My name is Kvothe, pronounced nearly the same as “quothe.”
Quoth the Rothfuss, nevermore.
Names are important as they tell you a great deal about a person. I’ve had more names than anyone has a right to.
The Adem call me Maedre. Which, depending on how it’s spoken, can mean The Flame, The Thunder, or The Broken Tree.
I feel like this paragraph sums up everything wrong with fantasy as a genre.
It’s all in here- valuing trivia over storytelling, conlangs that all sound the same, ham-fisted grand-standing disguised as epic scope, the idea that bigger is always better and the worth of your novel is judged by how much stuff you can cram between the covers. Our modern fantasy hero can’t just have one mysterious alias- he must have twelve, all equally stupid and each more equally stupid than the last.
Yes, he really has twelve nick-names. They’re Maedre and its three different meanings, E’lir, Dulator, Shadicar, Lightfinger, Six’String (someone please tell me what that apostrophe is doing there), Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe the Arcane and Kvothe Kingkiller, confirming that Rothfuss is using the well-worn fantasy naming convention of throwing some scrabble tiles into a washing machine. As is usually the case, they’re completely lacking in any sense of originality or identity (I could swear “Shadicar” came up as the name of a location or a McGuffin or something in a Wheel of Time book).
So here’s something that bugs me about fantasy names. This book is, like a great many other fantasy novels, taking place in what is essentially just Ye Olde Times Europe with magic and giant crabs in it. The architecture, the landscape, the way people look, dress, behave and to a limited extent speak are all essentially ripped straight from Middle Ages/ Renaissance-era British Isles or northern Europe, so why not just give the characters Middle Ages/Renaissance-era British Isles or northern European names? Calling your plucky European farm lad N’Tael’Torikar Phoenicks-Briar doesn’t disguise the fact that he’s a plucky European farm lad.
I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me.
I feel like making me want to punch Kvothe in the face on the opening page is a mistake, even if Rothfuss does do a masterful job at it. The entire point of the trilogy is that we’re delving into the truth behind Kvothe’s legend, which is only interesting if we actually care about Kvothe and don’t want to see him ride a horse off a cliff as soon as possible.
Okay so now that we’re finished with the prologue let’s start the second prologue:
IT WAS NIGHT AGAIN. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.
Okay, wait, no. Just stop there.
It was night “again”? Do we really need to be told that it’s been night before? Is night particularly unusual in this setting?
As for a what a silence of three parts is, I’m just going to quite this entire page because it really needs to be seen to be believed:
The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking. If there had been a wind it would have sighed through the trees, set the inn’s sign creaking on its hooks, and brushed the silence down the road like trailing autumn leaves. If there had been a crowd, even a handful of men inside the inn, they would have filled the silence with conversation and laughter, the clatter and clamor one expects from a drinking house during the dark hours of night. If there had been music .. . but no, of course there was no music. In fact there were none of these things, and so the silence remained.
Inside the Waystone a pair of men huddled at one corner of the bar. They drank with quiet determination, avoiding serious discussions of troubling news. In doing this they added a small, sullen silence to the larger, hollow one. It made an alloy of sorts, a counterpoint.
The third silence was not an easy thing to notice. If you listened for an hour, you might begin to feel it in the wooden floor underfoot and in the rough, splintering barrels behind the bar. It was in the weight of the black stone hearth that held the heat of a long dead fire. It was in the slow back and forth of a white linen cloth rubbing along the grain of the bar. And it was in the hands of the man who stood there, polishing a stretch of mahogany that already gleamed in the lamplight.
The man had true-red hair, red as flame. His eyes were dark and distant, and he moved with the subtle certainty that comes from knowing many things.
The Waystone was his, just as the third silence was his. This was appropriate, as it was the greatest silence of the three, wrapping the others inside itself. It was deep and wide as autumn’s ending. It was heavy as a great river-smooth stone. It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.
Note that Rothfuss has just taken 345 words to tell us that the Waystone Inn was unusually quiet, something that could have been conveyed in a single sentence. I invite anyone reading this to try and explain why Autumn’s ending is deep and wide or what the sound of one flower cutting itself is.
