I tend to avoid genre fantasy nowadays--even though the genre is fundamental to my identity as a reader. To steal a quip attributed to Samuel Johnson, that which is good isn't original, and that which is original isn't good. There's plenty around that's neither.
Swords-and-horses fantasy, in particular, excites my liveliest suspicion. I did not (and do not) care for A Game of Thrones, to take one obvious example. I made an exception for The Name of the Wind, because several people whose judgment I respect recommended it. Even so, it took me a while to work myself up to the task.
And on balance, it was decent. I wouldn't recommend The Name of the Wind to anyone who isn't a lover of genre fantasy. (Or a 13-year-old, which is a heavy overlap anyway.) For anyone who is, it's readable. If it were a food, it wouldn't be filet mignon, but it wouldn't be deep-fried Twinkies either. It'd be, say, a hamburger. Not a Big Mac. Not an Artisanal Grass-Fed Beef Caramelized-Onion-and-Kale Burger. A hamburger.
Let's start with the obvious commendation: I finished it. At 600+ pages, that's no small thing. Then, too, the writing--particularly some of the descriptive passages--is better than average. The characterization is also better than average, if not up to mainstream-literary standards. There isn't an excess of magic (which lazy authors use in place of actual though), and such magic as exists is nicely described. It is, in short, comfortable.
It's also familiar. Some of The Name of the Wind is reminiscent of the Earthsea trilogy,* particularly A Wizard of Earthsea. More of it recalls Harry Potter, including analogues for Snape and Draco Malfoy. There's a brief but explicit bow to Tolkien. There's what almost has to be a one-sentence wink to Terry Pratchett. I see echoes of some more modern genre books as well, such as Scott Lynch's "Locke Lamora" series--particularly the third book, The Republic of Thieves; though in this case, it must be said, the resemblance is not in the plotting nor the pacing, which in The Name of the Wind are episodic and decidedly unhurried.
Now, part of the appeal of fantasy is that it's evocative. Far more so than its sibling genres, fantasy is about the echoes. Great fantasy reminds us of fairy tales, myths, and epics: of Beowulf facing the dragon, of King Arthur and Modred, of Robin Hood, of Greek or Norse gods, of the sheer wonder that we remember from our first trips to the well of Story, when we were young and the world was wider and the colors brighter.
Less-than-great genre fantasy reminds us of other genre fantasy. That's The Name of the Wind's limitation. It was a fun read. I'll probably pick up the next volume from the library. I won't put off reading anything else to get to it, though.
Yes, trilogy. The misguided rumor that there were further books in the series is unworthy of discussion in these