by R.F. Kuang
19/25 (76%), 4 stars.
The first part of this one is a bland The Name of the Wind fanfiction. Nothing more. That’s what I have to say before delving into depths of my review: It is the characters, the character relationships, and central plot lines from Rothfuss’s masterpiece, transported into a Chinese setting. The second and third parts are an original and haunting, sometimes too gruesome depiction of war and violence, but the first one is a poorly disguised copy of TNOTW.
Why do I say that? Let’s start with the characters at Sinegard, shall we? Rin herself is quite original, though she does of course have the same background as Kvothe: she’s part of a minority, she’s also a peasant, she’s also an orphan which means that she faces the same struggles Kvothe had to face when coming to the Academy. There is a teacher who tries everything to sabotage her education (Jun/Hemme).
There is a rivalry/hatred with the son of an important nobleman (Nezha/Ambrose) that escalates so much that as one of its consequences, the protagonist isn’t allowed to enter a place what’s central to fulfill his desires and to finish his education (Jun’s martial arts lessons / The Archives). There is that odd teacher (Jiang/Elodin) who does strange stuff and whose lessons are a joke, that teacher only the protagonist can build up a relationship with, that teacher who teaches that strange subject nobody decides to study in the end (Lore/ Naming).
There’s that other teacher who supports the protagonist (Irjah/Kilvin), whose lessons offer a respectable field of study that seems attractive to the protagonist. The protagonist has to choose between him and the odd teacher. And so on. Sounds like a lot of similarities? Yes. Too many similarities? Hell, yes! The entire first part of this books is a completely no-go for me. It’s completely natural that books who have a school setting have familiar plot lines, but this is too much. I’m not okay with that.
When Rin finally left school because shit happened, things got original, and they got better. I never came to like Rin as a character, but I like the way in which Rebecca Kuang wrote her development, I like the way this world collapses, I like the way the characters are forced to realize they’re just pawns on a chess board. The plot of the second 50% of the book is excellent, the way the horrors of war are depicted is haunting. And sometimes too brutal. Yes, too brutal for ME, of all people. I’ve spent this week writing a colossal, fifty-page-battle with murder and massacre en masse and I have to say: the violence in this one was at times too much for me. It serves a purpose, of course, and it does what the author wants: it explains Rin’s decisions, it underlines the horror of war, but still, I think some things don’t need to be said and shown as graphic as it was done here.
The dialogues are excellent, the writing style makes this a fast-paced, true page-turner, the ending is a big, fat BOOM, but it lacks twists and turns. There’s nothing particularly surprising in here, even the Empress revelation was shown before, and as I said, a lot of the characters are from The Name of the Wind. At least Denna isn’t here. All in all this still gets four stars, thanks to the excellent second half and the superb writing style, but the first part really bothers me.
Writing Style (4/5)
by R.F. Kuang