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Monday, February 28, 2011

“The Wise Man’s Fear” by Patrick Rothfuss (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Patrick Rothfuss Website
Order “The Wise Man’s FearHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “The Name of the Wind

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Patrick Rothfuss is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point with a B.A. in English, while earning his Masters at Washington State University. His debut novel, The Name of the Wind, is a New York Times bestseller and 2007 Quill Award winner. He is also the author of “The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle” and is the brainchild behind the Worldbuilders charity through Heifer International.

PLOT SUMMARY: My name is Kvothe. I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me...

So begins the tale of a hero told from his own point of view—a story unequaled in fantasy literature. Now in The Wise Man’s Fear, Day Two of The Kingkiller Chronicle, an escalating rivalry with a powerful member of the nobility forces Kvothe to leave the University and seek his fortune abroad. Adrift, penniless, and alone, he travels to the kingdom of Vintas, where he quickly becomes entangled in the politics of courtly society. While attempting to curry favor with a powerful noble, Kvothe uncovers an assassination attempt, comes into conflict with a rival arcanist, and leads a group of mercenaries into the wild in an attempt to solve the mystery of who—or what—is waylaying travelers on the King's Road.

All the while, Kvothe searches for answers, attempting to uncover the truth about the mysterious Amyr, the Chandrian, and the death of his parents. Along the way, Kvothe is put on trial by the legendary Adem mercenaries, is forced to reclaim the honor of the Edema Ruh, and travels into the Fae realm. There he meets Felurian, the faerie woman no man can resist, and who no man has ever survived . . . until Kvothe.

In The Wise Man’s Fear, Kvothe takes his first steps on the path of the hero and learns how difficult life can be when a man becomes a legend in his own time.

CLASSIFICATION: There are different types of epic fantasy. There is the kind written by George R. R. Martin, Robert Jordan and Steven Erikson which features huge casts of characters, multiple storylines and subplots, epic battles, and world-altering events. Then there is the kind that can be found in the Soldier Son trilogy by Robin Hobb, Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series and The Imager Portfolio by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. This kind of epic fantasy is character-driven, intimate, introspective. The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss is of the latter variety with a little Harry Potter charm thrown into the mix. Regarding The Wise Man’s Fear specifically, there is a surprisingly gratuitous amount of sex in the book—tastefully done though I might add—the occasional curse word, and a few moments of dark violence, but for the most part the novel maintains a PG-13 rating.

FORMAT/INFO: The Wise Man’s Fear is 1008 pages long divided over a Prologue, 147 titled chapters, and an Epilogue. Like The Name of the Wind, The Wise Man’s Fear is a framed story with the framing parts set during the novel’s present day and narrated in the third-person. The story that is framed, which comprises the majority of the novel, is narrated in the first-person via Kvothe. The Wise Man’s Fear is the second volume—or Day Two—in The Kingkiller Chronicle after The Name of the Wind. While The Wise Man’s Fear is a middle volume in a trilogy, the book is structured so it has its own beginning, middle and end. The Kingkiller Chronicle is set to conclude with the tentatively titled, The Doors of Stone.

March 1, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of The Wise Man’s Fear via DAW. The UK version (see below) will be published on the same day via Gollancz.

ANALYSIS: To say that The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss is one of the most anticipated novels of the year is a bit of an understatement. Not only is The Wise Man’s Fear the sequel to The Name of the Wind, arguably the most hyped and successful fantasy debut ever, but the unexpectedly long wait time between books has increased expectations even further. As readers may or may not remember, when The Name of the Wind was released in 2007, we were led to believe that the already written sequel would be published the following year. Instead, a one-year wait turned into four years. The reasons for the delay have been well-documented, but it basically came down to what was more important: rushing out a product as soon as possible or taking the necessary time to produce the best product possible? Personally, I believe quality is always more important, and after finishing The Wise Man’s Fear, I can confidently say that the decision to delay the book’s release was the correct one.

At the end of the day, despite all of its praise and recognition, The Name of the Wind was far from perfect. The book after all, was still a debut effort. Still rough around the edges with uneven pacing, one-dimensional supporting characters, and shallow world-building some of the novel’s more notable flaws. So when the two books are compared against each other, it’s easy to see how much Patrick Rothfuss has grown as a writer and how much better The Wise Man’s Fear is than The Name of the Wind. The writing for instance, is much more polished. The prose is more refined, the pacing is tighter with fewer lulls, and the overall flow of the narrative is smoother, which is especially impressive considering how much bigger the novel is than its predecessor.

Supporting characters remain largely one-dimensional, but this time around Patrick Rothfuss does a better job of injecting his characters, both old and new—Denna, Wilem, Sim, Auri, Master Elodin, Puppet, Maer Alveron, Bredon, Tempi, Felurian, Vashet—with color and personality. This is aided by much improved dialogue, which helps to mask the characters’ lack of depth with entertaining conversation. In fact, dialogue is one of the novel’s greatest strengths, with Kvothe & Denna’s playful banter and Kvothe’s interactions with Auri, Puppet and the Adem some of my favorite moments in The Wise Man’s Fear. On the flipside, the lack of villains in the book, or more specifically a tangible antagonist, is a bit disappointing.

