The Name of the Wind

This book is as addictively readable and exciting as any fantasy I’ve read. It’s different from a lot of that stuff for a number of reasons, one that stands out is there’s no fellowship in The Name of the Wind.

There are love interests and side characters, but it’s not the story of a troupe. It’s a kind of fictional autobiography of one man, Kvothe. This character is the meat and meade* of the story, which swells and crashes with his fortune. It’s painful when Kvothe is in a destitute world of urban poverty, energizing when his luck or intelligence pulls him through a tight spot, and crushing when his arrogance pushes him back in.

A story about one person is an important break from the Tolkien template, which so much of fantasy riffs on.  The readers not following a group of dwarves or The Fellowship of the Ring makes a big difference in the way the world comes across.

It’s a fantasy world, but it’s a very lived-in one. People work a great deal in the book and that is something that is missing in a lot of literature.  Kvothe is an actor, singer, barkeep and student at different times in the story and he deals with each job not in the high-flown magical way (though magic does exist) that we might imagine in some idealized world. He and the other characters in this book really work, sometimes just for drinks and tips.

There is real work throughout the story.  The book gives time to every phase of Kvothe’s life, and by the end it is clear the story will not end that life before the book is finished. That’s not to say there’s no climax. The book builds and uses all of its pages and adventures to reach an exciting conclusion to a base story and a narrative without pausing for information dumps.

It’s a classic adventure story in that it wrestles with the same themes and ideas as many of the great stories, featuring an orphan seeking adventure and love in a magical world, but it’s the realness of the world that makes the book most exciting. Kvothe is a hero of legend and song, but he still has to pay rent and try to get girls to pay attention to him.  And I was as excited about that as any dragon or dagron slaying (or whatever the name of the creature that exists in this world is). The dagron slaying is good.  The way that a very real world supports and builds the story of a single character is better.


*I stole this expression from George R. R. Martin who has also written glowing reviews of the book.

“The Magicians” by Lev Grossman (Week 1 – Book a Week)

The fantasy genre has a small but committed group of superfans.  There are shelves and shelves of stories about magic and elves that no one but the deeply committed fan has ever heard of.  But, the canon has its crossover hits.  The Magicians takes many of those beloved works (particularly Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia) and builds his book on their sacred ground.  But it’s no rehash.

The idea of magic is inherently tied to power.  The idea of young people gifted with the ability to do more than mortal men is a fantasy in its purest sense.  Power is what makes magic so tempting as an idea in fiction.  Doing impossible feats by conjuring unknowable powers is a sexy possibility.  But what happens when there is no menace to turn those powers against?  With no Sauron, what would Gandalf do all day?

The idea of a group of listless recent college students and graduates with superpowers is a scary one.  The book has its share of adventure and derring do. But it’s the frank way that the book looks at sex and death that raises the stakes.  One scene where a female wizard slits the throat of an anthropomorphic ferret stands out as more honest than genre generally allows.   The consequences in this world are real and that makes the wonderland all the more wonderful.





Week 2 – The Mission Song By John LeCarré

Week 3 – Machine Man By Max Barry