Patrick Rothfuss broke onto the fantasy scene with a big splash several years ago with blurbs from some of the biggest names adorning the back cover of his debut novel The Name of the Wind. His latest, The Slow Regard of Silent Things, a sort of aside in the series, featuring one of the secondary characters as the protagonist, was released just a few weeks ago. In its honor, I am casting my eye back to the beginning of the series.
The Name of the Wind is a brick: my book club version weighs in at 662 pages. A seemingly innocuous innkeeper turns out to be much more and he begins telling his life story to a scribe who has seen through his alibi. "Begins" is an important word here. This is the first of a series, and we have a long way yet to go through the remarkable life of Kvothe. "Real-life" events do intrude on his narrative occasionally, so there are passages in the third person, but most of the book is in the first person.
Let me start by saying that Rothfuss can write. Sometimes poetic, sometimes just nice, clear narrative, his prose contains not a single awkward sentence. (OK, so there's one...) He obviously knows his craft and I'm willing to bet is a musician. Apart from the importance of music in the story, the kind of flow that he establishes with his language usually comes from someone with a fine ear and a keen sense of rhythm.
Rothfuss makes you feel like you know Kvothe, and while he may be the hero of the story and exceptionally intelligent, he is quite capable of showing an appalling lack of wisdom, at least in his teen years, which are the main focus of this book. Even exceptionally bright people are not necessarily gifted with wisdom, which usually has to be earned the hard way, and Kvothe has an abnormally difficult time with it.
World building is always an important element in a fantasy book. Finding out what is different, what is similar to the real world is always part of the fun. Rothfuss has blended science and magic seamlessly in this story, which I found very entertaining. He also doesn't burden the text with excessive description, but usually provides enough detail so you feel rooted in his world.
Having said all that, the book is too long. Seriously. I have absolutely nothing against long books, but this one lost momentum in the middle. Something is always happening, but there just wasn't enough forward movement. I'm the kind of person who gets lost in a book and have read all through the night more than once. This one became all too easy to put down. If you like reading a book in small pieces and really savoring the texture, this might not be a disadvantage for you, but I really wanted the pace to pick up more than once. It does, eventually, but you've got to be patient. Or find the gazillion ways a child prodigy can get himself into trouble entertaining in its own right.
The book gets a little dark occasionally. Kvothe spends several years living on the streets in a port city, for example, and it's not pretty. He learns to lie and steal with proficiency and some pretty nasty things go on. I didn't find it excessive even though I'm not a fan of grit for its own sake. The nasty bits are pretty much necessary and not described in overwrought detail, but if you're a very tender soul, you might want to look elsewhere.
A minor irritant for me was the fact that Kvothe has flame-red hair and green eyes that change color with his mood. Why Rothfuss would want to lift an overworked trope from pulp romance is beyond me. Granted, he handled it pretty well, but still...
This one doesn't quite qualify as Gourmet Reading, primarily because of the bloat around the midsection. But Rothfuss is still a fine writer, and those who enjoy a slow meander in an exotic world will find little to complain about.