An "okay at best" type of book
Revisado en los Estados Unidos 🇺🇸 el 27 de junio de 2019
When I purchased this book four years ago, it had over 4,000 reviews. Now it's nearly double that, and I cannot imagine why. I have let it stew in my head for quite a while now; it's been at least three years since I finished it, and I just started the second installment a few days ago. I enjoyed the first well enough by the time I'd completed it, even plowing through the last third or so, because it was pretty effortlessly entertaining, all things considered. It keeps closely to the rhythms of standard YA fantasy, so any familiarity with that genre ensures that "The Name of the Wind" will make for comfortable, if unchallenging, reading. This is unfortunately the majority of the praise that can be given, and oddly enough is also the crux of the novel's problems.
"The Name of the Wind", I have realized after much deliberation, is one of the most derivative books I have ever partaken in while still being assured of its higher-than-abysmal quality. It's not a terrible book, but by all rights it's pretty lackluster, even poor. Cliche after cliche comes sailing at you, never subverted, at least not as cleverly as Rothfuss thinks, and you are left wondering if there will come a twist in which the narrator, Kvothe, is revealed to have been lying all along about his identity and is simply some innkeeper weaving a tale out of the scraps of the exploits of other, more talented men. In the beginning of the second book, he is disappointed that a character doesn't believe his surprise revelation about his origins, which he has kept under wraps due to a price on his head, but even I can scarcely believe him, as it turns out.
Kvothe's tale checks off every single box on the "YA adventure fantasy" checklist, despite this ostensibly being more of an adult fantasy. Kvothe himself is the same ultimate badass with a tragic backstory in Rothfuss' frame story as he is in Kvothe's recitation of his past; it would have been interesting to see a disparity between his persona he creates in the story within the story as compared to Rothfuss' depiction of his character as an innkeeper, but they are one and the same. Instead of Kvothe writing a fanfiction of himself, it seems Rothfuss is also on his side, wanting to impress how cool he is upon you. Rothfuss writes like he's scripting an anime, which doesn't fit at all, considering there's apparently a live action adaptation currently in production. By this I mean everyone over-emotes in an exceptionally twee and jarring fashion; a character will go from confused to forlorn to cautiously cheerful in the space of a couple sentences, and each emotion is described as if they should be accompanied with a cartoonishly large drop of sweat on their forehead or a kawaii blush of parallel red lines beneath their eyes. They will bite their lips, arch their brows, wince in dismay, and huff with disappointment, or let their "face go carefully blank", all at once. Characters in literature do not need to have their every tiny gesture alluded to; I will understand perfectly how the character is feeling about the situation, and then Rothfuss will spell it out for me with some distracting tidbit about them rolling their shoulders in anticipation or shifting their eyes in alarm, which just feels juvenile. If I tell you that a character is upset or alarmed or happy, or put them in a situation in which in would be obvious that they would have such a reaction, it would be unnecessary for me to notify you of their hyperactive facial expressions and posture each and every time. Not to mention these characters are all recognizable archetypes that fit neatly into their predetermined slots in the story. The two comic relief friend characters, the stock bully, the couple of love interests who are, of course, the most gorgeous "waifu" types in the entire kingdom, one bubbly and accommodating, one mysterious and flaky (and of course it's the latter that is Kvothe's love interest, because of some deeply immature preconception that playing hard to get and treating someone with mistrust and apathy is romantic and not a clear sign that you should search elsewhere. She likes to show up to tease Kvothe, even though her personality can be summed up with "snarky and aloof" and all the rest is just Kvothe trying to make her seem more appealing than she is with pathetic, drooling descriptions of her beauty and "tantalizing draw" due to her mysterious nature. I can't go along with this at all, he's just being played for a sucker), the kindly old mentor, the immaculate, attractive, angelic parents (more on them in the next paragraph), and the fey, whimsical characters who are essentially Ed from Cowboy Bebop, especially the waifish Auri, who was graced with a spin-off. No matter if their personalities are defined in the next book, it's just poor writing to have them all be so generic for nearly 700 pages. They are not characters who feel like people, like "ASoIaF", or even "Harry Potter", they are archetypes that do very little to define themselves outside of their broadly drawn roles. And again, this isn't just because Kvothe is downplaying their roles to inflate his own importance or anything, he is constantly giving them credit for how important they are to his story and how big an impact they made on him. Bast and Chronicler, two characters listening to Kvothe tell his tale, are exactly as broad and archetypal, meaning this is Rothfuss' doing and Kvothe is not to blame. Bast, in fact, is one of the worst examples of the twee I mentioned earlier; he is the mischievous trickster to Kvothe's unflappable coolness. He will partake in antics, fawn over Kvothe to the point where it's coming across as befuddlingly flirtatious, and is quick to anger, his expression can darken in an instant and he will threaten to eviscerate you, manling.
