The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss

The other day I came across this incomplete but astute review of The Name of the Wind at RMWC Reviews. Having read and finished the book, I can vouch for his appraisal. Here are some representative excerpts.

2007 saw the publication of The Name of the Wind, the first book of the as-yet incomplete Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy by Patrick Rothfuss. In the decade since its release, it has been hailed as a modern classic to almost universal critical praise. On Amazon, it sits with a 4.6 out of 5 rating from 7,122 reviews. Goodreads rates it at a 4.55 out of 5. Critics laud it as being as good as A Song of Ice and Fire or, if they’re insane, The Lord of the Rings.

I gave it an honest shot. 

I really did. Went into it with the expectations that it has an interesting magical system and a good setting.

I abandoned this book after 10 chapters, almost 100 pages, and one week. I haven’t hated the reading experience this much since The DaVinci Code.

Therefore, this is not a “review” in the traditional sense. This is a post-mortem for my aborted read-through

It’s hard to blame him for not making it through Rothfuss’ Gary Stu Chronicle. Life’s too short to waste time slogging through what you’d hoped would be entertainment but turned into a chore. Kes’ decision to quit is especially understandable if he’s right about the troubling subtext he picked up.

So an old man meets, then forms a close mentor relationship with an eleven year old boy and then teaches him a bunch of information about sex and a “magic” system that leaves him sociopathic, schizophrenic, and dissociative (the latter two frequently appearing in victims of childhood abuse). I genuinely and truly hope that this is purely coincidental because the alternative is sinister. 

I’m beginning to understand why they burned arcanists.

He’s got it all wrong, see? He’s supposed to understand that they burned arcanists to sell the contrived conflict between the Evil Church of Evil whose superstitious rube adherents hate and fear the enlightened University folk whose urbane, sophisticated ways are beyond the hayseeds’ comprehension.

It shouldn’t be a surprise why the New York literati loved this book. Rothfuss may hail from flyover county, Wisconsin himself, but he recited the proper pieties and burned his pinch of incense to the East Coast bubble boys’ inflated egos. As for why the Worldcon crowd embraced NotW, the fat old man grooming a preteen boy says it all.

This is where I tapped out. 

This is the worst thing I’ve read since The DaVinci Code, which I also abandoned early on, but at least that had action. Stupid, nonsensical action, but stuff happened. 10 chapters and nearly 100 pages over the course of a week, and the only impression that I get out of it was that Kvothe is a self-righteous asshole mary sue protagonist and that an editor should’ve hacked off entire chapters in the beginning to make it readable.

This is a terrible book. Its not interesting. Its not well written. Its not even iconoclastic. Even by 2008 when it was published, Modern Fantasy had already established all new clichés for the genre and this reads like its ticking off the boxes. 1) Protagonist from a podunk who’s actually hugely powerful and everybody who’s “good” loves him and hands him things unquestioningly. 2) Power comes easily to him. 3) Edgy atheism. 4) Idiot locals that don’t even get descriptions. 5) A magic system that isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is. 6) Subversion that is only subversive if your frame of reference for fantasy is The Lord of the Rings, which was first published in 1954. The Name of the Wind was published 54 years after The Fellowship of the Ring. Its already been subverted. You’re not bringing anything to the table that isn’t identical to everything else being published in mainstream SF/F.

 It’s impressive that Kes noticed the Modernist fantasy trope box-checking as early as he did. I honestly didn’t notice it until the end, when it became clear that Rothfuss realized he’d left out several of the most tired, subversive Modern tropes and rushed to cram them all into the last few chapters.

George R. R. Martin writes long books popular with the Modernist set, but at least things happen in them. Characters, situations, settings are introduced and shaken up. People die. There’s magic. There’s talk of monsters. Its not great, but at least stuff happens. Tolkien wrote long works too, but at least he’s a master worldbuilder and an actual wordsmith, channeling ancient epics to create his own. He’s also got setups, introductions, and characters that are instantly likable that you invest in their struggles. There is weight behind every chapter, even the Infodump at Rivendell.

Rothfuss’ prose is universally praised, and I don’t see it. Most of the text is basic, functional sentences (this is fine, this is the brick and mortar of writing). Dialogue is circular, banal and clunky, wasting huge chunks of time and is only occasionally interesting. When he does try to get fancy, it turns into a cringe-fest of the worst kind of purple prose that the Modernist crowd supposedly hates. (See the quote about the sword I included yesterday). The only characters who are described with any kind of detail are Kvothe and Abenthy. Everyone else is a mannequin lacking in personality (at least up to the point where I stopped reading). They are set dressing for the Kvothe show. 

Spot on. Patrick Rothfuss is the poster boy for the amateur author who spends years polishing his magnum opus to a mirror shine. Then, to everyone’s detriment, some lit snob editor at a big New York house gives him a book deal. The book’s superficial polish aids the hype machine in pitching the author as the latest Successor to Tolkien!™. Then the publisher demands a sequel to their manufactured best seller, and upjumped amateur cracks under the six month deadline.

I’m not using “amateur” as an insult. The word refers to someone who creates art as a labor of love, but it’s a mindset that’s diametrically opposed to a professional work ethic. Professional authors don’t primarily write because we’ve “got something to say” or “There’s a story inside my head I just have to get out!” We write because it’s our job. That job mandates pleasing readers, and promising readers a fun, exciting series with a satisfying conclusion, then failing to deliver on that promise, shows contempt for the people who make our trade possible.

Note that I’m not playing armchair quarterback, here. I did what Rothfuss hasn’t managed to do in ten years and George R. R. Martin couldn’t do in twenty. Get the startling conclusion to my chill and thrill-packed Soul Cycle and see for yourself.

The Ophian Rising - Brian Niemeier

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