The Name of the Wind – my first impression

I had to pull the book from the shelf (since I’ve not yet read it) because I got curious. There was a comment on Malazan re-read that basically claimed that Malazan was shallow compared to Rothfuss’ work. Despite its troll-ish nature (joining Malazan re-read to say it doesn’t deserve a re-read) I’m always curious by how works relate to each other and lately there has been quite a discussion about Rothfuss, with the 2nd book coming out. But from all I read there was a certain consensus that the book had pacing issues and was overlong. Which was exactly the opposite that this poster was claiming:

The degree of depth that’s being unearthed in the comments on the Name of the Wind reread thread have felt to me strongly supportive of the notion that the Malazan books are not very dense compared to Rothfuss, fwiw. I enjoy Erikson a lot as entertaining light reading with addictively much plot and world complexity and find the series worth having for that, but my lack of commenting is because I’m really not seeing that much thematic depth; the notions that war sucks and that compassion, integrity, endurance and bearing witness are virtues are neither points that strike me as particularly subtle or innovative nor ones that need so many thousand pages to be conveyed.

See, I’m pretty sure this guy has absolutely nothing worthwhile to say about Malazan, but maybe he has a point about Rothfuss. I’m not interested in a comparison, but I am interested in finding Rothfuss own qualities. The quality of prose is one I’ve seen claimed the most.

So I went reading the first 30 pages, following the re-read in order to see the “degree of depth” that it was “unearthing”. Coming right from Erikson the difference in prose is the most noticeable aspect, and beside it, also the approach to the story. These two lines for example wouldn’t blend too well in a Malazan book:

Graham, Jake, and Shep nodded to themselves. The three friends had grown up together, listening to Cob’s stories and ignoring his advice.

Probably two of the most common lines you can find. There’s nothing weird, or stylish, or significant about them, but they set the story on a level of normality. It’s contained in a slice of life scene that has nothing special about it and actually draws its point from this notion. And again a corner of the world, life made simple, plot details introduced little by little, bits by bits. Hints here and there about hidden elements. Easing carefully the reader in, the story well measured on that reader.

So yes, I see a certain mastery of storytelling. Every sentence drives its point and wants the reader put under that spell that will keep him turning the pages. Feeling the story, the characters, getting involved. It’s a very delicate and caring way of writing, showing passion for the writing itself. It has a traditional air of fairy tales and gives a feeling of safety. The story may include danger, but you know it’s done for the purpose of the story itself. The monsters aren’t real.

Erikson obviously runs opposite to all this. I said many times as there seem to be no slice of life scenes in the Malazan books. No character leading a normal life, caught up in normal business. That kind of relief and reduction of complexity of the world is absent and all the characters are tossed this way and that, snapping between plots. We’ll never know how the Malazan series would look if written from a more relaxed and natural point of view. It’s the opposite of what Erikson does, but sometimes I wonder how it would be.

That’s how I’d frame Rothfuss work at the moment. I recognize a good style of writing honed for a precise effect. I’d say that it sits safely within a tradition, embracing and nourishing it more than challenging it, but this isn’t a “flaw”. I’m far more skeptical instead about “depth unearthed”. It seems to me more of the kind that Larry calls as the “speculative mills”. Meaning that it’s all about piecing together mysteries and doing guesswork about what really happened and finding out all the little hints and mentions of this and that.

But it’s a kind of activity I find dry. I focus on what the writer wants and says, I always stay within the text and do not allow imagination to fill untold stories and alternate possibilities. I know many, many readers thrive on that, projecting themselves in the story and making it their own. I don’t see anything wrong with that, but the “depth” I’m looking for has to be in the text, not in spurious speculation or wishful thinking.

I’m sure I’ll enjoy some “entertaining light reading with addictively much plot and world complexity”, but that’s likely to define more Rothfuss’ work than Erikson’s.

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