Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Engage, Maverick, Engage!

So I read The Name of the Wind, a recent highly promoted fantasy novel. I will dispense with a review, if you like very large fantasy novels, and especially if you dislike the darker trend of recent fantasy novels, you will enjoy this one. The plot moves in unexpected ways, and with one glaring exception, is expertly done.

Still, I have some complaints of which I think you should be aware. Biggest is the notion that the book somehow reinvents fantasy, as some of the blurbs say. This one is about as templated as you get. Young, poor guy discovers great destiny and faces adversity. That's it. Sure, there is a framing device where we learn our hero has withdrawn from the world (at the worst possible time!) but we have seen that before as well. It's well written enough that you don't care, but don't expect mind blowing originality or deconstruction of archetypes.

OK, maybe this is a bigger deal. Where are the monsters? There aren't any good ones. On the human side, the main foe is a limp rich guy/Trickster figure. Boring. On the animal side, we have an angry herbivore. Scary! Yes, it is the first of the trilogy, but Tolkein gave us the Balrog AND the Nazgul in his first book. Mieville only had one in Perdido Street Station, but that was the slake moth, which is better than most.

Sure, sure, there are no monsters in the Martin books (or almost none), but the villains! Oh they are so good. What's more, it may be that they are really the heroes, at least in Jamie and Tyrion's cases. The villain here is mostly his circumstances, which are fine, but not that exciting.

I have complained a lot about this book, because it lies outside my fantasy novel sweet spot (realisitcally bleak society, monsters, evil) but it does what it does well. Aside from a bizarrely weak finale, the story is very well told.