Writing

Lessons From the Writing of The Name of the Wind

man wearing black cloak in the woods
You asked me to critique The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, so here we are. What will win: this award-winning, best-selling, critically acclaimed book, or my dislike of practically everything? Read on to see!

While I usually record my first reactions to a book, this post covers material I’ve already read, though it’s mostly faded from memory. Also, to keep things interesting in a book with few wordcraft problems, we skip forward more and more as we go, covering the first seven chapters. Be warned: this article is long, even for a critique post.

The Prologue and Its Famous First Lines

The Name of the Wind opens with a prologue titled “A Silence of Three Parts” – which seems a little on the nose considering the opening lines.

It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.

This intriguing opening makes the reader wonder how silence could be made of three parts. The first sentence is also pretty clever. “It was night” would be boring in the extreme, but simply adding “again” creates an impression of time passing.

Let’s find out whether this strong opener is more than a gimmick. Does Rothfuss provide a good explanation for these three parts? Do they have anything to do with the story?

The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking. If there had been a wind it would have sighed through the trees, set the inn’s sign creaking on its hooks, and brushed the silence down the road like trailing autumn leaves. If there had been a crowd, even a handful of men inside the inn, they would have filled the silence with conversation and laughter, the clatter and clamor one expects from a drinking house during the dark hours of night. If there had been music, but no … of course there was no music. In fact there were none of these things, and so the silence remained.

Rothfuss paints great imagery, further sets the scene, and builds tension by suggesting this night is strangely quiet. Though the meaning behind this is underwhelming, he does say it’s the most obvious of the three parts. So, one point to Rothfuss.

Watch out for general words like “things” and “stuff”

To be picky, I do think Rothfuss could have done better than “things that were lacking.” Use the word “things” because you want the connotation it has, such as in Fury Road’s “we are not things.” Don’t use it because you couldn’t find the right word for all the stuff you’re describing.

Inside the Waystone a pair of men huddled at one corner of the bar. They drank with quiet determination, avoiding serious discussions of troubling news. In doing this they added a small, sullen silence to the larger, hollow one. It made an alloy of sorts, a counterpoint.

So the first part is that the place is mostly empty; the second is that people are too sullen to speak. I guess the parts are reasons for the silence? Sure. Gotta say though, I’m itching to strike out that last sentence. Calling it a silence alloy sounds silly, and the extra metaphors feel redundant.

The third silence was not an easy thing to notice. If you listened for an hour, you might begin to feel it in the wooden floor underfoot and in the rough, splintering barrels behind the bar. It was in the weight of the black stone hearth that held the heat of a long dead fire. It was in the slow back and forth of a white linen cloth rubbing along the grain of the bar. And it was in the hands of the man who stood there, polishing a stretch of mahogany that already gleamed in the lamplight.

Okay, well if I tilt my head and squint a bit, I can sorta see how this might be silence because… yeah, no. And while some hapless writers think otherwise, being obtuse is not clever. But who knows, maybe Rothfuss is still heading somewhere with this.

Stay in theme

The man had true-red hair, red as flame. His eyes were dark and distant, and he moved with the subtle certainty that comes from knowing many things.

Wait a sec. After setting this rich, subtle, and mysterious scenery, Rothfuss is telling us this guy has red-red hair like an anime character?

Eustass Kid from One Piece and his red, flame-like hair. I’ll assume the innkeeper looks like this until I’m told otherwise.

Not only is this out of step with the feeling Rothfuss has created so far, but unusual and pretty hair colors are a warning sign of an over-candied wish- fulfillment character. It’s too early to tell for sure whether this will be the case, but him “knowing many things” is not reassuring.

Let’s wrap up this short prologue.

The Waystone Inn was his, just as the third silence was his. This was appropriate, as it was the greatest silence of the three, wrapping the others inside itself. It was deep and wide as autumn’s ending. It was heavy as a great river-smooth stone. It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.

The waiting to die part is a great hook, great enough to make me initially overlook how the rest of this makes little sense. The first two parts of silence were actually silence, but now the silence isn’t silence: it’s a metaphor for death. I’m not sure how autumn’s ending could be described as deep or wide. Also, cut flowers apparently have a sound, which maybe works since it’s the sound of silence in this case. And of course, this guy’s silence is super profound and encompassing because he is just that awesome.

Still, I am interested in how this innkeeper is waiting to die, and looking forward to hearing more about it.

Chapter 1: A Place for Demons

It was Felling night, and the usual crowd had gathered at the Waystone Inn. Five wasn’t much of a crowd, but five was as many as the Waystone ever saw these days, times being what they were.

Hold on! So the one-page prologue takes place during a quiet night at the Waystone Inn, and then the first chapter takes place during a quiet night at the Waystone Inn? Why is there a prologue? Why isn’t that one page just part of the first chapter? What’s more, is this the same night? Since these five people are both a crowd and not much of a crowd, it’s impossible to know for sure whether we’ve jumped ahead in time.

Reading on, it becomes clear there’s nothing interesting happening in this new version of the Waystone Inn at night. An old dude is telling a boring story to some young dudes. I can only guess that Rothfuss put in the chapter break so he could abandon his mysterious tone and interesting hook to do something bloody dull instead.

Rothfuss, why?

If you’re gonna use omniscient, use omniscient

On top of giving readers an ambiguous timeline, Rothfuss also introduces a lot of characters and refers to them in confusing ways. Sometimes he names them; other times it just calls them “boy” or a career title like “innkeeper.” The issue is that these labels are not mutually exclusive. Take this example with “Old Cob” telling his story.

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

Cob peered closely at the newer, more attentive member of his small audience, the smith’s prentice. “Do you know what that meant, boy?” Everyone called the smith’s prentice “boy” despite the fact that he was a head taller than anyone here.

Is this “boy” newer and more attentive than the three, or the newest, most attentive of the three? While Graham and Jake talk to the “boy” in this scene, Shep does not. It takes several pages before you can be sure Shep and the boy aren’t the same person. To fix this, the omniscient narrator could have simply told us the boy’s name before referring to him as “boy.” However, my choice would have been to name only Old Cob, and not ask readers to sort out all of these unimportant listeners.

Old Cob’s boring story goes on for several more pages. In it, a dude uses magic by knowing the names of things. Rothfuss probably likes it because the hero of the tale is secretly his main character, and the title of his book is worked into it.

The characters stop the story a couple times to debate over what Chandrian and demons are, suggesting this also might be a clumsy attempt at teaching readers some facts about the world. But readers don’t have a reason to care about any of it, and since the characters themselves don’t seem to know what they’re talking about, it’s not even instructive. Again, the omniscient narrator could explain all this stuff at any time without awkward dialogue.

However, these pages do have one interesting interlude with the main character. The “crowd” starts arguing about tinkers, and he jumps in.

[Graham] “Everyone knows: ‘A tinker pays for kindness twice.'”

“No no,” Jake grumbled. “Get it right: ‘A tinker’s advice pays kindness twice.'”

The innkeeper spoke up for the first time that night. “Actually, you’re missing more than half,” he said, standing in the doorway behind the bar.

A tinker’s debt is always paid:
Once for any simple trade.
Twice for freely given aid.
Thrice for any insult made.”

The men at the bar seemed almost surprised to see Kote standing there. They’d been coming to the Waystone every Felling night for months, and Kote had never interjected anything of his own before. Not that you could expect anything else, really. He’d only been in town for a year or so. He was still a stranger. […]

“Just something I heard once,” Kote said to fill the silence, obviously embarrassed.

Wow, either tinkers are really powerful in this setting or they know all the ancient secrets of medieval marketing. After we get this elaborate tinker rhyme, the main character is called Kote for the first time. I wouldn’t be surprised if some readers thought Kote was a new guy who popped out of nowhere.

Even with that awkwardness, I do like the dynamic of Kote pretending to be less than he is. It gives him a Gandalf-like introduction. In Lord of the Rings, the hobbits think Gandalf is just the fireworks guy. Kote’s dismissal by the villagers and his awkward retreat from conversation gives him some much-needed spinach, increasing his likability.

However, I’m disappointed by “obviously embarrassed.” Come on, Rothfuss, you know how to use your words. You can show us how Kote sounds and looks when he’s embarrassed.

Count your characters sometime

Finally the real action of the scene begins. A guy named Carter walks in, covered in blood and carrying something mysterious wrapped in a blanket.

Carter shook his head. “I’m fine. I got cut up a little, but the blood is mostly Nelly’s. It jumped on her. Killed her about two miles outside of town, past the Oldstone Bridge.

The first named woman in the story! But she’s dead.

The smith’s prentice laid a sympathetic hand on Carter’s shoulder. “Damn. That’s hard. She was as gentle as a lamb, too. Never tried to bite or kick when you brought her in for shoes.”

Never mind, she’s a horse. For the record, so far we’ve met seven dudes, and a woman has yet to appear.

Carter has the attacker wrapped up in the blanket. Can you guess what creature it is? Go ahead, think about it for a bit.

Done?

If you just guessed “giant spider,” you were right! Rothfuss calls it a “scrael.” While it’s not very original, Rothfuss naturally has some nice description of it. Other than saying it’s black and the size of a wagon wheel, he chooses to put most of that description in dialogue. It’s an unusual tactic, but I like it. It makes the creature feel more strange and unsettling, and since this is in omniscient, the narrator doesn’t have to tell us what a viewpoint character sees.

“It’s not a spider,” Jake said. “It’s got no eyes.”

“It’s got no mouth either,” Carter pointed out. “How does it eat?”

What does it eat?” Shep said darkly.

The innkeeper continued to eye the thing curiously. He leaned closer, stretching out a hand. Everyone edged even farther away from the table.

“Careful,” Carter said. “Its feet are sharp like knives.”

“More like razors,” Kote said. His longer fingers brushed the scrael’s black, featureless body. “It’s smooth and hard, like pottery.”

[With an effort, Kote cracks a leg open.]

The innkeeper nodded to himself as he continued to prod the thing. “There’s no blood. No organs. It’s just gray inside.” He poked it with a finger. “Like a mushroom.”

Reader don’t care without an actual reason

The characters debate whether the scrael is a demon, which, again, readers have no reason to care about. We know it’s a scary monster that killed a horse – who cares if its taxonomical classification includes the phylum demonalia? But for whatever reason, Kote convinces them it’s a demon by showing them how iron damages it.

Then we cut to the next scene; we’re with Kote after all the men have left. Unsurprisingly, the narrator tells us he chose the name Kote when he came to the village. We learn names are important to Kote, and he knows all the names of the stars. Since the boring story earlier had a hero using names for magic, we can guess Kote is a mage. The narrator also describes him as “not even near thirty” in age. Anime heroes are never very old, so that makes sense.

However, much of this one-page scene is watching Kote clean again. Kote likes cleaning, I guess. Rothfuss, you know you can tell us about the hero without narrating a scene where nothing happens, right?

Maybe try not being sexist

There’s another scene break, and Kote is entering his living space upstairs. We meet dude number eight, a young man named Bast. He’s described as dark, charming, and cunning. Apparently, he’s a student of Kote’s. He was supposed to spend the day studying but didn’t because “a beautiful girl came along and kept me from doing anything of the sort.”

Kote and Bast get in their own argument about the spider, and this time it actually means something.

“There’s no such thing as one scraeling,” Bast said flatly. “You know that.”

“I know,” Kote said. “The fact remains there was only one.”

“And he killed it?” Bast said. “It couldn’t have been a scraeling. Maybe – ”

“Bast, it was one of the scrael. I saw it.” Kote gave him a serious look.

The unlikelihood of a single scrael establishes an ongoing threat to the village. That’s something readers could probably care about, but Bast’s description of the villagers doesn’t help the matter. Bast says, “I wouldn’t trust half these people to piss leeward without help,” and Kote doesn’t disagree with him. This doesn’t reflect well on anyone. Insulting the villagers makes Kote and Bast less likable, and since there’s probably some truth to that insult, readers will be less invested in saving the villagers from giant spiders.

After Kote and Bast finish describing how these scraelings would carve up the village, the discussion becomes more personal.

They sat for a long moment.[sic] Kote scowling down into the bowl of stew in his hands, his eyes far away. “It must be awful for you here, Bast,” he said at last. “You must be numb with boredom.”

Bast shrugged. “There are a few young wives in town. A scattering of daughters.” He grinned like a child. “I tend to make my own fun.”

Ew. We haven’t met a single named female character, even offscreen, and now we know women are just property in this story. Otherwise, they would have been described as “young women” instead of as “wives” and “daughters.” Bast is a lovable rogue because he steals women from their husbands and fathers! Hardy har har.

This also makes me reimagine what happened when he was supposed to be studying. Before I figured a woman came up to him while he was reading. Now I’m wondering if he spotted some lady and decided to creep on her.

Emphasize information that makes the story more engaging

Their conversation turns back to how Kote convinced the villagers the scrael was a demon.

[Kote] “The blacksmith is going to be doing a brisk business in the next couple days.”

Bast’s expression went carefully blank. “Oh.”

Kote nodded. “I won’t blame you if you want to leave, Bast. You have better places to be than this.”

Bast’s expression was shocked. “I couldn’t leave, […] Who else would teach me?”

It would be real easy to miss this hint that Bast is sensitive to iron. That’s a waste, because it’s his best chance of being an interesting or sympathetic character.

Rothfuss seems to be just dumping readers into his world and seeing what they make of it. It feels natural and immersive, which I’m sure some readers appreciate. But making so little effort to bring out the information readers need to know is also costing the story. Many things are confusing when they don’t need to be, and Rothfuss is missing opportunities to increase reader engagement. And because he seems to write superfluous scenes to reveal information instead of creatively working info in, the story’s pace is too slow.

Rothfuss has also continued his habit of telling character emotions instead of showing them. Above, he writes, “Bast’s expression was shocked,” instead of saying his eyes widened, his jaw dropped, his eyebrows shot up, or any specific expression readers associate with surprise. In a work that otherwise paints wonderful imagery, character faces feel empty.

Next, we have a cute exchange where Kote sends Bast away by pretending to perform a banishment for demons. Then Kote stares at a wooden chest.

