By the time I read Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, it had been out for four years, garnered a critical mass of critical acclaim, and been followed up by a sequel both half again as late as expected and half again as long as its predecessor. The Wise Man’s Fear picks up almost exactly where the first book in the series left off. By way of summary: Kvothe, an extraordinarily intelligent and precocious gypsy child is orphaned by the brutal attack of a præternatural group called the Chandrian. His eventual enrollment in a university of engineering and magic lead him on a number of adventures both profitable (in many ways) and detrimental on his way to investigating and avenging the death of his parents. When we last left him, he had inadvertently called the True Name of the wind, which is the purest and most real form of magic.
The Name of the Wind came up, a little unexpectedly, on a list of the top 100 or so science fiction and fantasy books of all time. These are about as common as oxygen nowadays, but this particular list was from NPR, so I stopped to read. Among the obvious Tolkien, Heinlein, Herbert, Orwell, and other thoroughly entrenched authors were some surprises. I first learned of Gene Wolf’s The Book of the New Sun, which was new to me but an old book with its sci-fi bona fides. Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind was more puzzling, being the debut novel of an unknown writer, published a mere four years ago. My curiosity was piqued.
What is one to make of a book entitled The Shadow of the Torturer? This famous 1980 novel by Gene Wolf, the first of a four-part series, is paired with part two, The Claw of the Conciliator, to form Shadow & Claw.
The title is not sensationalistic in the manner of some recent books, but genuinely reflects the topic of the book. The “hero”, Severian, is in fact a member of the “torturer’s guild”, and does in fact torture and execute a number of people. That he commits a grievous offense against his order/build—by allowing one of his charges to commit suicide—is the most we can say about Severian as a human being; there is not much otherwise to recommend him as a protagonist.
I should disclose right away that prior to the 2010 film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, I had never heard of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s superlative graphic novel(s). The only reason I watched it, in fact, was a combination of my friends’ rave reviews (despite lackluster box office performance) and the fact that I absolute adore directory Edgar Wright’s previous films. My reaction to the film was positive and visceral, as it seems to hit all the right stylistic notes, and of course its contents were a geekfest of epic proportions.
When I reviewed The Magicians last year, I noted that, despite my mixed feelings for Lev Grossman, which includes an outright antipathy for his notions of good storytelling, I was nonetheless impressed by the novelty of what he’d accomplished with his new novel. Almost an anti-bildungsroman, it took every good aspect of magical tales and flushed them down the toilet—ostensibly as a creative way of writing the general malaise that affects the unambitious or ambivalent.