Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Name of the Wind

I was a little afraid to try writing this post, because I’m not sure I can adequately explain just how amazing this book is. But I was just reading something online about The Name of the Wind, and suddenly found myself almost tearing up, and not just because I’m a bit overemotional these days. It was because I wish I could write as well and as beautifully as Patrick Rothfuss – which, by the way, is somewhat similar to wishing I could write poetry like T.S. Eliot. (I wish that too, in fact.) That was when I realized I have to at least try to describe this book, because it deserves to be mentioned, especially to people who might then go read it.

Part of the problem is that it defies categorization. How do you tell people about a book that isn’t quite like other books? Yes, it’s a fantasy. One could also call it epic. But it doesn’t conform to the traditional structures one usually finds these days, in fantasy or other literature.

To quote the author: “As far as I can tell, my story is part autobiography, part hero's journey, part epic fantasy, part travelogue, part faerie tale, part coming of age story, part romance, part mystery, part metafictional-nested-story-frame-tale-something-or-other.”

The Name of the Wind is all of those things, but since it is all of them, it is also none of them. How do you predict what’s going to happen when all of those ingredients are thrown together into the same story? Sure, in some ways they can line up, but in many more ways they force each other in directions they wouldn’t ordinarily go. This is part of what makes the story so hard to describe, and also part of what makes it so wonderful. We like to read the traditional story forms, but we also like it when they do things we don’t expect.

Usually, then, when I mention The Name of the Wind and someone asks me what it’s about, I fall back on choosing one of the many things that it is, because that’s faster and less confusing. What I tell people most often, though, is that The Name of the Wind is beautiful.

There just isn’t a better word for it. The story is gripping and fantastic, but the language leaves me awestruck.

I’ve been in awe of books before, for many different reasons. Robert Jordan’s world-building capabilities staggered me. With Melanie Rawn, it’s the characters. (She does characterization so well that once she made me cry for two characters who died just a couple pages after she introduced them.) Usually, though, it takes the highest quality poetry to make me feel the way this book’s prose did.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, that’s no good. If I want poetry I’ll go read poetry. I don’t need it in a novel.” Let me assure you: in this case, you really do. This isn’t a matter of wordy descriptions that detract from the story flow. I’ve read books in which the narrative goes off on so many descriptive tangents that by the time it returns you to the conversation the characters were having, you’ve forgotten that they were talking, let alone what they were talking about. That’s not what Patrick Rothfuss does. These are well-chosen words that never fail to make the story more powerful than it already was.

Beautiful language would not be nearly so impressive if it didn’t go with an amazing story. I’m not going to try to tell you about it here. The blurbs in the link above don’t do it justice. It’s one of those books that you really just need to read for yourself.

Go. Read. I recommend The Name of the Wind with absolutely no reservations.

UPDATE: Locus reviews books better than I do, if you'd like to get some sense of what it's actually about.

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