I’ve been neglecting my blogging duties. Sorry. Busy time for me, settling into a new job, not much gaming going on.
But I have been catching up on my reading.
I just finished a pair of books that I really liked, and I want to talk about them. I found out about both of them through the news on Randy Milholland’s Something Positive webcomic*, and really, really enjoyed them.
(Incidentally, if you’re not familiar with Something Positive, you should check it out. It is brutally, savagely, often cruelly funny. I’ll warn you though; the language is strong, and some of the themes may offend you. They fill me with mad, vicious glee.)
Anyway, the books.
The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss
The series is named The Kingkiller Chronicle, and the book is touted as Day One. When you read in, you find that it’s probably going to be a trilogy.
Now, I’d seen this book before, and dismissed it. I’m kind of tired with standard, generic fantasy novels. Especially the big thick ones that claim to be something new and groundbreaking, but wind up being Robert Jordan clones**. And I don’t like getting into a series that’s not complete, because of the way some of them, like The Wheel of Time***, just go on and on and on, with no sign of an ending.
So, I avoided it.
Then, I read about it on Something Positive, and went, “Huh.” Then these stunning reviews started showing up everywhere, and I finally gave in a bought a copy.
It is an amazing book.
On the surface, it’s a standard fantasy story, but it pushes all the right buttons for me. Most of the story is a flashback, with the main character telling his story to a scribe. See, he’s a pretty famous hero, or villain, depending on who you ask. And he wants his side of the story recorded, because he thinks it’s coming to an end.
So, the story within the story tells the tale of his life with his parents, who were wandering performers, how he came to be a street beggar and thief, his journey to the University, and his studies on his way to becoming an arcanist.
(Yeah, there’s shades of Harry Potter in it, for those who look, but seeing as J. K. Rowling wasn’t the first to tell that story****, only one of the more well known, it’s not a fair comparison. And in the story itself, you won’t see any real shades of Harry.)
Throughout it all, the main character is tracking down some ancient lore to solve a mystery that has been plaguing him for most of his life. This leads to a few “story within a story within a story” sections.
That’s the story. So, why do I like this book? There are a few reasons.
- The writing is solid. Except in a few moments, when language surges to the forefront and captures you, the prose is clean and unobtrusive, letting the story come through clear and strong. No overblown attempt at art, but when Rothfuss reproduces poetry or wants to hit you with a scene that has a little extra weight, he can sling words with the best of them.
- The nested narrative. Rothfuss uses it nicely to play with perception vs. reality, with one person’s view vs. another person’s view, with parceling information, with controlling the flow and pace, and with establishing dramatic irony. He says a lot of very interesting things about the nature of story with it, and he does it without ever once losing his audience. The tension between the present timeline story, the flashback, and the legends and stories in the flashback could have been confusing; instead, they weave together, leading the reader flawlessly and cleanly where the story goes.
- The hero. He’s everything I love in a hero: cunning, determined, clever, tricky, and human. He’s a trickster-type, an unapologetic liar, a careful planner, and he’s always just about to overextend himself and fall on his face. And he does fall, now and then. He makes bad choices, some of which he recognizes as he tells his story years later, and some that he doesn’t. When he’s a fifteen-year-old boy, he thinks and acts like a fifteen-year-old boy. And when he gets knocked down, he gets back up again.
So. The Name of the Wind. I recommend you read it. And the next book, The Wise Man’s Fear, is coming out later this month. (EDIT – As noted in the comments, I am wrong about this. It won’t be out until next year. Dammit.)
The Wolfman, by Nicholas Pekearo
Okay. I’m gonna tell you the set-up, but don’t just stop reading. Deal?
It’s the story of a werewolf that stalks criminals.
Still with me? Good.
Because that’s not really what the book is about.
Really, it’s the story of what you do when you know you’re a monster, and you can’t stop being a monster. There’s no secret cabal of werewolves, or hidden shadow war where you get to be a hero. You can’t even embrace the wildness, go out to the wilderness and run with the other animals.
Because the wolf has to kill every time it comes out. Kill a person.
This isn’t some strange bloodline, or the result of a bite. This is a curse, and a curse has to hurt. Right in your soul.
And the best you can do is hang on to the one little bit of light: if you focus when you change, you can give the wolf a target.
What sort of accommodation can you make with yourself, to let you go on? That’s what the story is about.
The main character in the book is battered and broken, having held up under the curse for over twenty years. He’s not the nicest guy in the world, but he’s got his own ideas of honour and right. He’s made his accommodation with the beast inside him, and found a way to live with it, and himself.
And then it gets taken away.
It’s a short read, and the prose is very bleak and spare. It’s a first-person narrative that jumps around in time a bit, giving you the backstory in little dribs and drabs. And it doesn’t flinch away from the sheer horror of this kind of life; in fact, it throws it into stark relief with the calm, detached way things are described. When you realize that the horror has become an acceptable piece of this man’s life, there’s a special kind of chill that comes over you.
Read it. Trust me.
You may also have seen some of the press about the book: the author was an auxiliary police officer in New York City, and was killed in the line of duty before this book, his first published novel, was released. I don’t want to minimize that sort of sacrifice, but it’s not what makes the book worth the read. The story and writing do that all on their own. What the unfortunate loss of Nicholas Pekearo means to those of us who didn’t have the privilege to know him is that the series envisioned as following The Wolfman will not happen.
And that’s really too bad.
Because that man could write.
* My friend, Chris, will claim that he told me about The Name of the Wind, but I say that he’s a liar and a fraud, unfit for human company. Whaddaya think about THEM apples, Binky?
** He’s the big one to emulate these days, it seems. Ten years ago, it was Mercedes Lackey. Ten years before that, David Eddings. And, of course, every now and then, someone tries to redo Tolkien.
*** Don’t get me wrong; I liked the first few books. But stories need an ending, and the inestimable Mr. Jordan seemed to be wandering around blindly trying to find one.
**** Orson Scott Card wrote a rather sharp article about J. K. Rowling and her lawsuit against the publisher of The Harry Potter Lexicon. Amid the anger, there are some very cogent, interesting points about the originality of ideas.