You can write in a way that’s more concerned with playing with language and diving off on whimsical tangents than telling a story, but you need to be extremely good at it and even your most lyrical metaphors and similes need to have some sort of anchor point in reality for the reader to relate to. What Rothfuss wrote up there is complete gibberish. He could have said that the silence was as deep and wide as a half-eaten hot dog and it would have just as much meaning.
Back when I was fourteen or fifteen I used to write my own little stories and upload them to fiction press and if there is any justice in the world they’ve long since been erased from the internet. Back then I thought that good writing meant vomiting as many impressive words onto the page as possible and smashing the reader over the head with how verbose I was. Patrick Rothfuss was born in 1973 and started writing The Name of The Wind seven years before its 2007 publication sdate, which means he was 27 at the time, or in other words way too old for this shit unless it was his first time attempting to write anything. I strongly suspect this may be the case, as the entire opening page just reeks of amateur hour.
Anyway, on to the first chapter itself. A bunch of dudes sit around in the Waystone Inn telling stories and…. wait, I thought it was supposed to be silent? Was that prologue taking place after the first chapter? Why? For that matter why even include the prologue, it didn’t tell us anything about you know what fuck it, let’s just move on.
A bunch of dudes sit around the Waystone Inn telling stories about the Chandrian, which are scary magical beings of some sort. The story feels like Rothfuss’ D&D campaign and the idea of magic working on “true names” because Rothfuss read Earthsea I guess.
Cob nodded seriously. “So Taborlin fell, but he did not despair. For he knew the name of the wind, and so the wind obeyed him.
There’s a goofy little poem about “tinkers” that gave me flashbacks to the Wheel of Time novels and then an injured dude comes in with a dead stone-spider-crab thing called a Scrael that jumped him on the road. The innkeeper, who is so clearly Kvothe I don’t know why Rothfuss is trying to pretend otherwise, recognizes it and makes some cryptic comments about how “they can’t have come this far west yet” before realizing he’s said too much and insisting that he totally doesn’t know anything, nuh uh, he just heard some rumors and stuff.
If the book had just opened here instead of messing around with prologues I’d probably feel a lot more positive about it. It’s still mediocre generic fantasy but it’s nowhere near as awful as the two previous pages and the innkeeper might have had some legitimate mystery if his identity hadn’t already been telegraphed so clearly in advance. Also Kvothe has yet more fucking names, bringing the total up to fourteen. His current alias is Kote (do you see) but his apprentice calls him Reshi, for no reason as far as I can see.
“Today, master, I learned why great lovers have better eyesight than great scholars.”
“And why is that, Bast?” Kote asked, amusement touching the edges of his voice.
“Well Reshi, all the rich books are found inside where the light is bad. But lovely girls tend to be out in the sunshine and therefore much easier to study without risk of injuring one’s eyes.”
Kote nodded. “But an exceptionally clever student could take a book outside, thus bettering himself without fear of lessening his much-loved faculty of sight.”
“I thought the same thing, Reshi. Being, of course, an exceptionally clever student.”
It turns out there are probably more spider-crabs and they’re probably going to kill a whole bunch of people, but Kvothe and his apprentice still have time for wacky shenanigans. Here’s some of Rothfuss’ conlang:
“Begone demon!” Kote said, switching to a thickly accented Temic through half a mouthful of stew. “Tehus antausa eha!”
Bast burst into startled laughter and made an obscene gesture with one hand.
Kote swallowed and changed languages. “Aroi te denna-leyan!”
“Oh come now,” Bast reproached, his smile falling away. “That’s just insulting.”
Note that the supposedly different second language sounds exactly the same as the first, and they both sound identical to every other conlang ever.
The next day at the inn we’re told that war was declared and times are hard in a generic Ye Olde Fantasy kind of way. Then the chapter ends.
So that was….. okay, I guess. If you ignore the two prologues you’d be left with a vaguely competent middle of the road fantasy novel and a story that seems like it might potentially go somewhere interesting if given enough time. But those prologues are so dreadful I’m having trouble looking past them and knowing that Rothfuss has the potential to unleash such horrors on his readers makes me wary of the rest of the book, like a cake that might have a bomb hidden in it.