The chest was sealed three times. It had a lock of iron, a lock of copper, and a lock that could not be seen. Tonight the wood filled the room with the almost imperceptible aroma of citrus and quenching iron.

When Kote’s eyes fell on the chest they did not dart quickly away. They did not slide slyly to the side as if he would pretend it wasn’t there at all. But in a moment of looking, his face regained all the lines the simple pleasures of the day had slowly smoothed away. The comfort of his bottles and books was erased in a second, leaving nothing behind his eyes but emptiness and ache. For a moment fierce longing and regret warred across his face.

That was a surprisingly interesting stare! Have we found the source of his doom or is the body of a fridged woman in there? Perhaps both?

The scene ends, and two more pages are left in this chapter. They are entirely summary, but they reinforce all the problems the village has. At the inn, Kote overhears how the king is fighting rebels and collecting more taxes to fund the war. Travelers are disappearing, denying the town many trade goods. Some sheep at a local farm have gone missing. All in all, it’s not a terrible way to end the chapter.

Chapter 2: A Beautiful Day

This chapter is just one scene, about four pages along.

It was one of those perfect autumn days so common in stories and so rare in the real world.

Rothfuss, are you taunting us with unattainable weather?

The weather was warm and dry, ideal for ripening a field of wheat or corn. On both sides of the road the trees were changing color. Tall poplars had gone a buttery yellow while the shrubby sumac encroaching on the road was tinged a violent red. Only the old oaks seemed reluctant to give up the summer, and their leaves remained an even mingling of gold and green.

Everything said, you couldn’t hope for a nicer day to have a half dozen ex-soldiers with hunting bows relieve you of everything you owned.

Nice twist, a point to Rothfuss. Shortly after this we learn we are following dude number nine, called Chronicler. He’s accosted by dude number ten, the commander of this group. I swear I will stop counting dudes as soon as we get a named woman who is not also a horse. Rothfuss names two of these random soldiers, so I’m adding them to the dude pile. That’s a dozen dudes with a name or title and at least one speaking line each.

Humble characters are sympathetic characters

We watch the soldiers go through Chronicler’s possessions as he timidly tries to convince the commander to let him keep this or that. We watch as they take his horse (also a mare), the brand-new shirt he’s never worn, and most of his food. This builds sympathy for Chronicler. The scene also has a lot of novelty because it’s a surprisingly polite process. Take this nice interchange that happens as the soldiers are taking the coins from his purse.

“I don’t suppose you could spare me a penny or two out of that?” Chronicler asked. “Just enough for a couple of hot meals?”

The six men turned to look at Chronicler, as if they couldn’t quite believe what they had heard.

The commander laughed. “God’s body, you certainly have a heavy pair, don’t you?” There was a grudging respect in his voice.

“You seem a reasonable fellow,” Chronicler said with a shrug. “And a man’s got to eat.”

Their leader smiled for the first time. “A sentiment I can agree with.” He took out two pennies and brandished them before putting them back into Chronicler’s purse. “Here’s a pair for your pair, then.” He tossed Chronicler the purse […].

“Thank you, sir,” Chronicler said. “You might want to know that that bottle one of your men took is wood alcohol I use for cleaning my pens. It’ll go badly if he drinks it.”

I could do without the flattering comments about Chronicler’s balls, but otherwise, this makes Chronicler seem humble and interesting. He navigates an upsetting situation with unfailing courtesy.

Falsely humble characters are not so sympathetic

Unfortunately, in the next few paragraphs Rothfuss undoes a lot of that. We learn that Chronicler is practiced at manipulating brigands. He has quite a bit of money stashed away in things the soldiers didn’t inspect, enough to buy a new horse. No doubt Rothfuss wanted to show how clever Chronicler is by getting one over on the soldiers, but this wasn’t a good choice. It reduces tension, lowers sympathy, and makes an admirable trait unremarkable – all because Rothfuss wants his protagonists to be the best.

Next Rothfuss teases that Chronicler might run into a giant spider, but it’s an obvious bluff. There’s no way this guy isn’t making it to town after that introduction.

Chapter 3: Wood and Word

Rothfuss spends four whole pages showing how Kote mounts a sword on the wall. It’s so belabored I thought maybe mounting the sword would create a secret anti-demon charm, but no, it’s another slow scene designed to reveal more about Kote. In this case, that he’s a swordsman in addition to a mage, and that he’s decided his days of fighting are over. As the chapter title suggests, the wood board has a word on it: “Folly.”

Candy-coating characters makes them seem cartoonish

To start this interlude, Graham from chapter 1 shows up and declares the new mounting board he made for Kote is “as beautiful as anything these hands have ever made” – because apparently, even the wood Kote puts his sword on has to be better than everyone else’s stuff.

Graham notices that Kote doesn’t look well.

Graham noted the difference. The innkeepers gestures weren’t as extravagant. His voice wasn’t as deep. Even his eyes weren’t as bright as they had been a month ago. Their color seemed duller. They were less sea-foam, less green-grass then they had been. Now they were like riverweed, like the bottom of a green glass bottle. And his hair had been bright before, the color of flame. Now it seemed—red. Just red-hair color, really.

Did Rothfuss intend to create the impression that Graham was internally waxing poetic about Kote’s sea foam eyes? Probably not. And while I suppose it’s possible for eye color to change with sickness, how the hell would his hair change? Has he been dyeing his hair every morning and he didn’t have the energy for it today? That would explain a lot. But since that hasn’t been established, I can only assume that once again, Kote is an anime character whose colors have been cartoonishly subdued for dramatic effect.

After Graham leaves, Kote has Bast fetch his sword, telling him “Careful, Bast! You’re carrying a lady there, not swinging some wench at a barn dance.”

So… horses are ladies. Swords are ladies. Actual people are dudes. That’s not dehumanizing to women, no, not at all. It’s also nice to know that even sword ladies are subject to the same madonna versus whore stereotypes.

Then Kote draws the sword, and Rothfuss describes what it looks like. First, he says it looks brand new, but it’s actually old. No surprise there. Perfect sword, I got it.

And while it was obviously a sword, it was not a familiar shape. At least no one in this town would have found it familiar. It looked as if an alchemist had distilled a dozen swords, and when the crucible had cooled this was lying in the bottom: a sword in its pure form.

Kote’s sword is the swordiest of swords. And what does this swordy sword actually look like? According to the cover of the sequel, it’s a katana. I wasn’t even thinking of this when I got the impression he was an anime character. Called it.

Watch how you refer to characters, particularly minor ones

We have a scene break after this, and then a bunch of travelers enter the inn for some merriment. Of ten travelers, only eight are dudes! It shows how far my expectations for this book have fallen that I’m surprised two unnamed extras are women. But of course, they are not characters with distinct labels or lines.

Dude #13 is a tinker. So is he as badass as we’ve been led to believe? Well…

“Tinker,” the old man’s voice rang out like a bell. “Pot mender. Knife grinder. Willow-wand water-finder. Cut cork. Motherleaf. Silk scarves off the city streets. Writing paper. Sweetmeats.”

This really confused me because it’s the tinker speaking, but Rothfuss calls him an old man, and people don’t usually call out their own names. But the tinker does I guess, instead of saying something like “get your pots mended here.” He’s basically a merchant, but he always speaks in rhymes for some reason. He feels more like a whimsical fairy than a real person.

Children also sing rhymes, because why not, and then we have this description of merriment:

Best of all was the noise. Leather creaking. Men laughing. The fire cracked and spat. The women flirted. Someone even knocked over a chair. For the first time in a long while there was no silence in the Waystone Inn.

The women aren’t just relaxing and having a drink, or swapping trade tips, or telling stories. No, they’re flirting, because everything is about men and women are just here to be sexy. I’ve criticized other books for being sexist during critiques, but this one is really something else. And it was published in 2007.

To hold attention, the plot needs to move forward

Kote overcomes his shyness with guests and leads the group in a song. This revelry seems intended as an emotional high point. However, it doesn’t mean much because these people just happen to be here, and they’ll be gone the next day.

Despite all the plot hooks Rothfuss inserted earlier, the story’s getting increasingly dull. The issue is that as far as we know, Kote isn’t taking any steps to address the problems that have been introduced. He’s not gathering townsfolk to fortify the town against giant spiders or trying to find a cure for his illness; he’s just running the inn and cleaning bottles over and over. It’s strange for a wish-fulfillment character like Kote to lack agency, but here we are. Not only is this unsatisfying, but it also tells us the problems of the story aren’t urgent. That lowers tension.

Rothfuss jumps to later in the evening, when a well-dressed traveler recognizes Kote as the famous Kvothe. Because Rothfuss is so coy about giving clear character names, for a while I thought this character was Chronicler. The scene would have been better if it was. But nope, meet dude #14, sandy-haired traveler guy.

“Kvothe the Bloodless.” The man pressed ahead with the dogged persistence of the inebriated. “You looked familiar, but I couldn’t finger it.” He smiled proudly and tapped a finger to his nose. “Then I heard you sing, and I knew it was you. I heard you in Imre once. Cried my eyes out afterward. I never heard anything like that before or since. Broke my heart.”

So “Kvothe the Bloodless” has red-red hair, grass-green eyes, knows magic, is a sword fighter with the best sword,* and he’s also the best singer ever. Sure.

After being recognized, Kote/Kvothe remarks on how nifty it is to look like a famous guy, fakes a fall and an injured knee, flees upstairs, and tells Bast to drug the traveler. Maybe this discovery and cover-up is supposed to be tense, but it isn’t. Tension requires two things:

  1. A significant chance the protagonist will fail to solve their problem. While I wouldn’t give it an F in this category, Kote is so perfect it seems unlikely he’d fail a small challenge like this.
  2. Significant consequences for failing. We have no idea why Kote needs to remain hidden. Since we don’t know the consequences, the conflict has no stakes and therefore no tension.

Also, if Kote is so determined to keep people from finding him, why did he decide to run an inn, specifically? Maybe he’s desperate for news, but just about every other profession in town would come with a lower chance of him being discovered.

We have another scene cut, and then Kote sits and stares at the fire for a page. Yawn. Although there is this interesting paragraph:

As he was undressing for bed, the fire flared. The red light traced faint lines across his body, across his back and arms. All the scars were smooth and silver, streaking him like lightning, like lines of gentle remembering. The flare of flame revealed them all briefly, old wounds and new. All the scars were smooth and silver except one.

The fire flickered and died.

Did something magic happen there, or was this a creative way of saying “the firelight illuminated all the scars on his body”? I legitimately don’t know. It’s a pretty paragraph, but also a good lesson in why you should be careful with metaphors when readers are still getting to know your world.

Rothfuss’s habit of hiding information is getting tiresome. As he continues stringing readers along, the novelty of this mystery is fading. That novelty should be replaced with giving a crap about his main character. However, unless the reader is a guy who identifies with Kote, that’ll be difficult without any understanding of what Kote is facing. Generally, a story loses more than it gains when the main character is left mysterious.

In the next three and a half pages, Kote hides until the visitors are gone, and then he goes to the smithy. The smith (dude #15) gives him some iron, thick gloves, and an apron. Kote claims he’ll use this to remove brambles. This seems unlikely, but the narrator doesn’t tell us what he’ll actually use them for. He closes the inn early and goes to bed.

Chapter 4: Halfway to Newarre

We’re back with Chronicler again. It turns out no one could spare a horse to sell to him, so he’s on foot after all. This will probably make him more sympathetic for some readers, but after he seemed so proud of tricking the brigands, all I can think is “ha!”

Scary fake-outs work better in film

He’s sore and still out on the road when night falls. He sees a light through the trees and figures it’s probably a farmstead where he could sleep for the night. But instead of a farmstead, he finds a bonfire in the ruins of an old home. There, a hooded figure with a cudgel burns something in an iron pot.

“I don’t know who you’re waiting for,” Chronicler said, taking a step backward. “But I’m sure you’d rather do it alone.”

“Shut up and listen, ” the man said sharply. “I don’t know how much time we have.” He looked down and rubbed at his face. “God, I never know how much to tell you people. If you don’t believe me, you’ll think I’m crazy. If you do believe me, you’ll panic and be worse than useless.” Looking back up, he saw Chronicler hadn’t moved. “Get over here, damn you. If you go back out there you’re as good as dead.”

Chronicler glanced over his shoulder into the dark of the forest. “Why? What’s out there?”

The man gave a short, bitter laugh and shook his head in exasperation. “Honestly?” He ran his hand absentmindedly though [sic] his hair, brushing his hood back in the process. In the firelight his hair was impossibly red, his eyes a shocking, vibrant green. He looked at Chronicler, sizing him up. “Demons,” he said. “Demons in the shape of big, black spiders.”

To me, it seemed fairly obvious that the hooded figure was Kote, because Kote was clearly up to something after buying smithy gloves and closing the inn early, even if he supposedly went to bed. Plus, who else would be doing weird things out in the woods? Since I knew the reveal, this sequence came off to me as somewhat contrived. However, I can’t say it wouldn’t work on someone less trope-savvy. And even though threatening Chronicler with a “hooded figure” isn’t much more than a gimmick, it’s at least followed up with an actual threat to Chronicler’s life.

The main sized him up quickly. “I don’t suppose you have any weapons?” Chronicler shook his head. “It doesn’t really matter. A sword wouldn’t do you much good.” He handed Chronicler a heavy piece of firewood. “You probably won’t be able to hit one, but it’s worth a try. They’re fast. If one of them gets on you, just fall down. Try to land on it, crush it with your body. Roll on it. If you get hold of one, throw it into the fire.”

Wait – the chosen tactic for these giant spiders is to squish them with your body? Sure, they’re spiders, but they’re the size of wagon wheels and their shells are as hard as stone. While Rothfuss established that a falling horse killed one, a horse is a helluva lot heavier than a person. And if they’re so fast you can’t hit one, couldn’t they dodge before you fall on them?

If you’re wondering, the two instances of Kote sizing Chronicler up are four paragraphs apart. That’s certainly too soon to use the phrase again, but it’s not so close that it’s an egregious mistake.

