Goodreads: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Today’s review.
The Name of the Wind
by Patrick Rothfuss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fucking great fantasy. Set after the facts (but with a hint of trouble on the horizon), Kvothe (pronounced “quoth”) tells his story in his own words. Which means we’re progressively introduced to his world both as he discovers it growing up and as a reader of a memoir who might not know what he’s talking about. So that’s one usual clumsiness in fantasy sorted.

There’s no denying some similarities to other stories, like Harry Potter Ender’s Game – orphan goes to magic school, pisses off a teacher, makes an enemy of a rich classmate, makes some nice friends, turns out to be absurdly talented, becomes awesome.

But who cares. It’s a nice recognisable fun story framework for Rothfuss to develop all of the other cool shit: the confused history of the world, the mysterious circumstances of this and that, the hints at the future in the telling. And despite our hero suffering slightly from Jimmy the Hand Syndrome (is there nothing this kid isn’t brilliant at? WHO ROLLED THE STATS ON THIS GUY?!), he’s flawed enough to be a realistic character.

There’s much, much more to it than I’ve made it sound, but I’m not going to spoil this for you.

If you like good fantasy, read this book.

Goodreads: Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

Assassin's Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy, #1)Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read Assassin’s Apprentice immediately after I finally gave up on Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, so perhaps my delight in finding Robin Hobb has something to do with the bad taste in my brain left by Goodkind’s tripe. So it’s getting five stars, but I’m quite sure that I would have given it five stars anyway. As a fantasy book, it’s brilliant.

In some ways, it follows a lot of typical tropes. Young boy with royal blood and troublesome parentage forced to find his way in an unfamiliar world, finds he possesses rare talents, is taught by a mentor/father-figure and proves himself in the end. Sort of. Court intrigues, anonymous enemies threatening the kingdom, mysteriously knowledgeable lunatic to push the plot along occasionally. Sort of.

Even the whole first-person autobiographical style isn’t particularly original. So why the hell did I enjoy it so much?

Firstly, Hobb executes all of those usual patterns perfectly. The hero’s bastardy, his apprenticeship, the court intrigue – none of it is presented clumsily. Unlike so many authors using these devices, you get the strong impression that if you quizzed her on any of the characters or their situations, she would be able to tell you a million things, all internally consistent and interesting, that will never make it into the story.

Secondly, Hobb doesn’t rush. She deftly hints at things to come without waving them around as the sole thing to keep you interested. There’s no, “Ooh! Elderlings! Bet you want to know more about that shit, eh?!” Just little mentions, usually around times you’re too interested in what’s going on to wonder too much about what will be revealed later.

Finally, the characters are nice and flawed. Not token flaws, like Raymond E Feist’s “Jimmy’s amazing, but on the other hand he thinks he’s slightly better than amazing”. The characters are proper fucked up, for the most part.

I started reading fantasy again because I wanted something to fill the gap left by coming to the end of the published Song of Ice and Fire books. I forced myself through Terry Goodkind’s bollocks just to satisfy the craving. But Assassin’s Apprentice has sent me straight into the second book of the series, with A Dance with Dragons lying half-finished by my bed.

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Raymond E. Feist’s Eulogy

Raymond E. Feist died.

That’s how I’d start his eulogy, if he was dead, because after over 25 novels, he still starts every chapter with the same damn single-sentence-paragraph formula. Pug winced. The wind blew. Jimmy snuck. I’ve reckoned that’s how I’d start his eulogy since I was about 14, and as he hasn’t had the good grace to die yet, I’m getting in there before anyone else does.

And I don’t mind. Because that little formula at the start of each chapter takes me back to lying in bed reading at 3 in the morning with little thought to how tired I’ll be at school the next day. Or reading Darkness at Sethanon under the desk while sitting in class at high school. God knows why I’d enjoy being reminded of my teenage years, but apparently I do.

His first novel, Magician, routinely sits in various bookstores’ top 100 recommended reads. Whitcoulls, may it rest in peace, included it in their Y2K top reads list. It’s generally acknowledged as one of the great fantasy books – which to some may sound like being the tallest midget around, but, you know, fuck them.

The thing is, he’s not that great a writer, and things have steadily gone downhill since that first trilogy, the Riftwar Saga. What once seemed like fascinating hints and twists now cause me to groan, like Pug’s suspicions that “the odd little gambler” Nakor, who “continued to insist that there is no magic” was “possibly the most dangerous man he’d ever met”. Hoo boy! What’s the deal with Nakor, eh?

Ten novels later and it seems like Nakor’s name can’t be mentioned without those qualifications. Apparently it’s all anyone can think about. Nakor the Odd Little Gambler who Insists There Is No Magic Just Stuff and is Possibly the Most Dangerous Man Ever. We get it!

How about Amos Trask? “Arutha, you take all the fun out of life!” Nice way to end a book. Sure, end another one with exactly the same line. And… yes, after Amos is dead, end another book with something along the lines of, “Amos was right, back before he died, Arutha: you do take all the fun out of life.”

That’s how I’d end the eulogy, by the way. Something like, “But unlike Arutha, Raymond E. Feist never took the fun out of life.” Too clumsy, I know. Lacks punch.

So he used characters’ signature lines even after the characters were dead. There’s a reason for that. It’s the same reason that as his novels continue to span generations of families in his fantasy worlds, the descendents of the original heroes sit around and whine about how they themselves, or everyone around them, are nowhere near as awesome as their ancestors.

“Yes,” said Pug. “Your great-grandfather was the finest man I’ve ever known, and I sure wish he was around right now.”

More like Arutha was one of Feist’s favourite characters, and he misses him. And Jimmy.

Fair enough. So do I.

But enough about how amazing Jimmy was. Who rolled the stats on that guy? Fuckin’ 18s all round, and his character flaw is “he’s not quite as good as he claims he is”. (To explain: Feist wrote the books based on a Dungeons & Dragons campaign he played with his friends.)

And still I read them. It’s like coming home. The repetitive assembly-line stories don’t matter. The bad writing doesn’t matter. Midkemia, the Riftwar, the Hall of Worlds, Pug and Macros and Tomas and Nakor, they were such good ideas that they shone through the adequate execution of the earlier novels and provide a kind of inertia that keeps the later ones rolling along.

I still want to find out what happens next. I’m still reading. It still feels like being curled up in bed with a torch under the covers.

And the next one is out now in New Zealand.

(For more hilarious fantasy book cover parodies, click here: Mighty God King.)