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Off the Shelves: ‘Name of the Wind’ is long-winded and short of satisfaction

POSTED: May 6, 2012 7:00 a.m.

The first book in Rothfuss’ “The Kingkiller Chronicle” and also his debut novel, “The Name of the Wind,” sets the stage for the life-epic of the enigmatic Kvothe, who at the start of the novel is an innkeeper living a secluded life in a quiet town.

A man known as Chronicler arrives at his inn, having heard rumors that Kvothe is, in fact, the legendary arcanist (or magic-user) who has performed great deeds.

Chronicler wants to record the story of Kvothe’s life, since recording stories is what Chronicler does, apparently.
Kvothe agrees, and thus begins the tale of his youth: his days traveling in his family’s caravan of performance artists; the night his family was slaughtered by the demonic Chandrian, and his years being penniless on the city streets.

And then through his wit and determination, Kvothe is accepted into the university, where he begins his studies of magic and alchemy, makes a living as a musician, and meets the beautiful but aloof Denna, who begins to consume his thoughts.

It is an exploration into the young man Kvothe once was, and the beginning of the man that Kvothe is to become.

I will refrain from comparing the plot and characters to another popular fantasy adventure involving a young boy orphaned by an evil magical force, leading him to enroll in a magic school where he makes enemies with a rich, arrogant classmate.

And he even has a unique head-related feature that symbolizes him as being the “chosen one.” In the case of Kvothe, however, it is his unusually vibrant red hair, not a specifically-shaped scar.

As readers, particularly fantasy fanatics, we are drawn to the staple plot elements, such as battles with mythological creatures, exhibitions of magic, sinister villains who remain in the shadows, and so on, and thus why we desire to see these elements again and again in different books.

I will say, however, if a fantasy story is 720 pages long, it should leave the reader with the feeling that something — anything — was accomplished.

It is amazing how so much happened within the course of this novel, and yet it seems like nothing so striking occurred that it lingers in the reader’s mind.

Perhaps the problem is nothing was resolved in “Name of the Wind.” One could argue, since it is intended to be a series, there did not have to be definite resolutions by the end of the first part. I believe, however, most people want to walk away from a story with a sense of fulfillment. There does not have to be a happy ending, not even a complete ending, but some thread within the weaving of the plot should be tied up so we can say there was a payoff.

This may seem to be a silly critique, as the intention of leaving all the loose ends of the plot unfinished is to motivate readers to go to the next book in the series. I don’t imagine most readers would be too inclined to continue with a series if the first book leaves them frustrated, as if they just took a long, tiresome journey only to receive none of what they set out to find.

A satisfying ending is why we continue to read.

We keep reading because, we hope we will find that conclusion that will allow us to take a breath of relief, to find healing from the pain we endured along with the hero and to have a feeling of comfort and wholeness that awaits us in the end.

“Name of the Wind,” while it has plenty of beautiful writing and the blueprints of an entertaining fantasy, it surprisingly short-changes the reader for being such a leviathan parable. Perhaps if you go into this book knowing this is just the beginning and no part of it will stand on its own apart from the rest of the series, you may have more patience with it. For those looking for a quick-paced adventure with lots of heart-pounding memorable moments, I would suggest you consider a different epic to devour.

Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? Email her to tell her about it. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life


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