As far as the shallow world-building, little has changed. The Chandrian and the Amyr for example, remain a mystery, although there is a reasonable explanation for their lack of information. The same can’t be said for why the rest of ‘The Four Corners of Civilization’ is largely ignored, but at least Patrick Rothfuss branches out in The Wise Man’s Fear to give readers a taste of the world’s different cultures and races including the Fae; the Kingdom of Vintas with their superstitions, prejudices, and courtly customs & politics; and the Adem with their unique method of communication which includes hand signals, their way of life which follows the Lethani, and their Ketan fighting style. If you also factor in the author’s well-developed magic system—sympathy, sygaldry, naming—with all of its various rules and restrictions, then one can see how Patrick Rothfuss at least possesses the capacity for more detailed world-building.

Perhaps the greatest improvement made between The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear is with the story. Looking back, not a lot really happens in The Name of the Wind, at least nothing major, while the novel’s climactic moments involving a herbivorous dragon, Kvothe’s rival student Ambrose and a possessed mercenary left a lot to be desired, especially considering the lengthy page count and the hype that came with the book. To be fair, the story in The Wise Man’s Fear suffers from some of the same issues as its predecessor does like major plotlines failing to progress and the author spending an extravagant amount of time on Kvothe’s day-to-day minutiae—his studies at the University, his money problems, Ambrose, courting Denna, his love life, et cetera—but as a whole, The Wise Man’s Fear is much more rewarding than The Name of the Wind. Part of it is being able to experience the more dramatic events responsible for shaping the various legends tied to Kvothe with specific highlights including the spectacular manner in which Kvothe defeated a group of bandits, his adventures in the Fae realm with the mythological Felurian, training with the Adem, and rescuing a pair of innocent girls on the road to Levinshir, but it’s also because the story is a lot more entertaining. Then there’s the ending which Patrick Rothfuss handles beautifully, slowly winding down the story to a satisfying stopping point, while tantalizing clues and unfinished business serve as reminders for the third and final volume in The Kingkiller Chronicle.

Now if there is one part of The Name of the Wind that needed little fixing, it was Kvothe’s first-person narrative. Charming, heartfelt, and highly accessible, Kvothe’s narrative was easily a major strength of the first novel, even if the protagonist came off arrogant at times and accomplished things no one his age should be able to accomplish. In The Wise Man’s Fear, Kvothe is still arrogant at times and still accomplishes things that defy his age, but at the same time, the book does a better job of showing off Kvothe’s fallible side including his vanity and his dark temper and his powerful thirst for knowledge. What I personally love about the narrative is the wide range of topics Kvothe covers in intimate detail over the course of his story. In The Wise Man’s Fear, these topics include Kvothe’s music, performing sympathy and sygaldry, working in the Fishery, navigating the Archives, learning how to scout, learning the Ademic language, studying the Ketan, courting Denna and sharing stories like the one about the boy with the gold screw in his belly button, the Faeriniel crossroads, the tale about Aethe and the beginning of the Adem, Felurian, and my personal favorite, the boy who loved the moon. Throughout all of this, Kvothe’s narrative is complemented with witty humor, interesting observations, and thoughtful insights:

We love what we love. Reason does not enter into it. In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because. That’s as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect.

Secrets of the heart are different. They are private and painful, and we want nothing more than to hide them from the world. They do not swell and press against the mouth. They live in the heart, and the longer they are kept, the heavier they become.

It’s the questions we can’t answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think. If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact. But give him a question and he’ll look for his own answers.

While Kvothe’s narrative may have been a strength in The Name of the Wind, the same can’t be said for the framing parts—the Prologue, Epilogue and various Interludes—which in comparison were a bit dull and brought little to the table. Not much has changed for them in The Wise Man’s Fear. The framing parts are still somewhat tedious, while providing few answers about why Kvothe became an innkeeper, his relationship with Bast, and the current state of their world. That said, the mystery regarding Kvothe’s chest is intriguing, while the framing parts do work well as a contrast to how far Kvothe has fallen from the hero he once was and how much stories can differ from the truth.

CONCLUSION: The release of The Wise Man’s Fear may have taken longer than expected, but it was definitely worth the wait. Compared to The Name of the Wind, The Wise Man’s Fear is everything that made the first novel such a huge success except bigger, better and more rewarding. Granted, many of the same flaws that ailed The Name of the Wind can still be found in The Wise Man’s Fear, but considering the vast improvements made to the sequel, these issues are only minor annoyances. To put it simply, anyone who enjoyed The Name of the Wind will be blown away by The Wise Man’s Fear. The book is that much better. Even more, there is no doubt in my mind that The Wise Man’s Fear will end up being one of the best fantasy novels of the year. As far as the third and final volume in The Kingkiller Chronicle, Patrick Rothfuss can take as much time as he needs to finish the book. If The Wise Man’s Fear is any indication, it will be worth waiting for...