Readers are more engaged when they’re informed

Now, you’d think this would be the start of an exciting fight scene, but the excerpt below is really all there is.

Chronicler threw up his hands just as the black thing struck his face and chest. Its cold, hard legs scrabbled for a hold and he felt bright stripes of pain across the backs of his arm [sic]. Staggering away, the scribe felt his heel snag on the rough ground, and he began to topple over backward, arms flailing wildly.

As he fell, Chronicler caught one last glimpse of the circle of firelight. More of the black things were scuttling out of the dark, their feet beating a quick staccato rhythm against roots and rocks and leaves. On the other side of the fire the man in the heavy cloak held his iron cudgel ready with both hands. He stood perfectly still, perfectly silent, waiting.

Still falling backward with the dark thing on top of him, Chronicler felt a dull, dark explosion as the back of his head struck the stone wall behind him. The world slowed, turned blurry, then black.

After this, Rothfuss jumps to Chronicler regaining consciousness, when the fight is already over.

Before I discuss the effectiveness of this scene, I have to ask: in the excerpt above, why is Kote standing and waiting while Chronicler is getting murdered by a spider? This says he’s on the other side of the fire despite earlier text suggesting they’re on the same side, but even if the fire is between them, Kote is still capable of running around it. And wouldn’t they be a little more effective if they stood against the spiders together?

I’m left with the impression that Rothfuss wanted a heroic portrait of his main character more than he wanted an exciting scene. This scene might be exciting for some readers who like Chronicler and think his death is a possibility, but it falls flat considering two important characters are fighting for their lives.

How this could have been a more riveting scene:

  • Let’s say one of the women visiting his inn has gone into labor. They’ve called a midwife and everyone has gathered around. However, Kote knows that a birth – with the pain, body fluids, new life, etc. – is going to attract all of the demon spiders nearby, threatening the hapless villagers at his inn.
  • To protect them, Kote ventures out to cast a spell that will draw the spiders to him instead. If his spell isn’t powerful enough, some spiders will still attack the inn, possibly killing his guests. If it’s too powerful, he’ll attract too many spiders to fight off, and he’ll die.
  • Just as he’s about to face his enemy, some clueless traveler wanders right into his spell, and now he has to protect this person too.

The difference between what’s in the book and this example is that with this, we understand Kote’s plan and why he’s doing it, we know how it could go wrong, we know what could happen if it goes wrong, and those consequences include things that Rothfuss might actually write into the book. He’s not going to kill his main character so early, but he might kill some villagers. Plus, because it’s focused on Kote, when Chronicler shows up, it’s Kote that we sympathize with.

While I think the fight could have been much better, I do like some of the follow-up. Kote’s been injured badly, but since Chronicler has fallen unconscious again, Kote has no choice but to dig a big pit to dispose of the dark magic spiders all by his injured lonesome. Of course, it would be even better if we knew what would happen if he failed to bury them all properly, but we can’t have nice things because it would spoil the mystery.

Chapter 5: Notes

Kote shows back up at the inn carrying the still-unconscious Chronicler. Bast is waiting for him.

When [Bast] spotted the approaching figure he rushed down the street, waving a piece of paper angrily. “A note? You sneak out and leave me a note?” he hissed angrily. “What am I, some dockside whore?”

Bast, from now on I suggest you focus on your studies and forget about relieving your boredom. I think women in general are better off without you.

Protagonists need goals or their actions feel pointless

“It wasn’t even a good note. ‘If you are reading this I am probably dead.’ What sort of note is that?”

If Kote thought he might die, that opens up a lot of questions about what he expected to accomplish by going out to fight spiders. How would it help the village to lose the guy who actually understands what they’re facing, even if he takes a spider or two out in the process? If he fell, the spiders he managed to kill wouldn’t get buried. This raises the unfortunate question of whether Kote wanted to die. We know him so little we can’t rule out anything.

Kote and Bast continue their argument over his behavior.

“You went out hunting for them, didn’t you?” Bast hissed, then his eyes widened. “No. You kept a piece of the one Carter killed. I can’t believe you. You lied to me. To me!

Kote sighed as he trudged up the stairs. “Are you upset by the lie, or the fact that you didn’t catch me at it?” he asked as he began to climb.

Bast spluttered. “I’m upset that you thought you couldn’t trust me.”

[…]

Kote said, “I trust you, Bast, but I wanted you safe. I knew I could handle it.”

“I could have helped, Reshi.” Bast’s tone was injured. “You know I would have.”

Bast has a point, especially since shortly after this, we learn that the five spiders Kote fought should have been more than enough to kill him. Admittedly I have trouble believing that. Kote is clearly supposed to be super badass, and five wagon-sized spiders, even demonic ones, don’t sound like enough to take down a character with this level of candy. But again, if Kote’s goal was to protect the village, he should have gathered a force large enough to ensure a victory.

Heteronormativity will cost you, one way or another

Bast stitches Kote up, and then later he quietly comes into Kote’s room while he’s sleeping.

Bast eyed the color of his cheeks, smelled his breath, and lightly touched his forehead, his wrist, and the hollow of his throat above his heart.

Then Bast drew a chair alongside the bed and sat, watching his master, listening to him breathe. After a moment he reached out and brushed the unruly red hair back from his face, like a mother would with a sleeping child. Then he began to sing softly, the tune lilting and strange, almost a lullaby:

How odd to watch a mortal kindle
Then to dwindle day by day.
Knowing their bright souls are tinder
And the wind will have its way.
Would I could my own fire lend.
What does your flickering portend?”

Bast’s voice faded until at last he sat motionless, watching the rise and fall of his master’s silent breathing through the long hours of morning’s early dark.

All right folks, it’s time to talk about a little something called queerbaiting. Queerbaiting happens when writers taunt queer audiences by depicting a budding queer romance and then never make the relationship clear and canonical. Don’t get me wrong, I really hope there is a genuine romance brewing between these two and it isn’t queerbaiting at all. But considering Rothfuss’s abysmal treatment of women, a canonical romance seems unlikely.

Instead, it’s more likely he wanted what Tolkien wanted for Sam and Frodo – a master and servant relationship. Rothfuss is fond of making a big deal out of his main character, and writing another character to serve and worship Kote is consistent with that. But in modern times, glorified master-servant relationships come off as romantic. And indeed, many signs of a romance are present:

  • Bast’s outrage that Kote would lie to him, specifically.
  • Bast’s insistence on caring for Kote, including bringing him meals and sewing him up after he’s injured.
  • Kote leaving Bast behind when Kote clearly needs his help, because Kote doesn’t want to put Bast in danger.
  • Bast watching Kote throughout the night, pushing aside his hair, and singing about how his wishes he could give some of his long life to Kote.

The moral of this story: don’t have a hot young thing serve and worship your protagonist, and then expect heteronormativity to prevent it from looking like more than friendship. Just because they are both men doesn’t mean there’s no sexual or romantic tension.

Chapter 6: The Price of Remembering

Chronicler wakes up and comes downstairs. Then he reveals he traveled to this town just to record Kote’s life story. Also, it turns out that he’s not any old Chronicler, but the Chronicler, because of course he is.

The seven or so pages of this chapter are spent with Chronicler convincing Kote to let him take down his story, and Kote insisting that he will need an unheard-of three days to tell it. Also, those three days must commence immediately; Chronicler’s prior appointments be damned.

That’s all that happens. Really, it’s a chapter of characters feeding each other candy. I suppose some of it is meant to be a teaser that gets readers interested in the contents of this story. Kote certainly hints that his tale has sordid stuff. The problem is that backstory can’t attract as much interest as the current story can, and curiosity-provoking teasers don’t have the same pull as wanting to see a loved character succeed. Rothfuss has traded in his most powerful storytelling tools for weaker ones.

Chapter 7: Of Beginnings and the Names of Things

This chapter opens with some pleasant description reminiscent of the book’s first paragraphs.

Sunlight poured into the Waystone. It was a cool, fresh light, fitted for beginnings. It brushed past the miller as he set his waterwheel turning for the day. It lit the forge the smith was rekindling after four days of cold metal work. It touched draft horses hitched to wagons and sickle blades glittering sharp and ready at the beginning of an autumn day.

Inside the Waystone, the light fell across Chronicler’s face and touched a beginning there, a blank page waiting [sic] the first words of a story.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the repetition of the word “beginning” works like the repetition of “silence” did. With silence, the narrator was making a specific point that justified the reusing the word. Here, the three instances of “beginning” feel redundant to me.

“How do people normally go about relating their stories?” Kvothe asked.

Chronicler shrugged. “Most simply tell me what they remember. Later, I record events in the proper order, remove the unnecessary pieces, clarify, simplify, that sort of thing.”

Kvothe frowned. “I don’t think that will do.”

Chronicler gave him a shy smile. “Storytellers are always different. They prefer their stories be left alone. But they also prefer an attentive audience. I usually listen and record later. I have a nearly perfect memory.”

Nearly perfect doesn’t quite suit me.” Kvothe pressed a finger against his lips. “How fast can you write?”

Chronicler gave a knowing smile. “Faster than a man can talk.”

Really? So far, contrivances haven’t been a major problem for Rothfuss, but this is pretty bad. Chronicler has a superhuman note-taking ability, so we can be assured every word Kote/Kvothe spews out will be captured perfectly.

After this, the characters continue congratulating each other on how awesome they are. Kvothe praises Chronicler’s efficient notation system, and Chronicler is astounded when Kvothe manages to learn Chronicler’s special script in fifteen minutes – perfectly, of course. We also hear that Kvothe learned a language in a day and a half, because unless we’re throwing up, we haven’t eaten enough candy.

Kvothe leaned forward in his chair. “Before we begin, you must remember that I am of the Edema Ruh. We were telling stories before Caluptena burned. Before there were books to write in. Before there was music to play. When the first fire kindled, we Ruh were there spinning stories in the circle of its flickering light.”

The innkeeper nodded to the scribe. “I know your reputation as a great collector of stories and recorder of events.” Kvothe’s eyes became hard as flint, sharp as broken glass. “That said, do not presume to change a word of what I say. If I seem to wander, if I seem to stray, remember that true stories seldom take the straightest way.”

Chronicler nodded solemnly, trying to imagine the mind that could break apart his cipher in a piece of an hour. A mind that could learn a language in a day.

I’m going to throw up. Are you happy now, Rothfuss?

So Kvothe is apparently the best storyteller in existence, even when he is ad-libbing, and he never stumbles over a word. Also, he’s one of those petty writers who won’t let their editors make any suggestions, because everything they write is perfect and the uneducated masses just don’t understand!

I’m trying not to assume this is also how Rothfuss is with his editors, but he’s inserted several snippets about storytelling in this book so far, and they don’t suggest good things about his philosophy on the craft. For instance, let’s take this idea Kvothe has that if the story starts to suck, aka “wander,” it’ll be fine if you wait and see how everything makes sense. This notion is comforting for writers because it allows us to dismiss critical feedback. But as Mythcreants has mentioned before, it’s also wrong and self-sabotaging.

Next, Kvothe starts his story, but changes his mind several times about where to start. He switches from starting with a woman singing (unnamed), to earlier at a university, to something earlier yet with the Chandrian, until deciding that his story starts with the creation of the universe. At least Chronicler laughs a bit at this.

Some readers probably take this mind-changing and chuckle to mean that Kvothe’s supposed to be full of crap about being a perfect storyteller, but I don’t think so. Have a look at the last paragraph in the excerpt above, with Chronicler nodding and agreeing Kvothe is a genius. That’s a clear sign of authorial sanction. And from everything the omniscient narrator has told us, Kvothe is indeed perfect.

Kvothe continued, smiling himself. “I see you laugh. Very well, for simplicity’s sake, let us assume I am the center of creation. In doing this, let us pass over innumerable boring stories: the rise and fall of empires, sagas of heroism, ballads of tragic love. Let us hurry forward to the only tale of any real importance.” His smile broadened. “Mine.”

I’ll stop here, one page from the end of the chapter, because this is where I originally stopped when I was trying to read this book for enjoyment several years ago. I couldn’t read farther because I hated Kvothe. That’s not surprising, as he’s a protagonist designed for little more than white male wish-fulfillment. Even if you assume his perfection is a lie, he’s still exceedingly arrogant. That’s not any better. Having a likable protagonist is one of the most essential characteristics a story can have. If that fails, the risk of story abandonment is high.

Overall Notes

If you haven’t read The Name of the Wind, you should know that everything I’ve covered so far – all 57 pages – is practically irrelevant to the story. It’s just a framing device. The backstory is the main subject matter of this book and of the next book too. They both have a prologue* and epilogue that takes place in the future timeline, but that’s it.

Do I think the book would be better with this overgrown prologue lopped off? Yes. Of course, Rothfuss’s introduction to Kvothe’s early life is way more boring that the interesting hooks in his early flash forward. But it didn’t have to be boring, and if he’d opened with it, he would have made it better. This is what I hate about prologues. Writers think that as long as they include a prologue with some hook barely related to their story, they have free reign to be as boring as they want afterward. Sure, starting the story while putting in hooks is hard, but try, okay? Try.

Judging by what I’ve read here, Rothfuss is a typical best-selling writer. He has significant strengths and significant weaknesses.

His strengths:

  • Great wordcraft
  • A world that feels complex and immersive
  • The ability to add some interesting flair to a scene

His weaknesses:

  • His characters are just a pile of white dudes sorted top-to-bottom by their level of alpha-male superiority
  • An inability to build momentum as the story continues
  • A habit of bloating the narrative with useless scenes

It’s funny that despite Rothfuss’s veneration of storytelling, that’s where his skills are weakest. Maybe it’s partly because in these seven chapters he was biding time before starting the actual story. However, 95% of the time, a writer who shows these types of weaknesses does not shape up as the book continues.

So overall, Rothfuss isn’t terrible, but I don’t think the glorification he’s been getting is justified. Since there’s always a commenter on my critiques with some half-baked logic about how the book must be great because it’s popular, I’d like to point something out. The Name of the Wind sold about 10 million copies. Fifty Shades of Grey sold 125 million. If we’re judging by popularity, Fifty Shades of Grey is hands down the better book.

