Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name Of The Wind starts out well enough. The writing is good: clear and descriptive, with some nicely turned phrases and some ideas worth contemplating. There’s some funny bits, too. The richness of description proved inspiring to me, a fellow writer of novels.
The characters in the story are also intriguing: the seemingly mild-mannered Innkeeper who is more than he pretends to be; the Chronicler who has come from far away in search of a story; the “Arcanist” Ben who knows how to call upon the wind. And, of course, there are supernatural creatures up to no good.
The author creates nice, detailed backstories for the characters. The cultures of the fantastic lands are described in detail: dress, drink, food, holidays, myths, children’s songs– all of it. If you are a lover of good old fashioned, world-building fantasy fiction, this will probably be right up your alley.
Rothfuss certainly takes his time creating this world for us, and I can tell he loves doing it. But this was precisely the problem for a reader like me: the book takes too long to fulfill the promise of its opening. Rothfuss spends so much time and loving energy painting the vast panorama of characters and their backstories, along with (one assumes eventually relevant) mythologies, that the work begins to chase its own tail. The feeling of embarking upon one great adventure is sacrificed for numerous adventures. “Episodic” is the word that comes to mind.
I am beginning to suspect that this type of rich backgrounding is precisely what lovers of the sword-and-sorcery genre adore—and indeed expect. I’m also realizing that, though I love a good fantastical tale, this is probably the very reason that I have never delved into fantasy books with a consistent passion. I personally grow bored with too many lectures on mythology, too many old songs sung, too many finely-etched characters sprawling over the minutely detailed maps of make-believe.
I’m not sure how my finicky choices break down, actually: I loved Frank Herbert’s Dune, which—take away the space ships– is in its broad strokes drawn very much like a fantasy epic. On the other hand, I find the grand master of fantasy, Tolkien, rather boring. And here’s a controversial assertion for ya: I actually believe that Rothfuss is a better writer than Tolkien, in terms of creating vibrant paragraphs and in fashioning less stilted dialogue.
Perhaps these types of sprawling-series fantasy novels, so beloved by their fans, are –for me– a little like an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of fancy desserts— too rich and too much.