Review: The First Binding – R.R. Virdi
Published: Gollancz, August 2022
My Rating: 4/5 stars
The First Binding seems to be one of the more divisive fantasy releases of 2023. On the one hand, I’ve seen it hailed as the best fantasy-debut of the decade. On the other hand, trashed as a pompous and overwritten The Name of the Wind Rip-off. Although I personally really enjoyed my time with this book, I can sympathize with both extremes.
First things first; it’s impossible to deny the clear inspiration Virdi takes from Patrick Rothfuss' work. We follow a legendary hero of sorts, recounting his life story by the fire of a crowded tavern, to the ears of an eager audience yearning to hear about his epic adventures. Part of his story may be true, parts may be false, embellished by a quite vain protagonist with a flair for the dramatic. Not only is the set-up familiar, many of the story beats (without spoiling too much: rags-to-riches-street-urchin, magical academy, the epic battle with a beast at the end…) play out in a similar way. As do many of the character archetypes (Ari is a theatre performer rather than a bard, but my point still stands).
Whether you’ll enjoy The First Binding most likely boils down to the answer to two questions. 1. Did you love Name of the Wind? If no, than skip this book. 2. Are you okay with reading a well-written “copy” that captures that same feeling, rather than something completely new and original.
If you answered yes to both: this book is for you.
Personally, that was the case for me. I had fun, I was immersed and I enjoyed the craft and the prose that went into this book. It took me back to that feeling of my first reading some of my genre-favourites (Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, Brandon Sanderson, Robin Hobb etc.). Being listed among those names is a huge compliment, even if it is by virtue of imitation.
In a world whereThe Name of the Wind doesn’t exist, this might’ve been a 5-star read, but in this reality it’s a 4 for me. -0,5 for lack of originality and -0,5 for length. Although I was entertained throughout, this didn't need to be 850 pages long, and could've benefited from an extra edit to shave of about 200 pages or so.
Other than that: I can't wait to see how the Tales of Tremaine continue and will be eagerly awaiting the sequel. Here's to hoping that Virdi doesn't mirror "Rothfuss" in this aspect...
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