As for the critical reception, that’s easily attributed to two things: 1) the wordcraft, which is important but also overemphasized in the industry, and 2) white male privilege. If The Name of the Wind starred a woman with even half the talents of Kvothe, she would be labeled a “Mary Sue,” and the book would be laughed off, just as Twilight is. Can you even imagine a book introducing fifteen women with speaking lines in the first fifty pages and no men, one that isn’t about a nunnery or something?

I think there are better books to read. But I’d give the anime a try.

Need an editor? We’re at your service.

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Comments

  1. FluxVortex

    Name of the Wind is just soooooooo awful, it’s smug, overstuffed, pretentious garbage.

  2. GeniusLemur

    “I knew I could handle it.”
    And that’s why you left a note saying if he read it, you were probably dead?

    • Shin

      He mentions it after that it was a precaution he didn’t meant for Bast to find it at all.

  3. Silverriver

    Hoo, boy! The farther it went, the worse mental image I had for Kvothe. I hate the guy now. Good to know my characters aren’t so bad compared to him.

    I love the Lessons posts, they’re highly informative and fun to read. Thanks.

  4. LizardWithHat

    Wow, I’m surprised how bad that got (especially the sexism). I wonder how this keeps happening. May it be that people look more for a formula for wrighting then the details, and if certain criteria are match are willing to overlook weak or problematic content?

    As an artist I can say I really like if people talk to me about me work (i have so much to learn). Even if they critic me its (most of the time) a sign they care :)… why do some people take that thing so personally?

  5. Cay Reet

    Phew, after reading through this (haven’t read the book), I feel the pressing need of writing a book where I introduce 20 female characters with lines in the first few chapters, ranging in age from ‘barely out of their teens’ to ‘venerable great-grandma,’ and have them meet at the local inn, where they trade cooking recipes, life tips, and gossip until a hoard of horrible spiders appears upon which the women all take up weapons, wander outside, kill them all, help each other dress their wounds, and go back to exchanging gossip, tips, and recipes.

  6. wanderthe5th

    I’ve been hoping you’d do this critique for a while, and thoroughly enjoyed it both for the entertainment and the information. Having one of these that’s stronger in wordcraft, compared to the other Lessons from… entries, makes it easier to see what’s going wrong with some of the more fundamental issues. Thanks so much for taking the time to do this!

    It took me three tries to actually finish this book; the first two times I gave up during chapter 5. Even though I kinda did relate to the main character at the time (probably due to having untreated depression, so the whole “this guy who has no goals and sits around doing nothing is secretly super cool” thing had an appeal), there was something that just… wasn’t right about those opening chapters. Even aside from the sexism, it didn’t really feel like the story was for me, the reader. I think you’ve explained all the things I wasn’t able to parse out at the time.

    There’s quite a bit I think I’d still like about these books if I re-read them (which is so not going to happen). But it’s mostly worldbuilding details, side characters that are a lot more palatable and interesting than the protagonist, and stuff like the scrael and Chandrian, which keep getting close to being interesting but are still kept way too mysterious even after two out of supposedly three books in the series. And the sexism gets much worse. The sequel is so gross. All of it in the vein of straight male wish fulfillment, IIRC.

    I once heard these books described as “Twilight for boys.” Which seems really apt, IMO. Definitely telling how often this series gets a pass for the blatant wish fulfillment compared to how Twilight is/was broadly perceived.

  7. Mike

    Very clear and in-depth review. I loved it!

    I think I was 13 or 14 when I read this book for the first time, which is probably not the age the book was aiming for. I took a particular liking to it because, before then, every book I had read was YA fiction, full of blanker-than-blank protagonists no one cared about. Kvothe was the opposite – I actually found it exciting that he was such a jerk. Finally a main character with some personality! Terrible personality, yes, but I found it much more engaging than the Generic Teenager™ who tends to be the protagonist of a YA series.

    I completely missed the sexism back then, which is not surprising for a 13-year-old boy. I was pretty surprised reading these excerpts now, and not sure what my impression of the book would be if I re-read it today.

    I do think Rothfuss implies that Kvothe is buffing up his own story. I don’t remember it being directly stated, but there are times when he’s clearly telling the story the way he wants to, real-world logic be damned.

    As a little fun fact, I actually found Mythcreants when Rothfuss shared (and praised) one of your articles on Facebook, and I’ve been here ever since. Please keep making these posts, they’re really helpful.

  8. Tyson Adams

    This critique captured the issues I had with the book as a reader.

    I gave up after 8 chapters as I realised I’d just sat through 60-70 pages of prologue or framing device. Bookending a narrative – introducing a character who tells his adventure story – is annoying and undermines most of the tension.

    The entire thing struck me as the worst of the smugly written fantasy novels.

  9. Bunny

    Out of morbid curiosity, when is the first named female character that’s not a horse or a sword mentioned? Is there even one in the book?

    15 women and no men in the beginning of a book would be panned and criticized for fulfilling an “agenda” or something like that. The gender thing certainly would not be overlooked. But if it’s all dudes? That’s fine, normal, nothing to see here, even praiseworthy maybe. Ugh.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      So after this super-long prologue, we go back to Young Kvothe, and I believe his mom gets a name. So, it’s only eight chapters in or so!

      • Julia

        But it’s cool because it’s his mom – a woman that brought him into the world deserves to be elevated above all others.

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          At first I was actually hopeful because so few fantasy stories ever show us the hero’s mom, but then it becomes increasingly clear that she’s mostly there to glorify his dad cause he scored a super hot noble woman.

          Kvothe seems to get all his traits from his dad, from his skills to his attitude on life, to the point that it feels like he’s a clone of his father and his mom was only tangentially involved.

          • Dan

            There are plenty of major women in the series and several kick the main character’s ass. The intro takes place in a bar where guys drink, it makes sense there wouldn’t be many women coming through and his mom isn’t drawn out too much because she is a noble who changed her name and ran off with a troupe, they can’t say too much about her because her family comes into play later and will likely be a major point in book 3.

    • FluxVortex

      Don’t worry, later you get to meet Denna, who I genuinely wish was the worst manic pixie dream gir in the novel, but she’s not. That’s Auri, who’s not only a clumsy mpdg, but is also a deeply, deeply ableist character.

    • Dan

      There are plenty of major women in the series and several kick the main character’s ass. The intro takes place in a bar where guys drink, it makes sense there wouldn’t be many women coming through and his mom isn’t drawn out too much because she is a noble who changed her name and ran off with a troupe, they can’t say too much about her because her family comes into play later and will likely be a major point in book 3.

      • The Rambo

        That’s just not how bars work though. Or inns or taverns unless it’s specially written that way. There’s no excuse for it. Women can drink in bars unless in the world building they can’t because they are literally second class citizens. That doesn’t seem established here as part of the overall world for a reason other than the writer doesn’t care about having women in his story or women reading his books.

        • Cay Reet

          In a time before most people, presumably, can read and the printing press has been invented (not to speak of TV or radio at all), the local inn also was the only place to go to for entertainment, so it would be highly likely for quite some women (perhaps even children) to be at the inn regularly, too.

          • Rivers

            Not to mention that every single insignificant male character had a name, line of dialogue, and favorite color while the two women that did appear … Exist? Apparently. Oh, and they are eye candy.

      • FluxVortex

        @Dan

        Ok, can you name any?

        Also, “This woman totally -would- get back-story and agency, but she can’t because reasons.” is sort of a weak argument.

      • Cay Reet

        In an inn before the invention of modern machines, there would always be a lot of people who work there – cleaners and cooks would most likely be female, waiters might be as well. The fact alone that it’s suggested Kote can run this inn by himself is highly unrealistic. Inns keep stables and those have to be watched at all hours, so nobody slips in and steals a guest’s horse – and you’ll need at least one stable boy to take care of horses. Inns used to brew their own ale, because there was no way of easily ordering a new keg in the next city (four days on horseback away). Inns provided meals to both staying guests and people who just dropped in for a meal (and there would be people dropping in). Inns were the social centre of the village, which means not only men, but also women would regularly go there to meet others and gossip. No, there is no such thing as an inn where only the guys drink. And no such thing as an inn one person can run by themselves.

        • Nite

          “Touché, mr Ruthfuss”

  10. Julia

    Yikes. I bought this book a couple of years ago and it’s been sitting on my shelf unread since then. I guess I’m not missing much – except the wordcraft.

  11. Dvärghundspossen

    Isn’t green eyes some weird literary cliché too? Like, few people have green eyes in real life, but in books they’re all over the place?

    A fair bit into my novel there’s an instance where the MC looks into a mirror and notices her eyes seem to have changed colour to a slightly different shade. My first instinct was to give her green eyes because that’s my own colour, and she was already based on me in various respects. And then I thought, isn’t this almost a cliché…? Changed green to a garden-variety blue.

    • Cay Reet

      Statistically, grey and blue are the rarest eye colours, because blue eyes are a genetic mutation. Brown is the most common and both yellow and green are deviants of brown, missing one of the two pigments making it up (which actually makes it plausible that a Chinese man like Fu Manchu could be green-eyed). If you want a colour change in the eyes, you could do green to yellow or brown to either yellow or green. That could even be explained. Or give the MC hazel eyes which shift from two distinctive colours into one distinctive one. Or use polychromatic eyes, those are super-rare (they really shift colour).

      • Dvärghundspossen

        The MC doesn’t have eyes that naturally change colour: The situation is that she wakes up after brain surgery and when looking into a mirror, notices that her eyes are a slightly different shade. Turns out that because of unforeseen complications, her eyes had to be replaced by artificial ones, and that’s why the shade is different now.

        Anyway, the colour doesn’t really matter for this turn of events, but I thought that since it’s already established her natural hair colour is blond (not, like, a rare golden colour or anything like that, just your garden-variety blond), blue eyes would make most sense if I don’t want to make her eye colour into “a thing”.

        A little googling gives that brown is the most common colour out there by a wide margin, but next is blue/grey, and green is far less common than blue/grey. Which also fits my general impression.

        • Cay Reet

          Yes, you’re right about the percentages … I must have switched some numbers in my head.

          Of course, if your character wakes up with different-looking eyes, because they’ve been replaced, there’s no more explanation needed.

        • Sonia

          If she’s going to notice a change, I would go with dark brown as her original colour. I have hazel eyes and they shift from more brown to slighly greenish brown depending on the light and my husband’s shift from sapphire to blueish-grey.

  12. Syed Khader

    I think lots of things you dismissed as white-male wish fulfillment were subtexts to characters and the world. Bast here is a fae, Kvothe is a genius with worst decision-making ability, and all the things mentioned in the 54-page frame setting actually is for the enitre story and not just this book, and it also builds tension to the story as the story progresses. And women aren’t sexy looking mannequins, they’re intelligent and talented. And if this looks like a half-assed attempt as defending Rothfuss, you can assume that. But it makes me laugh that you haven’t finished the book and managed to qualify yourself to write a critique on the book.
    People go into the book knowing it’s all about a male character (because he’s telling his own story!) but they still bash it.
    Out of all the books I’ve read, the Name of the Wind still holds a special place for me. Reading this ignorant ‘review’ and the comment makes me realise people read what they want the authors to say or quit reading and assume the authority to speak about the stories.
    Go read women wish-fulfillment stories written by women if strong male characters isn’t the fantasy you’re looking for.

    • Bunny

      Being unmoved to finish the book is a valid critique of the quality of the book. It certainly shows that something is lacking. People tend to make that argument a lot (often hypocritically alongside the “if you don’t like it, then why are you reading it?” card, go figure), and I fail to see how it demonstrates a lack of credential. This isn’t a critique of the entire story, it’s a critique of the first 50-something pages, which are flawed. Had there been any “intelligent and talented” women in these first 50 pages rather than wall-to-wall dudes, the general response would have been different. But there aren’t.

      Reading below to your reply to Cay, I actually agree with you on some things. Tell the stories you want to tell, have a ball with it. That’s the whole drive behind fanfic, and that’s a giant and ever-expanding region of the internet. But telling the stories you want to tell doesn’t automatically make them good. They can come from the bottom of the heart and still be rambling and skeevy and misogynistic and typo’d and whatever. Plus, suggestions are made in the hopes of helping to improve a story, not to turn it “pretentious.” That’s the whole point of editing.

      I will admit that “The Name of the Wind” is a pretty killer title, though.

    • Lauren

      No, women are trophies to be won in this book. Especially if you take the second book into account. Out of the main female characters, what, only three maybe don’t want to have sex with him? Auri, Mola, and Carceret. Denna, Fela, Devi, sex goddess Felurian, random taven women to “prove themselves,” star warrior from Tempi’s home, etc. With the exception of Carceret every woman LIKES Kvothe and many make sacrifices/risk something of theirs for him. He even impresses a centuries old sex fairy during his first time having sex. Give me a break.

      The frame story also states on numerous occasions that Kvothe’s story isn’t just a tall tale so the argument of “Kvothe’s is just embellishing” only holds a little water.

      The first time I read Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear I loved it. I was completely caught up in the world building, and even though the writing can be obtuse at times I enjoyed it; however, on subsequent reads these issues have become more and more glaring. It’s a shame because the world and story are really interesting. But Kvothe as a protagonist is just ridiculous. He excells in too many areas. He struggles with alchemy and money and sometimes relationships all of which are normal flaws and therefore don’t balance the character out. It doesn’t really count as a flaw when the average person struggles with it as well.

      • Dan

        I think the major conflict with the character is in the point of the present day in the book. In his story he is arrogant, yet brilliant, but out side of the story he is broken and nearly powerless, cooped up in a simple town. And yea shocker, he is a popular, charismatic teen and women want to be with him, same shit happens in the real world .. Felurian is a bit cringe, but come on, no one should be shocked a hero finds women attracted to them.

