Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Back in March, a friend of mine recommended this book to me. Being someone who wanders the shelves of my local Borders frequently, I had seen it numerous times, and heard good things about it, but I was always reading something else when it would catch my eye, and I'd think, "Okay, I'll pick you up later."

My friend tells me, "Do not make me fly out there and hurt you 'til you start reading it." He is six feet, four inches tall and a sergeant in the US Marine Corps. He can make good on the promise of pain, and I'm not inclined to give him any reason to do so. I picked up a copy, but due to various events going on with work, and the cruise we took in May, I didn't actually read the book until the end of June/beginning of July. Now I look at the calendar and realize that I've gone two months and haven't actually put up any review of it, so here we are.

Kvothe is a legend in his own time. He is a powerful wizard, and the stories people tell of him are two parts truth and one part rumor. Bast is his apprentice, with a checkered past of his own, and Chronicler...well...chronicles things, particularly the lives of famous individuals. Kvothe's story is one that Chronicler would love desperately to tell, and for a price, he'll get it. He simply has to record every word as it's spoken, keep up, and be prepared for the fact that it will take three days.

So begins Kvothe's tale, starting with his humble childhood as one of the Edema Ruh, which appear to be Rothfuss's version of gypsies. Storytelling, music, and sleight-of-hand are the young boy's bread and butter, along with basic training in real magic, called "sympathy," by Abenthy, an Arcanist trained at the University. A tragic event sends the eleven-year-old boy to the streets of Tarbean, where he spends years begging and hiding from the watch, until he finally finds an opportunity to attend the University himself.

At the book's end point, Kvothe is sixteen, and his adventure has only really begun. By the way, remember how I said it would take Kvothe three days to tell Chronicler his story? The Name of the Wind is Day One. Rothfuss is still finishing The Wise Man's Fear, which is Day Two, and it's due out March 1, 2011.

The story is extremely well-constructed. Pat is a master of pacing, and there aren't really any slow points in the book at all. Slow by the standard of the rest of the novel, maybe, but it's definitely a page-turner. Stylistically, I was initially a little dubious about some of the grammar choices made in the book, but I noticed something. The quirky items or things that set off my personal peeves (sentences ending in prepositions, or a somewhat melodramatic emotional description) happen in the parts of the book where Kvothe is telling the story. There is a distinct shift between Kvothe's voice, and Pat's own voice as narrator during the opening and closing chapters, and all of the interludes in between where we see Kvothe, Chronicler, and Bast interacting with each other and with the people living in the town nearby.

That capability to adjust your writing style not just for dialogue, but to remember to apply it to narration as well, is particularly impressive, and shows careful attention to detail. And one would probably expect that in a book that was written, edited, revised, and re-written over the course of nine years.

If you don't read it, I know a really tall man who'd like to have a chat with you.

The Name of the Wind: Day One; Mass Market Paperback, $8.99