A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Guest reviewer and competition winner Dylan Plung would really like you to consider reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.
I wrote this review several times, tossed it out, and then rewrote it several more times. The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss—the first book in The Kingkiller Chronicle series—defies so many classifications that it’s hard to even talk about, much less write a review. It’s ironic that a book that centers, at least symbolically, on the magical powers that come with understanding the true names of things, should defy so many attempts at categorical analyses. Add to that the paradoxical notion that I have recommended it, I think, more than any other book, and you have one confused reader. It should be easy to write a review when you’ve already recommended it so many times, I thought. But no. And so eventually I decided to do the only thing I could. I decided to write about why it was so hard to review.
Let’s see if we can boil things down. Here are some irrefutable facts about this book:
Maybe that third one is subjective. Everything about The Name of the Wind is troublesome to categorize. Yeah, there’s magic. So I guess it belongs in the fantasy section of your friendly local bookstore. But it also could be—kind of—in the young adult section. Or in the general fiction section. Or the mystery section.
Is there a really-good-books-that-defy-categorization section?
What’s important to understand is that The Name of the Wind doesn’t revolve exclusively around the fantastic. Whatever your style or preference, this book has it in some quantity. Do you hate fantasy and cringe at anything over on that side of the bookstore? Worry not. It’s as light and action-packed and fun as the pulpiest pulp fiction, but it’s also as literary and ponderously beautiful and careful in its prose as anything else. It’s dichotomous. Maybe trichotomous. What comes after trichotomous?
Ask ten people what they think this book is about and you’ll get ten different answers. It’s a coming-of-age story. It’s about revenge. It’s a tragedy. It’s a survival story. It’s an adventure story. It’s a romance. The list goes on. It’s a story within a story within a story.
Here’s the bottom line. If you love fantasy and are bored with what’s been around, this is a good, refreshing choice. If you hate fantasy or don’t usually bother with it, this is also a good choice. There.
But to go back to my initial list: it’s really big. And I don’t just mean in page count. It has a big, meandering plot that’s hard to pin down or pigeonhole. You could call it Dickensian in scope; Faulknerian in its structural complexity. It has romance and magic and a magical wizard’s school. It’s got everything. It’s a big world with a big cast all rich and fully imagined. It’s a book to get utterly and fully lost in. It’s a book to fall in love with.
As a book reviewer I hate to dredge up the ever-present Harry Potter cliché. Don’t get me wrong. I love Harry Potter. The idea of comparing a book to Harry Potter—Harry Potter for Adults! Just like Harry Potter, only with XYZ!— feels cheap, but this book really counts. If you like Harry Potter and want something as immersive, The Name of the Wind will fit the bill.
Notice that I haven’t said anything about the actual story. That’s because there are so many stories nested within this one framework (figuratively and literally). It’s about so many things. It’s a book that dances through a thousand different tropes with ease and comes out stronger on the other side. It defies you to use almost any of the obsessive taxonomical jargon that book reviewers so commonly fall back on. I could say that it’s about a boy who grows up to be a wizard. I could say that it’s about the complex interplay between storytellers and their audiences, between history and reality. Or I could say it’s about handling the responsibilities of power. And so on and so on, ad nauseam. I could say a lot of things, and a lot of those things would have some truth to them—some—but they wouldn’t do The Name of the Wind justice.
You might look at those ambiguities of classification as a kind of weakness, but I think the ambiguities are this book’s hidden strength. It means that it appeals to all kinds of people. It also means that recommending it, really, is easier than for many other books.
Easy as that.
Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind (Daw Books, 2007), ISBN 978 0 7564 0407 9