        • Lauren

          Maybe it’s how I read the story, but he seems willfully powerless as opposed to truly broken. This perception is reinforced when even in his “broken” state, after potentially years of not practicing, Kvothe is able to take a “single perfect step” on his first night back to training. His frame story consequences feel like self imposed punishment as opposed to the effects of a trama from past actions.

          My dislike is not that he’s popular, it’s the amount of which he is popular by. Obviously not everyone likes Kvothe but those who don’t feel like token characters. One student, one (kind of two) teacher(s), one warrior from Spinning Leaf. It feels contrived. Kvothe isn’t portrayed as particularly charming either. His personality should not be drawing so much popularity. He has a hot temper, he often times doesn’t explain why he feels the way he does (which would help others to understand his temper), he’s quite arrogant, and a bit of a loner. He’s also not particularly witty or making people laugh often which smooths relations.

          So why is he well liked? Because “good people see him for the tender hearted person he really is but is too afraid to show.” even though he makes an effort NOT to be vulnerable with people?

          Unrealistic.

          • Jack

            Agreed. Every female character loves Kvothe, and the vast majority want to have sex with him.

            I recentky tried reading Max Gladstone’s Ruin it Angels and couldn’t get into it (although I loved his other Craft Sequence books). The story seemed like a writing exercise in blowing the top off the Bechdel test. No male characters (basically) at all, let alone conversations about them. Also slow as molasses, IMO.

            Still, the contrast between Gladstone’s female characters and Rothfuss’s female characters is SO jarring, especially after reading this critique. I read NotW maybe 10 years ago, and I wonder how I (like others) missed, or at least failed to appreciate, Rothfuss’s awful treatment of female characters. And he’s apparently super progressive, and he recently praised the Lady Astronauts stories…Was he just young and naive when he started writing? Did he not know better? Would he have written differently if he were starting the story now? I hope so.

          • Judy

            I feel like the critics your addressing to the story are a consequence of Kote’s narrating. A huge point in the books is that a story is a flawed narration of what really happened. That’s why the first book starts with a tales.
            Kote being the prick he is, you are bound to feel the story distastfull.
            (Pardon my english, not my mothertongue)

    • Cay Reet

      I’ve read a lot of fantasy novels with male heroes, but most of them left me with more interest in their story after the first couple of chapters than this guy did.

      Also, a lot of heroic fantasy is nothing more or less than male wish-fulfillment stories. There’s a reason why they have been around since more and more men were working calm office hours and no longer working for themselves, but for bosses who had control about how much they worked and how much they made instead. When the workday was boring and they had no control over it, they dived into books about heroes like Conan the Barbarian to see a man who brought whole kingdoms to their knees and had all the women he desired.

      That’s no longer true today, of course, fantasy has evolved a lot since those days.

  13. Oren Ashkenazi

    Editor’s Note: This is in our comments policy but just to repeat, any posts that insult the author or another commenter will be deleted. Unfortunately that means we also lost a great rebuttal by Cay Reet, but that’s the cost of keeping a clean comments section.

  14. samrocket

    I had these books recommended to me by a good friend and, while I enjoyed them, I found them insanely slow (as the author points out). There were certain times where the pacing was glacial, discussions and descriptions seemed to go nowhere, and subplots and tangents were seemingly needless, existing only to fill more pages.

    Because the book series hasn’t been finished, the avid fans of this series consistently tell me that Rothfuss will tie together all these mysteries he’s woven into the text (which is why it has taken 7+ years to finish the final book). I am of the opinion that he can’t and won’t do it and we’ll be left looking back at a ton of fluff and purple prose that led nowhere.

    • Mike

      Rothfuss has been quiet on social media lately specifically because of this. He already stated on multiple occasions that he has personal struggles that slow down his progress on the third book. A lot of his latest interactions go like this:

      Rothfuss: *shares an article or discussion piece he found interesting*
      Commenters: okay, but what about the third book?

      Rothfuss: look, it’s incredibly bad for my mental health to be reminded of this book if I do anything on my social media.
      Commenters: okay, but what about the third book?

      Even if you think his books are terrible, which is totally fine, this is not okay.

      • Cay Reet

        As much as I can understand the pressure he’s under with his personal problems – the fact remains that a very interlaced story where a lot of plots run for more than a book is a promise made to the reader to wrap things up. I’m not at all for harrassing writers about their work, about ‘when the next book is finished,’ but I understand the notion. It wouldn’t be the first time an author sets up a huge series of books with a lot of stuff which is supposed to be resolved later and then, for one reason or other, never provides that resolution.

        If it’s so bad for Rothfuss to be reminded of his work, then, perhaps, he should step back from direct contact with his fans, because they will always remind him of it. It might be much better for his mental health if he steps away from the public for a while and works to improve his health, keeping a radio silence or leaving his social media accounts to his agent or another person to post in his stead.

        Also: personal problems do not mean nobody is allowed to criticise you.

      • samrocket

        I’ve never gone after Rothfuss on any SM accounts. Writing takes time, and I have other books to fill my need to read.

        I wasn’t really commenting on him not being able to finish, more on the fact that I think he bit off way too much with a lot of his loose ends and that has probably proved overwhelming. I’m part of a Facebook group that follows the KKC and some of the fan theories and discussions are so dense and deeply rooted in the subtext, I just cannot help but think so many will be disappointed when all these tangents don’t come together in the end.

        Whether he can’t finish because of depression/anxiety/external pressure or the overwhelming nature of the book itself, I can’t say. But I do not expect a lot of people to be truly satisfied with the final book in the trilogy. He’s set it up to be subversive, blatantly saying “this is not a happy story,” and I fully expect that Kvothe’s meandering story will end up being just that—meandering story telling.

  15. Cay Reet

    The ‘lessons from…’ series on this page is not about reviewing a book. It’s about writing and about learning from mistakes others made. This is why successful books (which are known to many people and won’t be in any trouble from a post like this one) are dissected here, their faults laid open, and ways to avoid such faults shown.

    In addition, in modern book interpretation, it’s no longer about what the author meant or intended, but about what the audience gets out of the book. So what Chris got out of the book is actually more important to any review she could write about it than what the author actually intended to say.

    • Cay Reet

      This was meant as the answer to a comment which, it seems, was deleted in the meantime. Still, it might be good to remember that the ‘lessons from…’ posts are about writing, they’re no book reviews.

    • Syed Khader

      That’s bad, I guess, because this obviously isn’t for me then. I firmly believe that storytelling is an art meant for self-expression, to tell a story we want to tell and in the ways we choose; not to please anyone or any community ,but to contribute to world from which we have consumed. This article seems to tell writers how to please the audience, how to spoon-feed them the information and avoid making ‘mistakes’ that might throw them off the loop, even if that’s what you intend.
      I’ve never read a story that aims at pleasing or appeasing anyone and never wrote one for any reason but to tell the stories I want to tell. This article reminds me why I made that choice. I’d rather go on living a boring life than read pretentious work or become pretentious myself. Accepting something that’s tailored for you is what I call ‘too sweet to swallow but too perfect to spit out’.

      • Cay Reet

        No, you can’t please everyone and that’s not the goal for a story you write. You can bore people so much that they throw the book out of the window, though, and that is something to avoid.

        You have to live with other people criticising you, though – the question is how.
        Chris does a critique based on the text, based on writing ideas, on lacking things within the text. She writes a critique – like this one – to help other writers avoid mistakes – mistakes a lot of people in the comments, as you can see, agree are mistakes. This is not a review or a ‘why I don’t like this story’ post. This is a writing lesson. You don’t have to listen, but most people who come to Mythcreants actually want to learn and they listen to the lessons – whether they always agree or not is a different question. It’s not about making stories which are perfectly palpable. It’s about avoiding mistakes which make a book not as good as it could be. If you don’t see the problem in the things she lists, you’re free to just do things as Rothfuss did them. It’s about learning and nobody can be forced to accept a life lesson. A lot of people love these ‘lessons from…’ posts for what they are: a way to hone our skills as writers and become better ones. Not writing more ‘pleasant’ books – because writing is only about pleasing to a certain degree if you want to make money with it -, but writing books which will draw in the audience better and will therefore reach more people. Which will also have more people enjoy reading them.

        It’s pretentious to write like Rothfuss did up there, if you want my personal opinion. To drag out a story which is nothing more or less than a framing device out that much – framing devices on the whole are a difficult topic and fail more often than they work. But this is merely my opinion – other people might love exactly that about his books.

        Also, the fact that a book has been featured in the ‘lessons from…’ list neither means it has no good sides at all, nor does it mean that you can’t enjoy the book in question. It simply means that the book has weaknesses and how those weaknesses could be resolved.

        • Syed Khader

          Let me get this straight, you tell people the things the ‘mistakes’ to avoid. I can see what’s it about and almost agree it’s necessary. But what if a person with new interest in writing comes across these and finds these ‘mistakes-to- avoid’ (I don’t think everything mentioned in the post is a mistake) too rigid? Because until first few years in writing, you’re still ignorant to things that don’t have to be wrong if they work for you. While I can appreciate these efforts and support to writers who want to learn their craft, treatment of the book in this ‘lesson’ isn’t fair. Telling people what makes a character sympathetic to the readers is same as telling them to follow some guideline to make readers want to read your work. She gave her opinion that the author was tossing around good hooks but not working on them. Obviously he wouldn’t since that’s not the story he wants to tell. She’d know the book isn’t about saving villagers from giant spiders if she read it completely. What Chris did there was same as telling writers not to put any detail in their works if they don’t want to capitalise on it, can’t include it in the narration (in a way that’s apparent to the readers), and to follow some rules to maintain mystery because Rothfuss clearly doesn’t know how to do it (her opinion).
          If you realise what you do here is a responsibility, then please behave responsibly. I got no place to criticise you guys since I don’t do anything for fellow writers, but this sort of attitude towards stories does leave negative impact—”these are the mistakes you don’t make while writing a book, if you do you’re not worth my read”. That’s what it seemed like to me.
          I really respect what you guys do here, but also urge you to be more neutral towards the works.

          • Cay Reet

            This is actually being very neutral, as it were. I’ve seen critiques of works which were far worse.

            Actually, I do consider the things here a mistake, but, perhaps, I’m merely more used to the lessons and look at them differently.

            The author is tossing around good hooks, but obviously drops them again until much later in the book – or even in the series. That is a mistake, because by chapter ten or twelve, people will either wonder what happened to those hooks or they will have forgotten about them. Then you bring them up again and they’re all ‘huh?’ or you will not bring them up again in this book, because they’re a foreshadowing for volume three, and they’ll say ‘why did the author write about that in the first place?’

            You say if she’d read it completely, she’d know it’s not about saving the village. Well, if the book is not about saving the village, why are so many villagers introduced and why is the village a setting this early and those spider-things are spoken of? There is something called ‘Checkov’s gun’ – it says that if you describe a gun in detail in chapter one, the audience expects for it to be fired by chapter three. Things you write build an expectation in your readers. If you go into detail about a village and its inhabitants and about a possible thread, audiences will expect that there will be a conflict about this. Things you describe in detail have to matter for the plot. You don’t go into details about a vase of flowers or the kind grandmother who takes care of your orphaned hero, unless the vase or the grandmother have an impact on the story. That is what makes the whole framing which doesn’t play a role later a large mistake. You start with a strong hook – and Rothfuss does that. You give the audience a certain idea about what the book is about – Rothfuss seems to do that, by spending 50 or so pages on Kote in that village and the building threat of those spider-things approaching. Then you tell the audience ‘just kidding, the village and those spider-things don’t matter.’ That is a sure-fire way to lose audience which will not only not finish this book, but might never pick up another of your books – yes, audiences are like that.

          • Nite

            First of all, Syed Khader, your firm belief is wrong. Writing, creating literature, creating art are professions. It’s work. A hard one. It’s blood on the bloody paper. It’s sweat dropping on the screen. After so many nights planing, writing, rewriting, replanning, then writing and finally rewriting, a writer demands some quality in what he/she has made.

            So does the audience who invest their time engaging on the story (luckily, on the structure too) and imagining the plot unfolding itself, the characters coming alive… Too much work from all sides and this means that art needs quality, objective quality which the author of this article manages to dissect. Those qualities and the lack of ’em.

            Secoundly, some years ago I had poor know-how of storytelling and was trying new things to read. Then came “The name of the wind”. Its worldbuilding amazed me (I lacked maturity to understanding the mysoginy), so I recomended it to an older male friend.

            Unfortunately, he mistaked my reccomendation as a guide to my personality which didn’t (and does not) match either Kote or the Chronicler. Neither Bast! Then, one morning I had a sleepover at this friend’s place, only to wake up having my face caressed like Bast did to Kote in chapter 5. I had no sexual interest in him, so I felt… Not okay with that unconsented touching.

            You see, thematic issues in this book ruined a friendship I had, because I was an inexperienced reader (and were no writer at that moment). This site dedicates itself against these behaviors and adresses those thematic issues I needed to know back then in order NOT to recomend this book, then NOT give an unintended hint that I intended something sexual.

            (Heck, I only found out what the hell was that about by reading these comments. Urgh, now I really don’t like this book!)

            You make it seem an author doesn’t have responsibilities for its readers. My forementioned experience tells me otherwise…

        • John Kievlan

          I mean, it’s possible to be wrong.

          “‘Oh’, said Bast, his face carefully blank.”

          This is presented as a mistake — a thing for writers to avoid. But in fact it is one of the most brilliant strokes of genius writing I have ever seen. And I’ve read a great deal in my life.

          The sheer quantity of poignant meaning packed in that “Oh” is simply staggering.

          We know the scrael can be harmed by iron. We know iron is believed to be a defense against demons. We know Bast is Kote’s apprentice and dear friend.

          And now, we know Bast is afraid of iron. What then? He’s clearly not a scraeling. It seems he isn’t in any way allied with them. But there’s kinship. Who is he, what is he, is he good or evil, can he be trusted, what does Kote know or think about him and is Kote a fool to see Bast as he does?

          All of a sudden, the reader who may not have had many questions is stumbling under the crushing weight of a great many very important and confusing questions. And all it took was one word: “Oh.”

