A confession: High Fantasy books are some of my greatest fears as a reader. They intimidate the hell out of me.
Through the years, I’ve been unknowingly estranged and on the fence with this genre because of several reasons. I have always been afraid that I wouldn’t get the hang of the world created by the author. I’m constantly scared of the possibility of my brain falling short at memorizing the long list of odd-sounding names and remembering who is who, because in my silly, prejudiced head, I have always envisioned High Fantasy as an overpopulated country of sword-wielding people with different supernatural powers. Yes, I can be narrow-minded like that.
Patrick Rothfuss’ ‘Name of the Wind’, at just a couple of pages shy from being a 700-pager novel, is one of the most celebrated and critically-acclaimed works in high fantasy. Hence my excitement and anxiety over it in pretty much equal parts. Daunting? Yes. But if there’s one thing I have learned from years and years of reading, it’s this: Some books would really require a leap of faith, and even though some of them might be a total waste of time on the end, eventually you’ll come across books that are so worth it you’ll find yourself grateful and begging for more.
Oh merciful tehlu, The world needs more books like these!
This is the art of storytelling at its finest. Set in a world so frighteningly vivid and memorable, the book is adorned by characters so extraordinarily real and strange all at once. There’s just something so magical about Rothfuss’ writing that makes this chronicle of adventures so eloquent and classy while being nine-kinds of kick-ass. It is the kind of fun that’s never afraid to get nitty gritty, but it’s done in such good taste that you feel the very wisdom of this story-within-a-story crackle on each chapter. Rothfuss’ assured writing hand transported me wherever Kvothe was and the journey is rich, elegant, real.
The ‘Name of the Wind’ features an abundance of characters, yes, but they were all given ample, unforgettable introductions that seamlessly set each of them apart in my cluttered mind. It probably helped that the prose is so lyrical it’s almost liquid, but I loved that each of them has a quirk and most importantly—a voice. They sound so real to me that it almost felt like I’ve been on vacation for several days on a land with an awesome assortment of people. And all of a sudden it struck me: I wish I lived here.
And speaking of here, have I told you about the imagery of this world yet? Since this book tackled Kvothe’s childhood and life in the University, it touched on several towns and cities that are so intricately designed and described in detail. I’m happy to report that I’ve been so pleasantly immersed with each of them. I was running barefoot with Kvothe on the cold and cobbled alleys of Hillside Tarbean, roaming the halls of the University Arcanum with Wil and Simmon, waiting savagely to be let in on the door to the Archives, walking to and from Imre, drinking Metheglin at the Eolian, sitting on the Waystone Inn in grim attention as Kvothe narrated his past and as Chronicler fiddled with his pen to document each in every word. I was there; I was a part of it.
Kvothe is at the center of it all since the book is ultimately about him, and man, what an exceptionally-written protagonist he is! Of course he’s an orphan, this being an epic tale, but I really liked that the author spent time and lingered for a while to establish the backdrop of his younger years together with his parents and their magnificent travelling troupe. Just like him being instructed by Abenthy when he was young and precocious, this is fundamental in our understanding of him and his choices in life. He is not perfect of course, as was necessary, but I am still charmed by his flaws all the same. He can be pompous and overbearing, but we know this is because of his dignified upbringing as an Edema Ruh; He can be hungry for attention and eager to impress, but we know this is because he was raised in an environment of performers who continually strive to outshine each other; He has an absolute preference to doing things swift and straight-forward, which is seen by others as a desperation for acclaim and accomplishment but we know too well that it’s because there is no other way for him—he needed to graduate and graduate as fast as possible because he pays for his own tuition and could not afford to dilly-dally with another semester as the average E’lir. I understand and sympathized with him, which is to say, I am smitten by all accounts.
I loved everything about it but clearly, I prefer some parts over others. And if you’ll ask me what my least favorite is, I have to say it’s the romance bit. Don’t get me wrong, Rothfuss still managed to write the love story segments very naturally (and not like a forced prerequisite like most non-romance books do.). Kvothe is romantic and appreciates women beyond societal stereotypes. Look at how he praised Fela’s (the prettiest girl in the University) callused hand right after the accident at the Fisheries.
“This isn’t the hand of some swooning princess who sits tatting lace and waiting for some prince to save her. This is the hand of a woman who would climb a rope of her own hair to freedom, or kill an ogre captor in his sleep.” I looked into her eyes. “And this is the hand of a woman who would’ve made it through the fire on her own if I hadn’t been there. Singed perhaps, but safe.”I brought her hands to my lips and kissed it. It seemed like the thing to do.
I love that he’s still your standard savior but in a way that empowers. I may be going beyond glorifying his character at an extent by now, but I just feel that way about him. Also, the little, silent moments tugged at my heartstrings just as much as the big ones do. Kvothe believes the same when he thought this towards the near-end of the book after comforting a thirteen-year old girl with a protective charm and soothing words of assurance and safety.
Over the last month I had pulled a woman from a blazing inferno. I had called fire and lightning down on assassins and escaped to safety. I had even killed something that could have been either a demon or a dragon, depending on your point of view. But there in that room is the first time I actually felt like any sort of hero. If you are looking for a reason for the man I would eventually become, if you are looking for a beginning, look there.
Oh Kvothe, you secret softie, you.
And if you’ll ask me what my favorite thing about this book is, I’d say it’s got to be the subtle but recurring reference to the power of words as the very title of the book implies. Master Elodin, the brilliant eccentric took my breath away when he said this grand declaration in reverence of words and ultimately, of names:
Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts. There are seven words that will make a person love you. There are ten words that will break a strong man’s will. But a word is nothing but a painting of a fire. A name is the fire itself.
The feels, ladies and gentlemen, abounds aplenty. I still couldn’t quite shake the dust of this book’s awesomeness off me and I think it will linger for longer than I ever think it would, which is something that delights me. If there’s one big bummer about this book though, it’s the sodding fact that I was caught unawares of it being the first book of a freaking series. The unbearable suspense, you guys! Flipping the other side of the coin though, it’s quite nice to know that the story ain’t over yet and there’s still something to look forward to. And Chandrian be damned, yeah: I will be back for more.