Friday, November 30, 2007

Elantris and Wind

My wife and I had a discussion, of sorts, last night as to whether the myth about men being incapable of understanding the female mind is true. It seems likely that this belief arises less from men's inability to follow the thought processes of their female counterparts than from their unwillingness to acknowledge that when they arrive at different conclusions each conclusion just might be equally valid. Ultimately, this is a door that swings both ways, so take note women.

For my birthday my wife bought me the fantasy novel Elantris by Brian Sanderson. It was a safe bet on her part since I had mentioned to her several times that I wanted to read it. It turned out that she ended up reading it before I did. When she was done she told me that she had enjoyed it, but that she thought it was more of a "guy" book than a "girl" book. She told me the same thing last night after I finished reading it. I had kept that thought in mind while I was reading the book, but by the time I finished I had decided that it seemed more like a book that would appeal equally to either gender.

When I asked her how she arrived at her assessment, her answer was that it didn't have enough romance. Well ladies, it's true- if your idea of a good fantasy novel requires that its characters spend much of their time sending each other furtive glances and whispering sweet nothings in one another's ears, then yeah, you might think Elantris falls a bit short. It does portray a romantic relationship between two of its main characters, but it's a relationship that's stymied by circumstances beyond their control.

But c'mon gals, you don't really expect me to believe that the only thing you're interested in reading is mushy-eyed exchanges between hopelessly besotted amorites- right? Elantris is appealing because it explores several topics relative to the human experience, only one of which is love.

Particularly interesting to me was the way it dealt with the meaning and origin of religious faith. If you're like me, reading Elantris may well cause you to ask yourself what faith is, where it comes from and what its relationship is with logical understanding as well as with pious devotion.

But don't fret. I'm not trying to get you to read a book that's long on theological philosophising. The theological aspects are woven seamlessly into- and contribute meaningfully to- an entertaining tail of political intrigue, exotic magic, and for the stereotypical male, a bit of swashbuckling action.

This is not Tolkienesque fantasy. The setting is sort of late rennaisance. The are no magical or exotic creatures. No one is sent on a quest to save the world. The main characters are the opposite of the humble backwoods nobody sent out to fulfill his destiny. The story revolves around a once-mighty city whose power- derived from magic that's tied to the earth itself- has failed. It's inhabitants, once seen by the common people as gods, are now in a fallen state and despised by those who once revered them. The story follows two characters as they set about to restore the fallen city of Elantris to greatness. If you read it I doubt you'll be disappointed.


I'm no literary pundit (I love making overwhelming understatements like that) but when you see the things people are saying about The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, and then you read the book, you start wondering whether this won't be the beginning of the next Harry-Potter-like book craze that takes the world by storm. The Name of the Wind is good. It's really good. It's as good as fantasy gets.

It's a story about a young wizard, Kvothe, whose power was once so great that there wasn't anyone who didn't know his name. But the story begins after his fall from grace. Something- we don't know what, yet- caused him to make the world believe he had died. His faked death allows him to live under an assumed identity as an innkeeper in a tiny backwater village where his apathy towards his magic leaves it unused and atrophied and no one bothers to give him, a simple innkeeper, a second thought. Until an unexpected visitor arrives who knows exactly who Kvothe is.

This is the first book of a projected trilogy. The meat of this book is spent on Kvothe's retelling his own story to his visitor, a biographer of sorts who makes a living chronicling other peoples stories. Kvothe tells the man about his childhood and adolescence. It's a story rich with emotion- heartbreak, despair, love, infatuation, anger, compassion- and Rothfuss is able to portray these emotions so that they ring true. If that's all this story had it would still be good. But it's not just good, it's brilliant. Rothfuss is able to take the emotional truthfulness of Kvothe's story and set it in a world so richly detailed with history, mythos, geography and society that you can't help but be swept up in the realness of it all.

Kvothe is a character who is easy to sympathize with and his story will please those who crave action and adventure as well as those who prefer the characters they read about to be well developed and true to themselves. It's likely to please an array of different literary palates.

An added bonus is that this trilogy was originally written as a single volume. That's right- book two and book three have already been written! So fans of the book won't have to endure near-endless waiting while the author works on the sequels. Book two is due out in April and book three is supposed to be released sometime in 2009.

If you like good fantasy fiction and you take your time in getting around to reading this book then you'll only kick yourself for having waited so long once you've finally read it.