          It is not a defense to say, “This isn’t a book review, it’s just an analysis of obvious writing errors,” when in fact the errors aren’t erroneous.

          • LizardWithHat

            I fail to see how making the reader “stumbling under the crushing weight of very important and confusing questions” is a good thing.
            That implies that the reader is put of balance and in danger of a faceplant. Which in turn sounds like it would bring the story to a screeching hold.
            (From what I gather this answers are not even that important either)

            And “Obvious Error” isn’t the same a 100% without doubt – just something one should watch out for.

            Also: No, form what I have read I can’t say I understand what could and couldn’t happen in the world of Kvothe.
            I don’t know what a scrael is capable of… it a fantasy term so I can’t intuit it either. If they were just giant spiders … yeah, animal, much more easy.
            But with a fantasy creature… no bets what they can and cannot do
            (and again it does not seem to matter because what the answers are, because the reader isn’t informed)

  16. Syed Khader

    I seem to understand now—don’t go into a tangent early on in the story that doesn’t play a role in the narration or you lose the readers. That’s one thing learned from this article, which serves the least of its purpose. This post and the comments have given me a lot to think about fantasy stories with male lead as well. Many avenues to foreshadow and badass male characters close when I think of it this way and less seem to remain to choose from… Wow! This has been a night of revelations for me. I thank you for that. And good luck with your writing and the good work you guys do here.

    • Cay Reet

      There are actually a lot more ways opening up once you realize that not every fantasy hero has to be the same. The same problem will get a different solution from a warrior than from a mage or a rogue (to speak in RPG terms). A character with a lot of strength will have to go toe to toe with the enemy, risking damage, but at the same time an experienced warrior should be good at avoiding damage in battle. A character with magical talents could go on a quest to find that one spell which will solve the problem for eternity and grow in power as they tackle all the problems on the road. A roguish character, perhaps a thief, will use the sneaky route and find a way into the enemy’s threshold to find out whatever is necessary to exploit the weakness of the enemy. A character with a lot of charisma can inspire the simple farmers and farm workers to form a militia and can give them the necessary guidance so they can best the approaching army.

      Badass male character doesn’t mean ‘he’s perfect at everything he does and can defeat all enemies.’ Such characters are actually boring – because where is the tension when you know the guy can deal with it? A lot of fantasy stories focus on underdogs, on the mage who can’t do real magic, on the only member of a warrior clan who is bad at fighting, on the guy who wants to be a hero, but is caught in menial, everyday tasks. The hobbits in LotR or the Hobbit are not heroic characters, but their growth and determination drives great parts of the story. Bilbo and Frodo aren’t main leads because they’re badass in terms of being the best of the best at what they do – they are the main leads because they have the most space for development. Wish-fulfilment characters aren’t inherently bad, but they can escalate into something of the perfect, god-like being who can do everything and will never be defeated, which actually makes them boring. If you balance them out well, you can show the reader how they become badasses – and that’s a great story -, instead of telling the reader ‘this is a badass character and he’ll never be defeated.’

      • Syed Khader

        I was getting into this exact later tangent when I read this reply, but I don’t think the ‘how male characters can be badass’ is the problem I came across. Thank you for the elaborate insight, anyway.
        But it’s the treatment with the female cast that’s got me confused. Or how to identify their treatment as wrong. I’ve held myself back from reading stories with female leads (specifically those written by women, because of Twilight Trilogy and another story of which I can’t recall the name) because I tend to sympathise with them but have never connected or related with them.
        Years of reading fantasy and manga, unfortunately, had me unaware of actual strengths of female characters, or even what they were about. I was aware that acting only for the male characters wasn’t the only role they could play or the only path to develop their personality. Fortunately, I hope, I’m currently reading The Wheel of Time and got some insight on how a man could try to go on to understanding, and writing, female characters. It made me remember Katara and Toph, and Azula and her gang from ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’. Those characters were the ones I couldn’t ever relate to or connect to before. And the novel series also reminded me why I dropped ‘The Legend of Korra’ after the first season. Because the way she (the female lead) acted and behaved didn’t make sense to me, and because the love life of female leads has been my bane to reading such stories since Twilight!
        This article and the comments made me realise that the problem was the way I viewed the characters, but I still have no idea on the subconscious biases (that I might have against women) I’m reading the stories with. I might have to be conscious of those and note them down from now on.
        Still, I’d greatly appreciate any help I could get to get started with this.

        • Bunny

          In most stories where gender isn’t an intrinsic part of the plot, maleness and femaleness are actually pretty interchangeable. If the pronouns and maybe names were swapped for those of the other gender, not much would change. Of course, there are probably exceptions to that, but in my experience most characters will have the same personality whether they’re a man or a woman. Perhaps it would help to think of them first and foremost as just protagonists rather than male protagonists or female protagonists. Different genders aren’t different species, after all. I believe Toph was even originally written as a man.

          Maybe you could start with some works with more butch female leads? Fury Road comes to mind. Max is the viewpoint character, but Furiosa is the protagonist, and it’s her story. She’s got understandable goals, a compelling sort of desperate badassery, and a complex personality. Plus it’s an amazing movie. This is actually a case where gender is tied to the plot, but I still recommend it as absolutely worth the watch. The Bone fantasy graphic novel series by Jeff Smith has two main female leads, one butch and one femme. The butch female character in this case is Gran’ma Ben, grandmother of the more femme Thorn. Gran’ma Ben has a rich past, a multi-faceted character, and such a fun and unusual personality. Not to mention a grandmother character able to kick some serious butt, which is something I haven’t been able to find in any other story.

          With both of these stories, the female leads are not there just to act for the male characters. They’re part of their own complex journeys, with flaws and personalities and agency.

          It’s interesting that you’re reading the Wheel of Time to gain a better appreciation of female characters. Mythcreants actually has a (very controversial) article on the shortcomings of that series when it comes to women.

          Anyway, I hope this helped.

          • Syed Khader

            The suggestions should help, since, as you said, in most cases gender isn’t really tied tightly to plot. And stories suggested should be a help. This will give me another excuse to watch Mad Max. And The Bone’s badass grandma seems very interesting too. With lesbian characters too. That’s cool too since Archeth is only lesbian I ever knew.
            I’m not surprised that WoT has an article for its treatment of women. The harem thing was just one of the things that made me almost quit reading. Apart from those, I considered Jordan’s treatment of all things feminine in the story to be fair. I’m right in the middle of the story right now, so I might be ignorant to other controversial issues. But yeah, I’ve trusted Jordan so far. That might or might not change in the future.
            Thank you for the help. Greatly appreciate it.

          • Bunny

            Oh, sorry! I think I was unclear. I meant butch and femme in terms of character expression – I wasn’t trying to shorthand that Gran’ma Ben or Thorn was lesbian (Furiosa could be, it’s not explicitly stated either way). They aren’t. That would be amazing if they were, though!

            I guess the words I was looking for were “masculine” and “feminine.” Oops! I’ve been looking at too many futch scales today

            I’ll have to think a little harder to come up with some lesbian characters. They’re disappointingly far between! Absolutely check out Bone (just Bone, not The Bone, to be clear), though. It’s a great series.

        • Cay Reet

          The Wheel of Time, at least early on, might not be a good idea to read when you want to see how to write female characters as a man. Since I’m a woman, writing female characters comes a little easier to me, but here’s a few basic things you might want to keep in mind.

          Female characters are, first and foremost, characters. There are very few things in life which are specifcally ‘female’ or ‘male’ – apart from the part people have in propagation. For most intents and purposes, a female character is the same as a male character. There may be fewer female warriors, for example, but there’s no reason not to have female mages or thieves – two classic RPG classes where physical strength isn’t everything. Most interests, likes, or dislikes a person has are also not defined by their gender. You don’t have to be a man to like spicy food, for instance – I know some women for whom food can’t be spicy enough. You also don’t have to be a woman to like gardening – there are quite some men who find that interesting and relaxing, too. In a lot of cases, exchanging the pronouns might be all it really needs.

          Keep in mind that in your usual fantasy world, about 50% of the populace should be female – it’s highly unlikely humans will have developed completely different in another world. Other species might (there is the age-old question of whether there are female dwarves and how to spot them), but humans will roughly produce as many female babies as they’ll produce male ones. So even if your hero rooster is completely male (and a mage of ranged fighter could as well be female, too), there will be women around them – and not just ‘mother, wife, sister, daughter.’ There will be female innkeepers, female merchants, female healers, female members of administration, perhaps. If you wish to go that far, also prostitutes, of course, who might have a healthy confidence, because they know their worth. A lot of jobs can be done by women just as well as by men – and in a world with a lot of fighting, a lot of non-military jobs will normally be occupied by those who don’t go to war – the women. It’s a pattern you can see over and over again in times of war.

          One big problem with the presentation of female characters in fantasy stories is that those stories are based on a very wonky idea of the European Middle Ages – the idea that women in the middle ages were basically chained to the house and played no role whatsoever in public life, which is plain wrong. Women at that time were usually their husbands’ equals to a degree – working together as farmers, craftsmen, or merchants, keeping things running in nobility. They were not usually in a political spotlight, but they did have an influence on what was going on around them. Capture that for your world and you will automatically have female characters in it.

          I would suggest that you read either stories with female protagonists or stories which have female characters which are not reduced to just ‘female inn guest who is flirting.’ It doesn’t have to be “Twilight” (honestly, I can’t stand that series, either, it’s not just about you), but there are others.

          Tansy Raynar Roberts has written a very good non-fiction book about women in Pratchett’s Discworld novels and it’s a good study of how he learned to craft them better over time, too. Chris Dolley’s Reeves & Worchester series has Emmeline Dreadnought who is a great female character. The Brother Bones series has Sister Blood. Jim C. Hines’ Princess series has a lot of interesting female characters based on fairy tales. The Oroborous Cycle has Dr. Varanus. The Brian Helsing series has Gertie, Scylla, and Aimi (and also Cassandra, but she’s evil). And that’s just a list of books I’ve read – there’s bound to be many more books with interesting female characters out there.

    • Rakka

      More like, don’t go from high stakes to low stakes. After flashing the end of the world in present time don’t focus on protagonist’s money worries in college.

      • Cay Reet

        Never go from high stakes to low stakes – there’s just no way to do that without completely disappoint the audience.

        The other way is good – go from low stakes to high stakes. Make the character worry about small, everyday problems and then, wham, there’s this huge problem they suddenly have to deal with. That’s a good way of raising the stakes.

  17. Tifa

    I’m glad I’ve never read this book. My goodness.

    I’ve been thinking about continuity recently. It’s one of the hardest things for me as a writer. Could you guys do an article on continuity and tips and things to watch out for?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Possibly, though continuity is a pretty broad subject. Is there something in particular you’re having trouble with?

      • Tifa

        I was thinking, maybe about how to avoid inflicting continuity lockout on new readers? That seems to be a big problem with long series, and something that I find hard to balance throughout most of my books.

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          If by “continuity lockout” you mean that readers need to read the series in the right order or they won’t know what’s happening, you can make that less of a problem by making the stories more episodic, but that has it’s own serious costs.

          While it’s helpful to remind readers of important info with each new installment, in most cases you shouldn’t worry to much about readers coming in and picking up the series half way through. Trying to make the stories work for them will cause trouble for the readers who started at the beginning.

  18. Innocent Bystander

    While I agree with you on most of the criticism here, there’s one point that I have to disagree with; I don’t think that the protagonist has to be likeable. I think that they have to be compelling enough that a reader will follow them. Using a series that I’m getting into as an example, Tanya from Youjo Senki is a terrible person who would sacrifice hundreds just to secure a promotion, but she still gets enough of my interest to want to know what will happen to her next. I even root for her at points.

    I don’t dislike Kote/Kvothe (based on the prologue) because he’s an awful person. I dislike him because for all his candy he’s boring. All the prologue does is go on about how great he is, but we don’t see what he can do or who he is as a person.

    • Chris Winkle

      The Mythcreants definition of likable is a character that the audience is interested in following. So Tanya in your example is a likable character, to you anyway. Characters are usually more likable if they are moral, but they don’t always have to be.

    • Cay Reet

      The candy is my problem, too. There are some awful people in media I like.

      ‘Likability’ is more about a character being interesting to follow, no matter whether they are following a moral code or just the ‘what serves me is good’ principle. So a highly amoral character can be a likable character in that vein even while being horrible to people or an outright jerk. It does help in most stories, though, if the reader can relate to the character a little and can understand them. A lot of people still want the hero to be a good person – the genre matters as well, of course, in some an anti-hero is the most moral type you’ll get.

  19. John Kievlan

    Well. You certainly aren’t pulling any punches. And while I agree with some of your critiques — like the sexism thing — I hope you don’t mind me not pulling any punches when I tell you how massively off base you are in most respects.

    Actually I haven’t come close to finishing reading your critique (I will, don’t worry) but after biting my tongue over so much wrongness I was forced to comment by a wrongness so egregious I couldn’t help myself.

    You’re upset by Chronicler’s magical note-taking abilities? Are you serious? You’ve never heard of shorthand? You don’t know that court stenographers use it to record speech faster than people can speak as, like, literally their daily job? Really? You’re a writer and you don’t know about this?

    Anyway. In general, you’re missing the entire point of the story. You’re worried about candy, but you seem to want candy. You seem to think if it’s implied that Kote has badass qualities, that you deserve, “Kote’s sea-green eyes suddenly flashed super sea-green lasers tht melted all the scrael into melty pieces of melty melt!” And that, when that doesn’t happen, Rothfuss has failed to engage the reader.

    But you missed the whole *point*. The point is, Kvothe *is* largely a fraud. That he has the stuff of a hero, but he sees himself as a fraud, and much of what people see in him is his deliberate attempt to defraud them with showmanship, when in fact he *could* be a hero, and oftentimes accidentally *is* a hero, if he would just drop the showmanship and be a great man.

    And that’s what endears us to the story. But you deprived yourself of it by imagining that either a hero can’t melty-melt meltable demons, or he *must* dramatically melty-melt their melty bits. You’re trapped in a false dichotomy.

