I spent a whole month reading this book and I just finished it a couple of hours ago. It’d probably wise to let it settle in my mind a bit before I write this post but why not let it spill out when it’s still boiling. Apologies to its fans. I know there are a lot of them. It’s a popular fantasy and that’s how I heard about it. Apologies to the author. It must be a lot of effort to put together a big book like this. Thank you. But I have so many issues with it!
First and foremost, what’s wrong with the protagonist? Kvothe. I genuinely liked him at the beginning: a legend in disguise as an innkeeper. A chronicler came to him to collect his life stories and Kvothe started the memoir off. Tragically orphaned, revenge for parents as a life goal, difficult childhood, living in a school, made a lifetime enemy on the first day, some teachers love him, some hate him. Does it remind you of someone famous? There are a lot of similarities between him and Harry Potter, it’s hard not to compare them. But that might be a fatal mistake I made along the way. Kvothe paled so much in comparison to Harry Potter and the squad. I would love to live in Harry’s world for a day, I wouldn’t care for Kvothe.
Alright, this doesn’t sound fair, I haven’t given any reasons. Here’s one, Kvothe cares about money so much it became pathetic. So much ink was spilt on his anxiety over his tuition fees and living expenses (therefore all his part-time jobs), as well as his endeavour to improve his living conditions. It’s understandable that poverty is a big thing when he is constantly hungry, wet and cold, living on the street. I had no problem with that. But the anxiety and love for money have become a serious follow-on condition from these early homeless days. There are so many descriptions of it, it’s unbelievable that this is a fantasy story about magic, mysteries and legends:
“The Four’s kitchens were remarkable, and my room was actually a small suite: bedroom, dressing room, and sitting room. A huge step up from my narrow bunk in the Mews. But best of all, I would earn two silver talents every month. An almost ridiculous sum of money to someone who had been poor for as long as I had. And that was in addition to whatever gifts or tips the wealthy customers might give me…”
“If Kelvin approved of the finished product, he would sell it and I would receive part of the money as a commission… It was a big step forward in the ranks of the Fishery, a step toward gaining the rank of Re’lar, and more importantly, my financial freedom.”
“My poverty hung around my neck like a heavy stone… I couldn’t afford shoes. I only owned one shirt…”
“Kelvin sold the rest of my emitters, … I had money to spare for luxuries such as soap and a second shirt to replace the one I’d lost. Today I had gone to Imre for some basal filings I needed for my current project: a large sympathy lamp using two emitters I’d saved for myself. I hoped to turn a tidy profit.”
“It was worth the walk for me if I could save a couple of pennies.”
“I shook out my purse and was surprised to see four drabs and a copper ha’penny I hadn’t accounted for. I was practically rich… I fought off the momentary pang at being utterly destitute again…”
“Seventy miles. I could make it today if I had a good horse. But good horses cost money… ”
On and on it goes. I was speechless. (I was also begrudgingly familiar with the currency system by the end of it.)
Here’s another reason, Kvothe has no friends. OK there are two boys he called friends. They have lunch together, play cards, go to a music house and have drinks. They give him advice on dating girls. That’s about it. No strong bonds. No adventures together. There was one decent adventure at about 80% into the book, with his sweetheart Denna. That was a good adventure – no mention of money, some real action. In addition to Denna, there are several girl ‘friends’. All very lovely and useful. He’s nice to them: he rescued one from fire and brought food and clothing to another. But the way things turn out, it makes me feel like he’s being nice for selfish purposes: one girl shows him around the library which he’s banned from; one cleans, stitches and bandages his wounds; one lends him money; one shows him the hidden passage that he sneaks into the library from. Denna’s clearly special: she’s the one. However, his friends don’t think positively about her. I don’t either. Apart from good looks and a good voice, I haven’t found much good character about her. Bewilderingly, Kvothe’s final verdict on her is: cruel and wild. And he meant it as a compliment. (Some of their flirting dialogues are long and cringe-worthy.)
His legend and reputation are built on rumours and lies, which are quite disappointing. He lies in front of a full panel of his uni masters in order to cheat some money out of his rival. That’s just pathetic. That scene completely destroys my faith and goodwill in him. Honesty is worth a puff of air to him. He’s pretentious and arrogant (even when he was BORROWING money). There’s nothing but malice and hatred between him and his rival. Not the ones that killed his parents, just a fellow student. A person so full of spite and pettiness, I cannot admire him as a hero. He tells people how desperately he wants to get into the library which he’s banned from and it kind of depends on good behaviour and patience to get him back in. But he doesn’t give it a toss when he gets into a fight. He spends most of his time chasing a girl and playing music (to earn money). His solution to get into the library? Through an illegal passageway.
I guess I’m just not used to this kind of ‘hero’. My kind are Luffy and his crew (in One Piece, the Japanese manga). Every victory is won honourably man to man, fighting face to face. The enemy is weak and hungry? Sanji would cook up a feast and because of his integrity, you wouldn’t even think there’s a possibility of poison. Young men and women who entrust their lives to each other. Live and die with a big heart.
Enough about this guy. The story itself. This is not a criticism: This is the most unromantic, scientific, down to earth, matter of fact fantasy I’ve ever read. Compare to Harry Potter for a second, because they both involve the protagonist spending a lot of their time in a university setting. Harry’s wizardry lessons are largely learning spells that either work well or go pear-shaped, dropping hairs into potions that transform them into someone else, flying on a broom, flying in a car or a motorbike, chasing dragons, etc. Kvoth’s arcane lessons involve the mechanism of magic, split your mind and bind part of it to the wick of a candle, draw your body heat and light the candle by transferring it. If you overdo it, your body temperature drops and you die.
There are many lovely characters, Bast is childlike and loyal, every word that Auri says is like a sweet dream, Elodin is delightfully whacky, Devi is unexpected right from the beginning.
I searched The Name of the Wind on the internet and so much lovely and brilliant fan art appeared in the result (do check them out!). It just shows how much people love it and how much potential it has. It’s talked about as the next Game of Thrones. (Though I didn’t like that either mind you.) Hopefully one day it gets into the hands of a good screenwriter and a good producer and they’ll sharpen the focus and make something epic out of it.
Credit: The cover photo is by Dan Dos Santos. See more of his amazing artwork from http://www.muddycolors.com/2017/10/illustrating-the-name-of-the-wind/ I really LOVE the two book covers he did. Aren’t they beautiful?