John Reviews The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss!
I really wanted to enjoy this book as it seems almost universally beloved. I don't read a lot of fantasy, not because I don't enjoy the genre, but because I find they often get bogged down in explanatory world-building; telling the reader in-depth the structure and hierarchy of their semi-analogous political system. That, or they seem almost ashamed and apologetic for being fantasy. A sort of "we know it says fantasy, but we're not going to have lots of elves and magic and silly stuff. We're super serious. Honest."
The Name of the Wind is neither of those. Rothfuss provides a well-fleshed out, interesting but accessible world and isn't afraid to include magic, demons and all manner of fantastic beasts. It's told in the present in the third person, narrating the actions of our protagonist, with first-person narration from Kvothe himself as he recites his history. This takes up around 90% of the book.
In the beginning, I was hooked. We had a mysterious hero- practically a living legend; a friendly demon and a scribe who survives an amusingly amicable robbery. And demon spiders. I was immediately drawn to these characters and wanted to find out more about what was going on. But that was not what I was going to get.
All of this story, this premise, is cast aside for the entirety of the book, as it devolves into Kvothe telling his life story from childhood to mid-teens. And this isn't even the whole story. If you want to learn about his twenties, the demon spiders or any of the other plot elements raised in the present, you will need to read the next book. Or the one after that.
Kvothe's life story has interesting parts. He'd lead a tragic and hard life, losing his parents to a Chandrian attack, living on the streets of Tarbean, before getting into University with pretty much the sole aim of getting into the Archives and finding out more about the force that took his family. These basically make up the three acts of the book.
Act 1 is entertaining enough. We learn that Kvothe is gifted at, well, everything. He has loving parents and is surrounded by charming characters and everything seems rosy. It's entertaining enough, seeing this kid taking his first steps towards the legend we know he will become.
Act 2 has Kvothe, still a child, living rough on the streets of Tarbean. This, too, has charm and appeal as we see a world with little time for orphans, with mean streets and meaner characters. I wanted to see Kvothe succeed, but this was a difficult time for him to do that.
And then we reach Act 3, the University, or, where I started to lose interest. Kvothe arrives, a good few years younger than everyone else, arrogantly sure of his abilities in comparison to his peers, none of whom he's ever seen before he cheats in his entrance exam. He makes friends and enemies amongst the staff and other students, rapidly advancing through the ranks due to his immense natural skill and super learning abilities (which by this point become rather frustrating, as it means nothing is a challenge to him). His main objective, the advancement of the overarching plot, is to gain access to the archives to research the Chandrian. But his efforts are thwarted by what feels like video game gatekeeping. At first he's denied access due to him not being a student, so he enrols. Then he's not a high enough level to access it, so he levels up super fast. Then he gets caught doing something he shouldn't in there whilst finding a mysterious door, so he's banned. This goes on for many, many pages. It was during this stretch, about 400+ pages in, that I started to skip forward and skim. Kvothe was now promising for several chapters the arrival of a Woman. A Very Special Woman. But we already know she's not around in the present. Is she dead or did things not work out? Given the reverence he seems to have for her, I'd guess the former.
Early on, I skipped ahead, trying to find where Kvothe's past ended and the present-day adventure commenced. I found it disappointing that, well, it doesn't. That plot which drew me in so early was nowhere to be found. The book was well-written, engaging and generally entertaining, but by around 2/3 of the way through, I'd just had enough of Kvothe. Sometimes a legend works better when you don't know every detail of their past, let alone have them spell it all out for you. It's the equivalent of reading a book called Gandalf Origins, or A Complete Concise History of Dumbledore.
Three Stars out of a possible Five