Reading Log:The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, Day 1) has been popping up everywhere recently. I grabbed it on a whim at B&N recently, it appeared in my recommendations at amazon, and I've seen it mentioned on several blogs (though none of the blogs I read regularly has actually said much about it). Generally speaking, I'll take that as Dog telling me to read the silly book, already.
This isn't a light, single afternoon's read. Weighing in at 736 pages, one might call the physical paperback "dense." To be honest, I've been developing a love hate relationship with this book. I have finished it, and it has definitely stuck in my mind (sometimes in reading a similar book I find myself thinking back to this one and have to remind myself which story really happened in which book). But I've got some complaints.
The first complaint I have is that this is book one of a planned 3. I didn't do my research ahead of time (heck, it was an impulse buy, after all), but the subtitle isn't readily available on the front cover. As one book of several, I didn't realize that there were future installments until well after I began reading. When I finished, I was frustrated as I always am when there are unpublished chronicles to come (Harry Potter was of course notorious for this behavior also, but at least I knew there were more coming before starting book 1). My frustration only grew when I looked on amazon to discover that book two won't even be out in hardback until May 2009. By then I'll have forgotten the whole thing and have to reread, if I even remember that I read it in the first place.
My second problem is with the narrative frame Rothfuss uses to surround his primary story. It's the same complaint I had with Kostova's The Historian. In The Name of the Wind, the legendary hero Kvothe has been tracked to the town where he resides as a mostly anonymous innkeep by a man known as the Chronicler. After much back-and-forthing, Kvothe agrees to tell his life story to the Chronicler, but it will take 3 days to tell. Kvothe may be talented enough (he is a legendary figure, after all), but the majority of people could not "novelize" their life stories in an "as told to" form. I know this is a very peevish complaint and that not accepting this narrative strategy can severely limit creativity, but I'm starting to find it more and more annoying. What's wrong with just telling a plain old story?
Fortunately, I am mostly capable of ignoring logical gaps if the story is compelling enough. I want to say that this one is. I did enjoy the book; it has plenty of action, plenty of interest, enough new or creatively re-structured elements of fantasy. But overall, I'm not completely convinced that a 3-day life-story marathon session really requires three 700+ pages of a paperback novel (assuming the next installments are around the same length). Even after these 700 page, I'm not sure I really have a sense of Kvothe's primary purposes. We know that he started at the University based on Abenthy's teaching and advice, we know that he is interested in the manner of his parents' death, and we know that he wants to know more about the mysterious Denna. Many times in the story, though, I felt like I was reading related short stories (the most egregious case is toward the end of the novel where he follows leads about deaths that were in the same manner as his parents'). Perhaps this is more realistic, in that our own lives don't ever really seem to follow one primary purpose and could appear quite tangential if novelized. But I'm not willing to let authors have it both ways; if I have to suspend my disbelief in accepting the "photographic/recording memory" from the narrative frame, then the story is not allowed to insist that it is simply following the structure of normal living.*
Do I like the story? Yes. Will I read the next two installments? Very likely. But if book 2 doesn't offer me a slightly tighter internal logic, I may not be able to finish the series, and that would be a very unpleasant thing. Or, I'll just use my local library and not contribute to Rothfuss' royalty collections.
* I'm probably not making myself clear, but at least I understand my logic at the moment.