    • John Kievlan

      And, it turns out, I *was* pretty much at the end of your review. I didn’t know it stopped short so soon. Because when the hero didn’t do the melty-melt, you abandoned the story before getting to the part that *was* the story, which was the backstory concerning how Kvothe came to be to antihero he is in the prefacing chapters.

      You missed out on a gripping and wonderful tale, which incidentally has quite a few named female characters with both agency and with gripping stories that don’t serve the protagonist. That’s too bad.

      • Cay Reet

        This one actually did a longer lesson than regularly – normally, the ‘lessons from…’ posts are only about chapter one. Why? Because most people look into the first chapter before buying a book – it’s where you have to grab them, if you want them to buy it.

        ‘It gets better later’ or ‘it gets all explained later’ are two regular arguments when people say ‘I read a few chapters, but put the book away, because I didn’t like it.’ The problem with those arguments is that most people who like reading have a high stack of ‘to read’ books and don’t spent more time with a book which didn’t grip them just to properly finish it. They put the book aside, never buy from the author again, and move on to the next in the stack. So all that great stuff later in the story will not help, if you can’t grab people’s attention early on.

        • John Kievlan

          Eh. You miss out on a lot that way. And there were plenty of clues that the story would get increasingly interesting, for readers discerning enough to notice them. Part of the reason the story is so impossibly amazing is the way Rothfuss plays with mystery.

          I mean, for instance, the thing about Bast and iron. It wasn’t exciting enough, apparently, that he was clearly disconcerted by the thought of a lot of iron being made to stave off demons.

          I guess what we needed, to catch the reader’s attention, was, “‘Oh no’, Bast thought, his face carefully blank, ‘iron! The element that mortally injures fae such as myself!’ Bast, you see, was a member of the fae, an immortal creature of the sort that common people believed to be demons.”

          I mean, come on. That’s the sort of on-the-nose ridiculousness that popular novels like Twilight use ad nauseum. And that would have been the point *I* stopped reading.

          • Cay Reet

            I might just be too old, but when I hear ‘character afraid of iron’ I automatically think ‘okay, that one is a supernatural’ – because traditionally cold iron is deadly to elves and fairies. It’s not a new idea and in a fantasy novel not unexpected.

            I would have stopped reading this book before chapter seven and looked at something else, because nothing in there speaks to me. Not the pretentious writing with three sorts of silence, not the main character, and not a setting with twenty namded dudes and only two unnamed women. Don’t get me wrong – that can be logical in the right setting, but not in a village inn.

      • Rakka

        You mean the amazing story of how the early-introduced big threat is abandoned in favour of money worries and petty rivalry and moaning after D*na?

  20. Phil Heckman

    “Let’s wrap up this short prologue…
    The waiting to die part is a great hook, great enough to make me initially overlook how the rest of this makes little sense. The first two parts of silence were actually silence, but now the silence isn’t silence: it’s a metaphor for death.”

    “This raises the unfortunate question of whether Kote wanted to die. We know him so little we can’t rule out anything.”

    If you don’t know, it’s because in your quest to count characters, your critique of how many times the word “things” get used in a paragraph, or your rush to fit the characters into your past posts about tropes has gotten in the way of seeing the greater groundwork that is being laid.

    By the end of these chapters the readers should know a few things.

    The perception of Kvothe is that he is the all powerful anime character that you portray him as.

    He is actively avoiding his past notoriety.

    He knows that the stories about him aren’t truth and wants to make an attempt to correct the record.

    He is simply there, waiting to die.

    What I took away from those first chapters, was that it was truly a double barbed hook. The prologue lured me in with the interesting prose, and while I admit that the setup to get to the central conceit that this is a story about a person telling their story took too long, by the time I reached that point I realized that I had been hooked again. The point of the book wasn’t that the author was telling a story about a hero, the point of the book was that the hero was telling a story about being being a broken and forgotten man in a village in the literal middle of “Newerre.” I believe that this is one of the reasons why fans are as adamant about getting the end to this story as they are. In most series, if it fizzles out and never reaches a conclusion, a fan can take some solace in imagining their own end for it. In this case, we already (mostly) know how the story ends, and it is the middle parts that are missing.

    As to your points about the lack of female representation, I don’t disagree. I would just ask that you find me some examples of male characters exceptionally well written by female authors, or female characters exceptionally well written by male authors so that I can figure out where to appropriately set the bar. While admirable to be mindful of these things, (and we all should be,) I can also imagine that it is very difficult to be able to write about things that you don’t know or to write from a perspective that you’ve never had. I would further imagine that if he were to attempt to write from a female perspective, and he did it badly, the criticism would be worse. Simply, I wonder if the choice was between no perspective and poorly written perspective. I don’t know what the answer is.

    • Cay Reet

      As a woman, I can tell you that with many fantasy stories, the author admitting that women are thing in the world and about half the humans are probably women and women are going about their business in the village (or other settlement) would already be a major improvement.

      This story has two female characters in the first seven chapters. Both are unnamed and only there to ‘flirt with men.’ Now, I’m not against flirting, not at all, but if that is all the village has to offer, what does that tell me about the village and its inhabitants? Are the women a ) all dead from a strange disease which only women get or b ) all locked away at home and not allowed to go out in the evening and visit the local inn (as inns are usually the source of gossip and entertainment in a village) or c ) is there a bigger and better inn than the one we learn about and all except for those two unnamed women are there instead?

      From what I’ve learned from other comments here, the other women who feature in the story with names are a ) Kvothe’s mother (and thus the only person who doesn’t have the hots for him) and b ) a load of women who are so smitten with a guy who has a horrible personality that they want to get into his bed. That is not a balanced representation of 50 % of a world’s human populace.

      If an author can name about 20 men in the first seven chapters, even though only two will matter afterwards (because the whole prologue is merely a framing device), they can also include a couple of women who have names and aren’t just waiting to warm the main character’s bed at night. What about Bast talking to women about the village life instead of just flirting with them (and forgetting about his lessons)? What about a woman delivering the ale for the inn (brewing was often done by women in the middle ages, which is what a lot of fantasy worlds are based on)? You don’t need twenty of them (although that would be cool), but a few women who are not just ‘Kvothe fan girls’ would be nice.

      As to ‘male characters written well by women’ and vice versa: there are a lot of female authors writing male characters. They may have a slight advantage, though, because they have more source material to use for reference – there’s no lack of male heroes in media. You might not always realize this, though, because in some genres, women take on a male pen name (as men take on female pen names in other genres, mostly romance).

      • Syed Khader

        Simply for the sake of clearing Kvothe’s name, I’d like to mention that he doesn’t sleep with anyone until the next book and there with about four named women, maybe five, and may be prostitutes (don’t remember that too well). And none of that count includes any of the regular female cast. Actually, I hardly think any of those women have hots for him. They’re all his friends. Devi was actually an opponent at one point, one that outwits him, iirc. In fact, Denna is Kvothe’s only love interest.
        And he’s not a playboy. He doesn’t go around wooing women. Not many men in the story actually do. And the women aren’t fools to not know what sort a man is.
        I read someone mention Kvothe’s father; that Kvothe gets most of his traits from his father. That might just be true and not for the reasons mentioned, but no, Kvothe’s mother wasn’t simply to be trophy-wife of a man. If I recall correctly, they both write the song about Chandrian (might have butchered the name there) along with Kvothe’s first teacher. They do it together; one of most important songs they wanted to write and they do it as a team.
        Here’s a favourite quote of mine from Kvothe’s father: “Call a jack a jack. Call a spade a spade. But always call a whore a lady. Their lives are hard enough, and it never hurts to be polite.” He says that to his son.

        Not saying there isn’t your typical sexism in the story, but not the way mentioned in this post or in the comments. Not to a degree to make one wonder if Rothfuss is sexist. He isn’t. At least, his books are not. Someone more eloquent might be able to explain my point better, though I’ve tried. I don’t remember some of the stuff from the books, so anyone is free to correct me.

        • Cay Reet

          Sexism is reducing members of one sex to stereotypical roles (mostly women, but it does work the other way around as well). Even if Kvothe doesn’t sleep with many women, the fact alone that all women want to sleep with him isn’t a sign of good writing – Kvothe is not described as an overly charming and personable character who might charm all those women. He’s no Casanova. He’s a jerk and at least some of those women should realize that and not have the hots for him. Women in the story still don’t have many roles and that is sexist writing – the beginning alone, with 18 named dudes in a framing story which doesn’t play a role, but no named women, not to mentioned the named mare and the named sword instead, is definitely sexist. If you take the time to name a horse which doesn’t play a huge role and give a name to a sword, but you have two unnamed women who only ‘flirt’ and do nothing else and no more on-screen female characters (Bast does his flirting off-screen), then there’s definitely something amiss.

          • Syed Khader

            Well, I’m not defending sexism in the story. I’m just saying that the book doesn’t have active sexism in it. I’m actually speaking for Kvothe here. Yes, hd is not a casannova. Never said he is. I’ve mentioned that his female friends don’t have hots for him. They’re simply his friends.
            I might not remember everything about the story but I think I’d remember if every other women was interested in sleeping with him. I’d remember his attempts at charming women too. In all of the two books, he’s done that no more than thrice. He’s not too liked by everyone, even in his world. Denna likes him but not enough to abandon her ambition. When Fela started seeming like a potential love interest, she fell for another guy. Devi was another one who blackmailed him into stealing access to the library that’s restricted to those not belonging to school. Auri is just… I don’t remember her much, other than she’s more loony and smarter than Luna Lovegood. These four appear in both the novels and have been amazing. Fela was the first of the students to learn name of an object consciously. None of that suggests active sexism in story or society.
            You speak as if you’ve read the books, though that doesn’t seem to be the case. You say women don’t have their own thing to do. Which I disagree with. In this world, women attend magic schools, go to bars, own businesses, become money-lenders, have the right to marry with their choice, reject advancements of men and even use men for their own benefits, become mercenaries (who strongly believe that men aren’t needed to conceive a child) and a lot more. Women didn’t have at least one of those (realistic) liberties (can’t find the right word here) until recently in our own reality.
            Other than Kvothe, three of four most instrumental characters to the plot and world building are all women. Chandrian (this is a demon-sort-of-faction/gang), Felurian, Denna, and Meluan.
            Isn’t it a framing device if it doesn’t play any important role in the plot? Because this ‘framing device’ is a part of Kvothe’s overall story.
            Now, I know I’m no expert in spotting gender biases or mistakes in a story, but you don’t know the story Rothfuss has written. You don’t know the women in his story. Or their position in that society.
            Well, you already have your own opinion on Rothfuss, his storytelling ideas and his story. I’ll leave you to them. Thanks for the discussion and the help!

          • Cay Reet

            @Syed Khader: This isn’t meant to be a direct answer to your last comment here, but more of a list of red flags you can look out for when wondering about whether or not female characters in a book are lacking and there might be sexist writing. One flag doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad (it could be oversight), but if several come together, it’s almost a guarantee to sexism (even if not necessarily the active kind).

            – women in the story are defined by their relationship to the male lead: mother, sister, daughter, wife, girlfriend, love interest and might be used to coax him into action (the fridging/damsel tropes)
            – women in the story have no agenda of their own, but only serve the agenda of the male lead (they’re often only love-interest or female family members to be threatened, harmed, or killed by the main bad)
            – women are all but missing from the story and hardly get a name or more than a passing mention (there are logical settings for few to no women, such as a story set completely within an all-male military, but it’s rarely justified)
            – women are inexplicably drawn to a male lead who is not, by definition, any kind of ‘ladies’ man’ (even James Bond encounters the occasional woman whom he can’t seduce and he’s seduction on legs)
            – women only fall into two categories in the story: the ‘good’ virgin and the ‘bad’ whore – and the hero despises every woman who is not pure and innocent (or wears makeup, but that’s another topic entirely)
            – the hero group doesn’t include a single female member without very good reason (in the classic trio, there’s the ‘heart’ position which is almost always taken up by a female character)

            As said, one of those flags may happen without the author being neglectend of female characters and passively sexist, two make it a doubtful thing, three or more are definitely a sign of an author who doesn’t manage or doesn’t care to work on their women.

  21. Oren Ashkenazi

    Editor’s Note: I’ve deleted a comment both for insulting the author and for ableist language. Neither of those are allowed.

  22. Wesley

    I will never understand the veneration even people who are rightfully critical of this book give to Rothfuss’ “wordcraft”. If you’re into hundreds of pages of pointless purple prose which ends up describing perfectly mundane things not terribly well, good for you, I guess. But the man’s writing is terrible. Even before you get to the sexism.

    I mean, can you honestly tell me this is an example of good writing?

    “My heart is made of stronger stuff than glass. When she strikes she’ll find it strong as iron-bound brass, or gold and adamant together mixed. Don’t think I am unaware, some startled deer to stand transfixed by hunter’s horns. It’s she who should take care, for when she strikes, my heart will make a sound so beautiful and bright that it can’t help but bring her back to me in winged flight.”

    • Cay Reet

      OMFG … that is worse than anything I’ve read before and I’ve been reading a lot of pulp and other supposedly ‘bad’ types of writing.

      • Nite

        Why?

        • Cay Reet

          Why was this the worst writing or why am I reading pulp?

          I’ve honestly never stumbled over someone who says so little with so many words in such an overblown way outside of political debate. I’ve read a lot of old stories, where wording was still a little more pompous by modern standards (what we expect a book to read like does change), but even those books said more with their barrage of words and gave less of an impression that the author was only doing it to show off.

          Why I’m reading pulp? Well, because I find it interesting to study a form of writing (pulp is less genre and more technique) which is highly successful with the reader (pulp is meant to be steamlined in plot and writing) and can be duplicated over and over again for serial writing. Some pulp writers, like Seabury Quinn, the author of the Jules de Grandin stories, have a clear formula (which means you shouldn’t read too many of their stories at once – a lesson I learned the hard way), while other authors manage to put a lot of different stories in the same style with the same readability (like the Brother Bones series, which, apart from one book, is only written by Ron Frontier).

