‘Wind’ offers character over plot

There are so many books in the world that it is impossible to read them all, even if you wanted to. This can be a good thing — so many choices! — but it can also be very difficult to come to terms with.

Like many, I rely on my friends to direct me to books they think I’d enjoy. Sometimes this has the effect that I read something I normally wouldn’t. This was the case with Patrick Rothfuss’s debut novel “The Name of the Wind.”

This fantasy epic opens with a traveler coming to a secluded inn. The innkeeper turns out to be a legendary sorcerer, a sometimes-hero and sometimes-outlaw known as Kvothe the Bloodless.

Most of the novel takes place in the past, as Kvothe reveals his “unexaggerated” life story. Kvothe begins life as a member of a troupe of traveling musicians and goes to a university to study magic, making interesting friends and powerful enemies along the way. Interludes set in the present hint at the development of a future plot, as visitors come and go at the inn.

I’m not a really big fan of fantasy trilogies (Yes, “The Name of the Wind” is yet another faddish fantasy trilogy.), but something about this one grabbed me. The writing is unobtrusive and clever, and the book reads easily and pleasantly. I found myself hurrying back to it whenever I could, but I have a hard time qualifying what it is exactly I liked about this book.

The plot is its weak spot. This is a book clearly based on its compelling characters, and functions more as a series of related vignettes than a cohesive whole with a beginning, middle and end.

While there is action, and it builds somewhat, it truncates abruptly when Kvothe decides to stop the story until the beginning of the sequel. It’s clear that “The Name of the Wind” is part of a trilogy, because nothing much really happens. There rarely seems to be an overarching theme or imminent final conflict. Even when plot developments arise, they don’t feel significant.

The real strength of Rothfuss’s writing is his world-building. Kvothe inhabits an entirely imaginary setting rather than a fictionalized version of a time and place we already know. Often this is a dangerous path for fantasy writers, as it can make the story seem flat and irrelevant. In this case, that worry is unfounded.

The social and political topographies of Kvothe’s world are easy to pick up. The narration is informal and never pedantic — there are no chunks of text dedicated to tedious explanations of terms or ideas. Rothfuss is content to let you find your own way in the world he has created, and it is to his credit.

“The Name of the Wind” is not great literature, but it deserves the praise it’s received. It’s worth perusing for casual readers of fantasy novels. It’s a relaxing way to spend vacation time.

Be warned, though: It isn’t a short book, and the third one is not yet released. Still, if you are patient enough to give 3,000 pages to someone else’s life, it’s a good read.


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