The plotting may be my biggest issue, however, and really the concept in general. Kvothe's backstory, his motivations for trying to become the very best that no one ever was, are so insultingly basic, so manipulative and lame, that they are the main reason I am hoping in the second or third part of this chronicle it will be revealed Kvothe is just a sham. He attempts to passionately embellish seminal events in his youth as if they aren't utterly rote at this point, as if we have never heard another story like this in our lives. Indeed, the beginning of the second book has Kvothe remarking that he wants to tell "stories you've never heard before. Stories you will never hear again." Except that Kvothe's stories are everything you've ever heard before, and most certainly will hear in the future, because his template is every single coming-of-age fantasy revenge going-to-wizard-school in recorded history, with no interesting twists on the formula whatsoever. What Kvothe asserts as his reasons for this entire tale being told are two: his parents, two blank slates of goodness and talent and charity and beauty (I'm surprised they weren't feeding fawns and chickadees out of their palms) are killed by the big baddies, the Chandrian, who are just edgy bad no-no guys, just an evil entity. So Kvothe has the same motivation as Bruce Wayne. That's it. His parents were nice, and they were killed. No depth, and you'd think if Kvothe wanted to represent the memory of his parents fairly and respectfully, as he claims, you'd expect some depth. It is so enormously frustrating to see this easy ploy used over and over again, as if it isn't more interesting to have the character be motivated by his own ambitions or personal insecurities; no, just kill off some expendable characters to put the fire in his belly, it's that easy. Kvothe wasn't set up to be that character at all, from all I'd heard before reading the book, he was a sort of antihero, everything he did was because he wanted to, he was this larger-than-life character who would stop at nothing to get what he desired, like Daniel Plainview. But no, Rothfuss felt like playing the "my parents were killed in front of me" card, such an unnecessary explanation that does the opposite of what it's supposed to do, that is, humanize the protagonist. But even with how weak that cliche is, it's nothing compared to the second motivator, deemed by Kvothe himself to be the "real reason" he is who he is, has done all that he has done.
You may have heard of the section of the book in which Kvothe is an orphan fighting for survival in the alleys of a city. This portion is 70 pages long, and it serves no purpose other than to depict Kvothe as a man who has suffered, a badass who has been through tragedy and filth and humiliation; he's been at rock bottom. It wasn't really needed for it to go on for such a span, but I guess Rothfuss really wanted to drive the point into the seabed. Still, the length for me was not the problem, it's only 1/10th of the book after all. But one night Kvothe is in his little alcove several stories off the ground, and he hears a commotion below him in the alley. He witnesses (or rather hears) a young urchin being raped by slightly older urchins. He is not familiar with any of them, it is just a random occurence for which he happened to be present. And this is his greatest motivation in life to excel, superseding his parents' deaths. Yep, that's what Rothfuss is going with. He actually played the rape card, the most desperate attempt to shock the reader into submission. You can try to say something like "that just represents Kvothe's motivation to not accept this life for himself, to break out of his despair and become something great." A random rape triggered this? Terrible things happen daily, but because you were exposed to one that had nothing to do with you, that's your motivation? It's one of the weakest excuses I've ever come across, so impersonal and so heavy-handed, literally anything could have worked in its place. I cannot adequately express my frustration with this type of storytelling. The fact that Kvothe claims this is his reason for his entire life playing out the way it did instead of inevitably ending, probably sooner than later, in that city, is absolutely pathetic and insulting to the intelligence of every reader. It's so contrived and shallow, it's indicative of atrocious writing. When in doubt, throw a random event into your story so the main character can have a motivation. The rest of his life, as far as I've seen, has nothing to do with the theme of rape, so this connects to the entire story not at all, it's just useless fluff to manipulate the reader. Like as soon as a rape is involved, you can't criticize the author or the character, because it's a trump card even when it's entirely pointless and out of place. A characters motivations should be linked to them in some meaningful way, it should ripple throughout the rest of the story and come into play in their actions and emotions. It's not the fact that there was a shocking scene in the book that offends me, to be clear, it's that Kvothe considers that one-off random event, of all things, to be what fuels him. What a joke.
Other than that, "The Name of the Wind" is entertaining, albeit in a very familiar way. I hope the second novel isn't quite so egregiously lazy with its cliches and maybe attempts something nearer to the edge of the box, if not totally outside it, in its 1,000 pages. I wrote this review as a sort of refresher on my thoughts going into "The Wise Man's Fear", and my argument is that this first book is deeply average at best, embarrassing at worst, though I found it decently entertaining. I enjoyed the voodoo magic system of linking one item to another of varying sizes, and the relish with which Kvothe describes playing the lute makes you want to try it for yourself. There are a few setpiece moments that reek of Kvothe humble bragging, but they are at least fun to visualize. The "dragon" that eats trees towards the end makes for a well-paced, exciting climax. I just wish my impression was more in line with the praise it has received and continues to receive, because I did want this to rank with "ASoIaF" or "Lord of the Rings", as one critic claimed. To me, it brought to mind how "Eragon" was just a YA "LoTR", rife with cliches and painfully derivative, but not horrible. "The Name of the Wind" is basically that for "Harry Potter", which makes Ursula K Le Guin's appraisal of this book but damnation of Rowling's series all the more baffling. Rothfuss is a better writer than Paolini...but not by too much. I don't regret reading this, and I might again sometime to see if my opinion changes at all, but regardless, it's a seriously overhyped book.
EDIT: The second book so far is the same deal, so much so in fact that I'm having trouble continuing it. Rothfuss' world- building is resolutely threadbare; I'm often confused where the characters are supposed to be if they are in between main locations, because very little in the way of setting detail is given. Rothfuss, again, seems to think it of greater import to describe the telegraphed emotions of the characters through their facial gymnastics. I have not met a group of characters quite as skin-deep as these since reading chapter books as a kid. They are insufferably cloying and predictable and their attempts at humor make me cringe. One of Kvothe's friends is essentially a bumbling Ron Weasley clone with absolutely none of the charm Rothfuss thinks just comes packaged with that archetype. And yes, the love interest is one of the most unlikable tarts ever. She uses everyone as a means to an end, EXCEPT of course for our dashing hero. Towards the end, she gets pouty and actually says "I thought you were different" to Kvothe when he blurts "love me" by accident. That is genuinely a scene in this critically lauded, alleged "modern classic" series. Every time I pick it up to make progress I am assaulted by how contrived every plot point is ("I need you to fetch my important ring back...from the bully!"). I do not recommend this series at all, it's like saccharine Harry Potter fanfiction.
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