          Yet, pulp and other types of stories written for quick consummation are of a higher quality than the example here, despite having a bad rep for being low quality.

  23. MarionettaVT

    I really enjoyed this critique- I love all your critiques.
    I couldn’t help but notice a half-dozen typos in the quoted text beyond your [sic] markers. Was this C&P’d, meaning those typos are ALL in the original?

    • Chris Winkle

      Thanks! Unfortunately I had to hand copy this one. If you’d like to list some of the errors, I can check whether or not they’re in the original.

      • MarionettaVT

        Certainly! Organized by excerpt number:

        9- In the tinker’s rhyme, I wondered if ‘any’ in the third line was part of the original, since it messes up the meter
        14- Possibly that period at the end of the first sentence is supposed to be a comma. I hope so, anyway. Also, “least” should probably be “last” right?
        16- “the comfort of this bottles” should probably be “his bottles”
        24- Could “finger it” possibly be “figure it”?
        28- “stripes of pains” should probably be “stripes of pain” singular, in addition to the one you caught
        29- Is “angrily” really written twice in two sentences?? Yeesh

        • Chris Winkle

          Thank you for all that! You’ve got a good eye.

          9 – My bad.
          14 – It really is a period; I added a [sic] to it. The other one was me though.
          16 – My mistake, fixed.
          24 – It is, in fact, “finger it.”
          28 – Fixed.
          29 – Yes, he did actually put angrily twice in two sentences. With the other stuff I saw, it’s fair to say repeating words is one of his weaknesses. Plus, neither of those “angrily” are needed; it’s clear Bast is angry without that. It feels like Rothfuss is good at “show not tell” except when it comes to character emotion.

          • MarionettaVT

            Well, thank you again for all your great articles.

  24. Bjela

    I had to get this off my chest:

    In my opinion “The name of the Wind” is one of the least sexists books I read so far. I am a huge fan for several reasons which includes amazing word-craft, amazing foreshadowing, world-building, building emotional attachement to the reader, etc. etc.

    Just to take one example from the analysis: “the cut-flower sound” is one of the most amazing descriptions I ever read; it describes the third silence, which is a metaphor for death. What is the most common metaphor for death? Obviously the silent reaper, who reaps humans like wheat with his scythe. Combine this with the image of the flower which gets cut in full bloom and you have both the sound (the almost imperceptible sound of the scythe as it cuts throught the wheat/flowers) and the image (the flower as it falls before the reaper) and all of this in just four words. In the German translation it is even better – the translation is “sichelnd” which means literally “scything” and carries the sound of the action in the word itself (s-ch).

    Now to get to the sexist part, which seems to be what offended commentators the most: To be clear, I am not someone who insists on having an equal amount of man and woman in a story. Maybe that makes me sexist already, I don’t know. For me a story could be good if it had just men (I could imagine a war story for example with a bataillon of male-only soldiers) or just women (same thing but with women instead). As long as the story is good in plot-structure, word-craft, message, etc. I wouldn’t care.
    So for me it is not a big deal that only two unnamed women show up in the opening chapters of “The Name of the Wind”.
    But as far as I can see this is not what has been causing the biggest offence. There are other red flags like, the women are unnamed, instead we have a named mare “Nancy” and a named sword “Folly” which Kote refers to in the female form. Is it historically accurate that men have given innanimate objects (mares aside) female names, like ships, swords, trains, etc? Yes. Is it okay for Rothfuss to refer to/use that tradition in his book? Well depends. A lot of fantasy-writers use historical knowledge to give their stories (which are mostly based in a medieval kind of setting) a certain depth and legitimacy, and I can’t see what’s wrong with that.
    Does Nancy, the horse, have more significance to the story than the two unnamed women in the travellers group? She does. In fact Rothfuss makes the reader believe at first that Nancy is woman, probably on one hand for the shock-factor, but on the other hand to show how important that horse was for the farmer who lost it. It’s just a farmhorse, you could say, no big deal, but for these villagers it is a big deal. This is also the reason why Rothfuss describes seemingly mundane activities like cleaning the inn, and later baking apple-pie in such detail. In fact, the story plays on two levels: The mundane level (the village) into which the threat from the outside world over the course of the story slowly creeps. And the backstory which Kvothe tells Chronicler, the level of the legend, the epic story. Rothfuss weaves his own estethics into the novel, by the way.
    Okay back to the unnamed women and the sword. There is foreshadowing that the sword will also play a big role in Kvothes story, so I daresay that it is probably more important then the women. But they are still unnamed! Isn’t that a sign of sexism after we had all these many named dudes? I would say not, seeing as the whole group which came into the Inn was described as:

    “Two men and two women, wagoneers, rough from years being outside and smiling to be spending a night out of the wind. Three guards with hard eyes, smelling of iron. A tinker with a potbelly and a ready smile showing his few remaining teeth. Two young men, one sandy-haired, one dark, well dressed and well-spoken: travellers sensible enough to hook up with a larger group for protection on the road.”

    None of the group were named, so why name the women? Later on the women are flirting, which could be interpreted as a sign of sexism (what else would women be doing? They are just here for the benefit of men!) or as one of sexual liberation (it is okay for women to flirt, even though they might be married (four wagoneers: two men, two women)).

    Anyway, let’s just assume that the flirting is a kind of sexism, to give the critique the benefit of the doubt. In this case it would be necessary to look at the rest of the book, to see if sexist tendencies exist.

    To judge this, I think it is important to make two points: In fact the story is about one person and one person only: Kvothe. He says this himself in the paragraph that made Chris puke: “Very well, for simplicity’s sake, let us assume I am the centre of creation.”
    This is not just boasting from the main character. In fact he is the center of creation – assuming creation is the world in which this book plays, which has been just invented for his sake (by the author). So this is actually a comment about the book itself, which helps the reader understand that the story evolves around Kvothe and Kvothe only. What does this mean? As far as my understanding goes, many of the main characters, if not all of them are actually manifestations of the main character itself – for example there are several characters which fill the role of Kvothe’s “shadow” as it was described by Jung. Bast is one of them. Denna, the main female character and love interest, can actually be considered Kvothe’s anima, as is the case of many well-done love stories (for example Blown with the wind). As such the characters in the book (or at least many of them) are just representations of aspects of the main character Kvothe.
    Denna for example is exactly the same as Kvothe. She is a too-perfect character: She is beautiful, witty, highly intelligent, charms every man, highly talented, when it comes to making music, etc. etc. At the same time she is street-savy like him and – a whore. This doesn’t get stated outright in the book, mind you, but it gets heavily implied, that she does let herself be courted by man who give her expansive gifts and sometimes even sleep with her – because she chose this way in life as one of the few which are open to her, willing to pay the costs.
    Kvothe is a whore, too. This does get stated outright by Vashet, his teacher when he learns sword-fighting with the Adem. As a musician he is considered a whore in the eye of every Adem.
    Where am I going with this? Besides the point that the characters are somewhat two-dimensional at times (did I see them in my minds I as anime characters? Yes, I did), or characters in a play, there is an important reason for that, so the book gets away with it. The whole story is – in fact – structured as a play in three acts – the inn being the stage and the three acts being the three days in which the story is told.

    The second important point, in my opinion is, that there are many many reasons where the story is as anti-sexist as possible. First of all, the Adem. They are a warrior tribe where women are valued more than men, because of their superior fighting skills. As a result Kvothe meets many more women than men in this tribe – his teacher, the leader of the Adem, his fellow training disciple (a 10 year old girl, who is way better than him in fighting), his nemesis with the Adem – the list goes on.
    Second the liberal view on sex. Yes, Kvothe gets a lot of sex in the second sequel (four or five different women sleep with him), as the story challenges the way we view love and sex in the Western world. For the Adem it is totally legitimate to sleep with as many people as you like, even if you don’t love them or as Vashet puts it: “When will men understand the difference between a penis and a heart?” They also believe that men/sex have nothing whatsoever to do with getting pregnant – Rothfuss taps into a more pre-Agricultural, matriarchal kind of believe-system here.

    But you don’t need to go as far into the book as the Adem to have strong female characters. At the university Kvothe meets plenty of highly intelligent, competent, strong-willed women – Fela is one of them. As has been pointed out already, she is the first one in her class to learn a name and wear a ring to prove it, something which Kvothe still hasn’t achieved by the end of the second book. Or Devi, who is stronger in sympathy (basically another magical branch) then him.

    One last point before I wrap it up: Yes, Kvothe is super-perfect, the same as Denna. So why don’t I and millions of other readers hate his guts for being a Mary Sue? Because (as has also been pointed out above) his perfection is mostly show to hide his deeply fragile and scarred soul. Except Kvothe is afraid, that he is not gentle at all inside, but a monster, a fear which gets voiced by Vashet, his Ademi fighting teacher:

    “Early on I noticed a gentleness in you. It is a rare thing in one so young, and it was a large piece of what convinced me you were worth teaching. But as the days pass, I glimpse something else. Some other face that is far from gentle. I have dismissed these as flickers of false light, thinking them the brags of a young man or the odd jokes of a barbarian. But today as you spoke, it came to me that the gentleness was the mask. And this other half-seen face, this dark and ruthless thing, that is the true face hiding underneath.”

    She gives this as the reason, why she is thinking of killing (!) him for the sake of everybody.

    This ambivalence is at the heart of the story. Kvothe does not want to live anymore, because he is convinced that he is the monster who is responsible for the end of the world (pretty much).

    I could write much more, but I think I’ll leave it at that.

    • Cay Reet

      I’m really not sure whether I want a list of books you’ve read after you’ve said this was the least sexist book you read.

      Wording is a question of taste, but as someone in her mid-forties who’s been an avid and ravenous reader since she’s been able to read full books (around the age of six, they didn’t do any reading training in kindergarten in Germany in the 1970s), I’ve read a lot of books. A lot of books with different writing styles and in two different languages (German and English). I’ve never come across a writing style I found quite as pretentious or as tiring as the examples in this article – and given I’ve dug into a lot of Gothic horror novels such as Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or The Phantom of the Opera (via translation, my French is adequate for survival, not for reading novels in it), that means something.

      As to the two unnamed women: yes, as I already wrote in other comments, there are places where women are rare or even non-existent. Like an all-male military post. But we’re talking about an inn in a world before electronic entertainments. In a village which certainly has no theatre and probably no acting troupe visiting (otherwise, chances are the inn would be empty). Inns were where you went in the evening to meet people, talk, trade gossip, perhaps hear some music (if there were people who knew how to play an instrument). Rothfuss isn’t shy of using many words, as his three types of silence and other pretentious writing show. Would it have killed him to throw in two names for the unnamed women? That’s Lisa over there and Maggie on the other side? He has twenty named villagers who will – as I take it from other comments – not play a role again afterwards, yet he finds the time to name a dead horse and a sword. It doesn’t matter whether that sword is important – if you name a sword and twenty dudes, but not the only two women you have in your story so far, something is clearly amiss.

      He has an equivalent of the Amazons in his story? Good for him, but no proof of no sexism. So there’s one group where women are valued more than men and how many exactly where women are valued less? In a village, women would be of equal value, because they do an equal amount of work. They would go to the inn, they would get names, they would feature in the story. They are not, because he doesn’t care about the women, not even in his intro, which is worthless, because he builds up that world and then just discards it. That tribe of renamed Amazons isn’t helping to stop sexism. The Greek were pretty sexist and they were the ones we got the Amazons from.

      So Kvothe sleeps around? Colour me surprised … a man who enjoys sex with different women all the time. That never happened before. Sarcasm aside: heroes who sleep around are nothing new or special. Bond has been doing it for decades – and he wasn’t the first one, either. The word ‘Casanova’ for a guy who flirts and sleeps around comes from a guy who wrote books about how many women he slept with. That’s, as much as that is sexist in the other direction, just male heroes being male heroes.

      And he has a dark side? You mean like every human being in the history of humanity? We’re all monsters sometimes, we all have dark impulses and sometimes wish to let them out. We all lie, we all use things to our advantage, we all have a ruthlessness inside to balance out kindness we also have. We’re human, that’s how we’re put together. Killing a guy because of that may be a bit harsh, but that’s humans for you as well – let’s remove a problem before it becomes one. This is another example of pretentious writing right there. Oh, he’s not just gentle (while learning to fight, of all things … if we were talking about him learning to be a nurse, it would be different), he does have a darker side, some ruthlessness. Ever single named guy in the first seven chapter of that book has a darker side. So have the two unnamed women. Playing that up as ‘he’s a monster and should kill himself’ is just … bad writing at best, an outright horrible view of humans at worst.

      There are female mages around who are even better at their job than Kvothe? Why isn’t it a book about them, then? Because the author puts them in and then puts them aside. Token women so the author can justify not having any in the inner cirlce, among the main leads. Because women might be good mages, but they can’t be heroes, amirite? I get it this is about Kvothe and it’s okay to have a male lead, but the fact alone that he visits some Amazons and has a few female school-mates isn’t proof that the book’s not sexist. Keeping women to the outskirts completely and reducing them to minor roles without good reason is. As Kvothe isn’t stationed at an all-male military outpost far from civilisation, I see no logical reason for not having any more important female characters – or for not giving two female guests names.

      If you want to see an old book that does well by its female characters, I suggest taking a look at Dracula (a book over a century old) instead – a book which only has a handful named women in it, but manages to name side characters like Mrs. Westenra, who only is Lucy’s mother, or Sister Agatha, who only nurses Jonathan Harker back to health. Yes, it fails by not giving the three vampire ladies names, but with a female lead as strong as Mina, I am prepared to forgive that.

      • Tifa

        Thunderous applause for Cay Reet!

  25. Tura

    The ‘master and servant’ vs. gay couple -trope always reminds me of the real life of the groundbreaking late 19th century sociologist Edvard Westermarck, who lived a long time in Morocco studying local customs. He had a local guide and translator, whose name I cannot remember (typical!) usually referred in public to as ‘his loyal servant’ when they travelled together – dismissing his importance as a coworker, but also hiding the fact they lived together as a couple, semi-openly as E.W.’s family and close friends and colleagues knew.

    So it goes a full circle.

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