24 July 2012

The Name of the Wind

Now and then I get on a kick to re-approach a project in a VERY orderly fashion.  (I think that was my original intent with my "shelf project" - but then I just went offline with that.... don't worry, it ain't over 'til it's over.)

Feeling kind of ho-hum about The Shelf, I decided to sort my GoodReads "to-read" list by rating stars...  not a bad way to go, right?  I want other readers' suggestions!

Patrick Rothfuss' Name of the Wind has a HUGE rating from tens of thousands of GoodReads members - something like 4.5 stars (out of a possible 5) putting it in the Top 10 on my "to-read" list. I ordered it from Interlibrary Loan (words cannot express how much I love this free service).  It arrived last week.  Phat.... I mean, FAT, man.  For real - this book is 650 pages long.  But so many people rave at how great it is!  I dive in.

It took me just a week to read it, the story carried me along, and I would lose track of time into the wee hours.

Here's my way-too-brief summary:
Set in a pre-industrial pseudo-European fantasy world à la Middle Earth, Kvothe (pronouned "Quoth") is a masterful lute player and the uber-brilliant, pre-adolescent member of a family of respected travelling troubadours.  An itinerant magician (or "arcanist") joins the group, taking Kvothe under his wing, teaching him rudamentary magic and inspiring him to go to "University" for further magical training.  But suddenly, the troupe meets a vicious, violent end, and the boy is entirely alone, left to fend for himself in a ragamuffin urban adolescence so unhappy, Dickens' Oliver Twist is positively JOYOUS in comparison.  After about 150 pages of that misery (and reasonable success as a pickpocket), the boy leaves the city intent on University.  Surpassing all odds, he gets in.  On scholarship.

Bullies abound, Kvothe is often broke or deeply indebted, he pines for a girl, he sings for his supper, he slays monstrous beasts, he survives agonizing physical brutalities (muggings, whippings, accidents, he nearly dies of exposure, suffocation, falls, fires... and on and on).  And so many minor characters.  If you read it, keep a list for yourself... I had a hard time keeping everyone straight.

photo courtesy "HarshLight" on Flickr

It's a little bit "Harry Potter's Hogwart's: The Undergrad Years" - they go out to the bars, see "bands," get hammered.  Rich kids snub the kids on "financial aid." There's work-study, dorms & dining halls.... and hooking up.  Yet Hogwart's has genuine charm, warmth, and is breathtakingly magical, with loving, loyal friends and sensible, kind faculty - whereas University feels like a cold, cruel and dangerous version of Oxford.  But hey, college is more rigorous than high school....

I liked it, but I would have loved The Name of the Wind if I read it in my late teens-early 20s.  It came out in 2007, right about the time that many core Harry Potter fans were entering college.  How perfect!  But sadly, even though it's an engaging story, it made me feel a bit old and grumpy.  Stuff & bother.  Bah, humbug!

My local library has Book Two (Two? Why is 650 pages not long enough to tell a story anymore?  You don't have to write Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu to be great.... brevity is the soul of wit).  I glanced at The Wise Man's Fear the other day.  It is 1,100 PAGES LONG.  Eek - too much, even for me.  I'll wait for the movie!

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