Patrick Rothfuss: The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle Day One) (2007)
Amazon has been reccing that to me ever since I bought Scott Lynch's "The Lies of Locke Lamora" from them, and in fact the books have some similarities: They are low fantasy in a high fantasy world, they are well-described and the hero is clever and cunning instead of strong and honorable. The blurb on "The Name of the Wind" is beautiful and promises a hero with wits, luck and panache. However, Rothfuss does not fully deliver.
After the reader, (or me at least), has come to expect a certain style, the book starts out in a completely different one. Instead of in the middle of a high-magic, high-adventure world, we find ourselves in an inn in some standard fantasy village in some standard fantasy country. A bunch of country folks talk about how everything is getting worse all the time, the red-haired, green-eyed innkeeper who knows exactly what to do when another local yokel stumbles in with tales of being attacked by a demon (and the cuts and bruises to prove it) is so obviously a retired hero that he might just put it on his mailbox. (You know the type. Carol Berg does them better.)
This goes on for 50 pages. Where Lynch juggles history and back stories effortlessly, Rothfuss gives us 50 pages of dreary "now" before, finally, some guy comes in and wants to hear the story of the hero's life. The hero is incredibly emo about it all and shows off his peerless genius to impress the chronicler and demand that he better not change one single word of the hero's deathless prose--
I'm not doing the book justice. While it is that clichéd, while I could not care less for the characters, there is something in the rhythm of Rothfuss' writing that just works. His description of patterns and details and silence and wood, of the look and feel of autumn make the reader aware of nuances and detail and act as a promise of better things to come.
Our hero (retired), who seems to be younger than expected, tells his tale: How he grew up among a respectable troupe of travelling entertainers, was scarily intelligent, old for his age, learned all lots of immensely useful things with minimal effort -- and again, you roll your eyes, and then a travelling wizard appears and there are some more turns of phrase which are just so right, and you can feel the boy's desire to learn the world he's living in and share it.
And so it continues. Through the hero's parents digging into forbidden lore and getting killed for it, leaving our poor orphan to live on his wits in the big city, over the hero managing to apply for university and being taken in for being cleverer than nearly anyone else, ever, to the interrupts of the tale where the now retired hero and the chronicler discuss some detail: this could be really bad, but again and again something shines.
And it is objects that shine, not people. People remain colourless through the whole book. The hero, his friends, enemies, love interests hardly manage to become alive, though you see the author trying real hard. But objects: Lutes and pipes and books and alchemical apparatuses and clothes and food, the most strange and the most mundane object has power and life. And the concepts of magical science Rothfuss develops are beautiful, consistent and convincing, they serve the plot and the world, and when he gets to describing music, and chemistry and artificery, there is more clarity and passion in the writing than when the hero saves his beloved from a dragon. And while the characters are less than interesting in what they are and only mildly so in what they do, the ways their plans run and their minds work, the ways they set themselves up for success or failure would make any author of an old cosy mystery proud.
The amazing logic and beauty of things and plans suggest that I would be happier had the author decided to write mysteries instead of swashbuckling (?) fantasy.
Of course, it's Book One of a trilogy. We should get the rest of the hero's life so far, and then, I very much hope, some kind of relevance and resolution to the framing story, which has taken up 1/10 of the first book: too much for something that won't lead anywhere.
It's not a bad book. I can even recommend it. If you are less impatient with clichés than I, and less enamoured with objects and function, you might not even notice the high points and low points that I'm making such a fuss about, and just read a well-told, well-invented fantasy yarn.
Now the fanfic:
Title: Now We're All Going Under
Length: 36,000 words
What it's about? In a regular paper trail check, Jack finds himself with the complete life outside of Torchwood that Gwen could not dig up a few months earlier... and more dark secrets than even he would have suspected.
Why read it? Great idea, some moments of great dialogue and characterisation.
Why not read it?This is two stories, not one, and I really wish that the author had written it as two, because they do not mix well, or at all.
One is a standard TW read-this-a-thousand-times-before post-Cyberwoman Ianto-centric "fixing his life and his relationship with Jack". It has its moments, especially Tosh's role, has an enigmatic and not fully sympathetic Jack, and drags. Badly.
The other is a brilliant set-up to a "Jack gets framed for murder, Team Torchwood has to go to the bottom of it and clear Jack's name with everyone from Cardiff PD to the CIA against them", which has good Harriet Jones and brilliant Martha, amazing moments of plotting and writing, but is hurried to an unsatisfying end. And I blame the dragging relationship story for the latter.
What is it with Torchwood stories and romance? Yes, the boys are pretty and they are together. Yes, that's cool. Yes, we could debate until we get blue in the faces whether Jack loves Ianto more or the other way round, and what it means. In fact, we have debated it, and are still doing so. And the author actually brings a cold and clever Ianto monologue to the topic -- in the mystery story, not in the relationship one. It's bad enough that there are millions of stories with only relationship stuff and no plot. It's worse when the habit of writing these becomes the concrete footwear on a story that could have been great.
I'll admit to the possibility that the author was trying to do something extremely intelligent that I missed because I was bored and frustrated. If so, maybe someone wants to enlighten me.
Otherwise I recommend reading this story for the great premise and the way it is built up, and for Martha and Harriet Jones -- just leave out the parts clearly labelled "Then" (you can read them later as post-Cyberwoman character vignettes with some smut), and understand that some parts are missing in the middle and the end is unsatisfactory.
There might be a sequel.