Audiobook Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

I’m a recovering news junkie.  I went off the sauce cold turkey a couple of months ago.  The reasons are numerous and irrelevant to the topic at hand.  Suffice it to say I had long ago stopped listening to music in the car most of the time in favor of NPR.  But the current political climate seems hellbent on poisoning even that sacred well and I began tuning in less often.  It was a tough decision because I really like someone talking to me while I drive.  I find it soothing.  And in L.A. traffic, I’ll take all the soothing I can get.  This once diehard NPR geek began to do the unthinkable– listen to oldies stations.  I claim temporary insanity and beg forgiveness.

I’m no stranger to audiobooks.  I bought lots of books on tape back when cars were sold with cassette decks.  Later I bought books on CD. Both of these formats I bought like I bought most of my books, LPs and CDs– second hand.  Which is something you can’t do with MP3s.  So I’ve been a little reluctant to go down this new digital road.  But a few months ago, I got a membership at Audible.com.  An initial bad pick left me a bit cold and I didn’t download anything for a few months.  The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss had been on my list of books to buy, but I never ran across it second hand.  Now that I’ve listened to it, I can understand why.

Let me begin by saying I’m not a huge fantasy fiction fan.  With very few exceptions, magic, wizards and dragons just aren’t my thing.  I’m very much into science fiction, but I’ve overdosed on it lately.  I am, first and foremost, a fan of good writing.  Subject matter is a secondary concern if the story is well told.  The Name of the Wind is an excellent story and the writing is first rate.

Rothfuss spins a decadent yarn—a story within a story— about an innkeeper who is hiding from…someone or something. It’s unclear why he is hiding out, but he is discovered and coaxed into telling his tale, which makes up the meat of the story.  The world Rothfuss has created is marvelous.  It is imaginative and richly detailed, though familiar enough in a Renaissance Faire kind of way.  I usually have a distaste for Dickesian-sized casts of characters.  More often than not, too many characters tend to make messes and leave too many loose ends.  Rothfuss effortlessly brings each of his many, many characters to vivid life.  Though there are dozens of players, each has his or her own voice and does his or her part to advance the story.  It is a remarkable literary debut by any measure.

An overview of the plot would do more harm than good.  If you want a synopsis, there are more than a thousand on Amazon alone.  This is one of those books I would tell my friends, “It’s a great book. Read it.”  But I didn’t read it.

I suppose it is testament to the quality of the audiobook that sitting here writing about it two days later, I feel like I’ve read the book. Listening to a book is necessarily a completely different experience than reading a book.  However, a few things are the same.  As with a bad book, you don’t bother to finish listening to a bad audiobook.  If it’s OK, it goes in one ear and out the other in much the same way an OK book is immediately forgettable.  A good audiobook sticks with you but fades from memory and becomes like a song you know you know but only remember a fragment of.  A great audiobook, however, is absorbed.  Like a great book or great album, it is an emotional experience and you feel invested.  The Name of the Wind is a great audiobook.

It’s difficult to put a number on the degree to which a narrator’s voice can have an effect on whether an audiobook is good or not.  I do know that a bad narrator can ruin a book.  That first audiobook I mentioned earlier that turned me off?  It was the narrator.  I couldn’t get past the voice.  About 30 seconds after hitting play and hearing Nick Podehl’s voice, I was skeptical.  Within five minutes, I was warming up to it.  Within the first hour, I was sold.  His narration is easy on the ear throughout and he does an excellent job giving voice to the many characters.  I came to look forward to him reading to me and was sad when the story came to an end.

The Name of the Wind is the first book in a trilogy and, if I had one complaint, it would be that it ends like the first piece of a trilogy.  Thankfully, I’m a little late to the game on Rothfuss and the second part, The Wise Man’s Fear, is already out.  I downloaded it yesterday and was giddy as a schoolgirl when I heard Podehl’s now-familiar voice pick up where we left off.

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