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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Review: The Kingkiller Chronicle, Book 1: The Name of the Wind

I'm not sure whether I could truly call myself a fantasy fan. I've read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, plus The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Silmarillion is on my list, but other than that, I really haven't read much fantasy, unless That Hideous Strength (third book in C.S. Lewis' woefully underrated Space Trilogy). Then again, I've read almost the entire Redwall series, though that's more thud and blunder than anything else. Then, one day, I stumbled across this book series called The Kingkiller Chronicle, and added the trilogy to my list because the author, Patrick Rothfuss, wanted to buy Firefly. So, I finally ordered the first book, The Name of the Wind, from the library. Turns out it was some 600 odd pages long, with 92 chapters! I knew I was in this for the long haul. I finally finished reading it a month or so ago, and am glad to be done with it. But, you ask, was it any good? Yes, I think it was. Did I enjoy it? Well... sort of.

The Kingkiller Chronicle, Book 1: The Name of the Wind tells the story of Kvothe, a red haired prodigy born into a band of traveling actors and musicians. Opening in the present, Kvothe is shown running his own inn, while teaching a mysterious apprentice named Bast. A individual known only as "Chronicler" approaches him, wanting the record of his life. Kvothe agrees to sit down and dictate to him. Kvothe tells the story of his life in first person, broken up by interludes written in third person. He tells of how he grew up in band of traveling minstrels, tragically lost his family and friends, lived on the mean streets of the crime and poverty infested city of Tarbean, and later went to the University to learn magic. Along the way, he learns secrets, makes friends, and goes on incredible adventures.

Let me tell you, this thing is dense. It took me almost a year to read through the whole thing, where I had to check it out three separate times. If there's one good thing about this book though, it's that in spite of its length, not a word is wasted. Every last detail is used to some extent in this book. It has layers. Kvothe has layers, in that he's an insufferable genius, arrogant and foolhardy, but also has a heroic streak. His kind-of-girlfriend, Denna, is seemingly shallow, but is a troubled girl deep down. Even the thuggish jerk Ambrose has some layers to him. To be truthful, this whole book is one big character study of Kvothe, an epic tale of his journey to avenge his family and how he learns how to be a hero.

And yet it's not a coming of age story. Far from it. It's very much a high fantasy story, where fifteen year old Kvothe has already grown up, so the speak, and how he goes on this epic journey. He's an ace, in that he handles nearly everything he attempts expertly, accept perhaps his people skills. This story is also quite self aware, deconstructing several tropes of fantasy. Even the magic system is more like a science than anything else. This, of course, leads to a frightfully complicated system, which is rather difficult to wrap your mind around.

This book moves a bit slowly, but when it really gets going, boy does it go. I am, of course, referring to the climactic scene where Kvothe defends a small town from a ferocious beast. This particular scene was nothing short of epic and momentous, just what the book needed after 75-plus chapters of buildup, followed by some fifteen chapters of denouement. Nevertheless, it doesn't feel overly long. Like I said, not a word is wasted in this book. There are also a handful of songs in this book, and I love a good song in a fantasy work. I wish other genres employed

However, there were a few things about this book that I couldn't overlook. In particular, the religious folk in this book are portrayed as rather simple and ignorant, as opposed to the educated and enlightened denizens of  the University. This is elitist and patronizing at best and downright offensive at worst. The author clearly thinks very little of religion, particularly Christianity, which his fictional religion which worships "Tehlu and his angels" is clearly is a straw man for, meant to mock the church. There is also a lot of mature content in this book, up to and including severe swearing, gory violence, and drug use, not to mention a sprinkling of sexual innuendo. Finally, Rothfuss seems to have some kind of epic saga planned out, but at this early stage in this series of door stoppers, it's a bit difficult to tell where it's going. As such, Rothfuss can be a little too clever for his own good, or at least what he apparently thinks is clever.

In conclusion, The Name of the Wind is a rather long book, but good. It's pseudo-medieval fantasy world is richly detailed, and that's something that all good fantasy stories have. We've got some impressive world building here, and, though I dread the length, I love Kvothe's voice in the story, and I want to see what happens in the next book as well. I'm sure it will be equally good, if not even better.

RATING: 8/10

Image courtesy of goodreads.com