19 comments:

Sally Sapphire said...

Good to hear it was worth the wait - this is next on my reading list, as soon as I finish Steven Erikson's The Crippled God.

Robert said...

The Crippled God is actually my most anticipated release of the year, although I still need to read Toll the Hounds, Dust of Dreams, and Stonewielder first ;)

Anonymous said...

Pat Rothfuss also has posted a hilarious recap of TNOTW on his blog

Robert said...

That recap was pretty funny :) Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

If reading a book was like eating food, then a great fulfilling read would equate to a full-course meal. That said, WMF is a big bag of potato chips. They taste good, you can't stop eating them, but they can never satisfy a healthy appetite. You keep eating more thinking the hunger will go away but it won't because potato chips just don't have enough vitamins and nutrients to be a meal let alone a healthy one.

Liviu said...

You may have a point there with the chips, especially when you eat so many that you do not want to see them again for a long time since so far - 400 pages in - TWMF is 80% boring and 20% interesting and only Rothfuss skill of turning the most boring details about college life in something digestible and the hope it gets better later keeps me reading

Dusty said...

A fantastic sequal to a great book... Considering how much I enjoyed The Name of the Wind I had high expectations but expected them to fall short, as most sequals do, but I couldn't have been more wrong. If anything, Wise Mans Fear not only did not fall short of my expectations, it surpassed them by leaps and bounds. One of the best books I have ever had the pleasure to read.

THe Drinking Champs said...

I enjoy Rothfuss as a writer, but I found parts of the book tedious, and the plot barely advanced at all. This could have easily been a 600 page novel. Did I hate it? Certainly not, but I didn't find it as a gripping as "The Name of the Wind." I have serious doubts Rothfuss will be able to end this story in the next book, something tells me we are in for four more books featuring Kvothe.

Panmankey said...

I found a lot of the book tedious and unnecessary. This could have easily been a 600 page novel. Do I like Rothfuss as a writer? Absolutely, and I can't imagine any other author in the genre today with the ability to sift through pages and pages of minutia. However I felt like nothing really happened, so little was resolved . . . I have trouble believing everything is going to be wrapped up in book three.

David said...

I found the book tremendously well written. I agree however that I cannot see how things will be finished with one more book.

David said...

The book was fantastic. Admittedly, it trudged a bit at times, but what novel doesn't? I too wonder how the story will possibly be completed in only one more installment.

kent said...

I'm at the 400 page mark and couldn't agree more with liviu. It's been nowhere near as engaging as The Name of The Wind thus far. It almost reads like it was written by a different author. Lot's of typo's and misspellings for a book that took 4 years to refine. Thus far, The Wise Man's Fear is falling very short of the mark left by The Name of The Wind. Blind faith keeps me motivated.


Liviu, does it get more interesting or what?

Liviu said...

I put a short review in a post here:

http://fantasybookcritic.blogspot.com/2011/03/gemmell-award-2011-and-more-2011-books.html

as well as on Goodreads.

I finished the book almost 2 weeks after starting it on the day of publication and I read a bunch of books in-between and overall it had absolutely superb nuggets within a general boring frame; the last part was very good with lots of mysteries raised and I am definitely in for the 3rd book

t3h20r said...

The question that bothers me, as well as many of you is: How does Patrick Rothfuss intend to finish the story in just one more book. Let's sum up what we have for now:
Kvothe is say, 18 years old. He has two solid trails of the Chandrian, yet he saw them all once when his family was murdered, and he saw Cinder as the leader of the bandits he killed. To say it bluntly, he has no idea about anything. He still hasn't even caught up with the Amyr. Not to mention the part that the MAIN story is going on IN PRESENT. Put all of "what's left" in one book? How many Tomes? 4?

Robert said...

That's a legitimate concern t3h20r, but I believe the final volume in the trilogy isn't meant to conclude everything. I believe it will conclude Kvothe's 'story' to Chronicler, while a follow-up series will deal with present events...

Lynn said...

Good review - I think Patrick Rothfuss was right for taking his time and not just trying to rush publication. The wait was worth it. I loved this book.
Thanks
Lynn :D

Tania Johansson said...

I loved both NOTW and WMF and cannot wait for the third! I know the wait for book two was worth it, but I hope we don't have too long to wait for the next one.

Lynn said...

Yep, ditto to not having such a long wait!
Lynn :D

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I can't agree with your overstatic review. Thugh the book isn't bad at all, it's far too long, there are far too many pages where nothing is happening (and belive it or not, Rothfuss is not Joyce when it comes to transforming language into (the) character in the book) and most of the characters could be labelled as simple flat. I think the book would have greatly benefitted from a proper editing, which obviously it didn't undergo.

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