Of late, I had been reading lots of books that had decent enough stories, but really weak prose. I won’t name any of said books, because no one really asked, but the prose I had been reading felt like a first draft. There was no polish, no care for the chosen words.
I suppose this may seem a bit hypocritical on a blog that is almost entirely stream-of-consciousness. However, this isn’t my livelihood, and lets be honest, not many people read it. When I finally release my book of fiction to the world, you can be damned sure I will pour over every word until it is exactly as I want it to be. It might not be any good, but that won’t be for lack of trying. Already, I painstakingly rework the chapters that I’ve written with every reading, and I barely feel like I’ve gotten started.
In fiction, the words are the story, the medium. Everything comes to the recipient in the form of the prose. Thus, regardless of what type of fiction it is, whether it is tight, gritty,Hemingway-esque fiction or grandiose, lyrical high fantasy, it still seems like prose is where it’s at. All that to say, I have read many stories lately with distractingly weak writing. For me, this means that no matter how engaging the story arc might be, these stories have no chance of staying with me well after I am done reading.
I really needed to read an author who “brought it” in the word-smithing department. Then, it happened. Lo and behold, I was saved from the mire by a man named Patrick Rothfuss. I checked out The Name of the Wind on the recommendation of my dear friends Josh and Amanda, and I’m certainly glad I did. This is wordy fantasy at its very best. Rothfuss clearly delights in the word craft, which makes his world creation that much richer and deeper.
Rothfuss tells the tale of Kvothe (pronounced like Quothe with a v in it), a world famous magician, musician, and all around badass of legend and myth, who is now a lowly inn-keeper hiding in a dead-end town in the middle of nowhere. Kvothe decides to share his tale with a chronicler, after said chronicler uncovers his identity, and thus we get Kvothe’s origin story in The Name of the Wind.
Rothfuss is keenly aware of fantasy convention, and weaves in and out of that convention well. There is certainly nothing groundbreaking in the sense that the first book in the series offers nothing truly new, but Rothfuss takes the colors already available to him and paints a picture that’s well worth one’s time.
It’s the sort of writing that has stayed with me in the week since I finished reading it. Great prose reprograms the brain, so that my thoughts fit into the framework the author has created for me, from time to time, in the wake of my reading. This is the case with Patrick Rothfuss.
In The Name of the Wind, one can see the traces of fantasy gods like Le Guin, and of course Tolkien. However, the traces always feel like he is playing with someone else’s idea in a new way, not stealing someone’s creativity and passing it off as his own. This is especially true in the way he uses Le Guin’s particular brand of magic: knowing something’s true name, which gives one power over that thing. Le Guin didn’t create that, but she does it far better than anyone else, and Rothfuss is a remarkably capable disciple in that particular fantasy denomination.
I’m actually sort of surprised that the plan is only for this series to be a trilogy, because the first book goes to such great pains creating a fantasy world, introducing a wonderful new fantasy hero, and crafting a magical mythology. The whole first book is really just laying the groundwork for the story that’s to come, and with over 660 pages, that’s quite the foundation. Hopefully, after the third book finally comes out, Rothfuss will have more stories to tell in the world he has created in The Name of the Wind.
I’m going to bide my time before I read book two in the trilogy, A Wise Man’s Fear, because there is no definite word when #3 comes out, and I don’t want to spend two to five years in a George R.R. Martin no-man’s-land.