I gave it a four on Goodreads but had ummed and ahhed over giving it a three. I was charitable because the bones of an interesting story were there and the writing was not bad. But oh God, the 'ego' trip and the women only being there as mothers or girlfriends drove me crazy. And all that time in the city begging! Yawn, yawn. So I just went over to Good reads and put my rating down to three. You're right though loads of people on my followers list there *love* it. We must've read a different book. ;-)

Bev Hankins said...

Cath: Yes. So many people I know loved this. Especially my best friend with whom I have shared the same tastes in SF/Fantasy for a long time. We seem to have begun to diverge....

Yvette said...

Never heard of this, Bev. And after reading your review, I'm not sorry. :) I'm not big on this sort of grandiloquent fantasy, though I do occasionally read fantasy. But I don't think I'll bother with this. Have you read Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner series? Now THERE's some good fantasy. I keep wishing someone would option it for a movie series. But it must be read in order. Come to think of it, I don't believe I've read the very latest - have to get cracking. And of course, there's the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik - the best fantasy series next to Tolkien and J.K. Rowling. At least, in my small view. :)

Bev Hankins said...

Yvette: honestly I don't read a lot of fantasy (so, no, I haven't read the Nightrunner series--or heard of it before you mentioned it). But when I have, my taste has usually been in line with my friend's. Not this time.

Cath said...

Can I second Yvette's recommendation of Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner series? Thank you. :-) Also love Robin Hobb's Liveship Trader books for strong female characters.

John said...

AWESOME & PERFECT heroes, loads of male characters, women relegated to the background as sex objects, mothers and wives... Guess what? Loads of crime novels filled with that crap too. I sort of despise the entire fantasy genre. I enjoyed reading some it when I was younger, but avoid it these days for all the flaws you point out in this book.

Never heard of this writer. So I looked up the guy using Google. When I saw his picture I thought, "Kook!" Am I shallow? ;^) In his Wikipedia profile I read this: "Mr. Rothfuss has two sons whose names he does not use on the internet for their privacy (on his blog he calls them "Oot" and "Cutie Snoo")" No comment.

fredamans said...

LOL Kvothe sounds like a painful character. I still think I might be with the majority on this one, should I read it, of course. Fab review.

Bev Hankins said...

John..."Oot" and "Cutie Snoo"?! Seriously?

And Fantasy has never been my go-to genre. I much prefer science fiction or speculative fiction that has a more firm possibility in reality. There are exceptions but they are rare (and my tolerance seems to have lessened as I've gotten older).