Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Wise Man's Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss

The Wise Man's Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss.  Daw Books, 2011.  994 pp.  978-0-7564-0473-4.

... in which Kvothe, tragic legendary hero extraordinaire, continues his story of magic, death, betrayal, love, and music.

The Wise Man's Fear is the sequel to The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss, and continues through day two of the story that Kvothe is relating to the Chronicler.  The past/present storytelling structure is continued in this book, with Kvothe, pretending to be Kote the innkeeper, telling the story of his life to the Chronicler.  There is much less content covering the present storyline in this book, which is almost entirely based in Kvothe's past.  This book takes a welcome break from the University setting, and lets Kvothe explore new surroundings.  He travels from the University to serve a powerful man thousands of miles away.  While in this man's service, Kvothe fights bandits, survives a battle of wills with a deadly member of the Fae, and travels to a far corner of the world to learn the fighting arts from a nation of mercenaries.

The sequel shares many of the first book's strengths.  Rothfuss' lyrical, detailed writing has improved even more, becoming less cliched.  Although the book is just under a thousand pages, the writing also feels tighter.  The characterization, a strong point of the first book, is even stronger in this installment.  Kvothe, who could be annoyingly adolescent in the first book, grows up a bit in the second book.  He still knows that he's extraordinary, but he is less arrogant and less prone to flaunting his awesomeness to the world.  In the first book, he seemed to be the typical talented hero, who could pick up any skill in a flash.  In this book, when he travels to Ademre to learn how to fight like the Adem mercenaries, he frequently gets beaten up by a nine-year-old girl.  When he finally leaves the Adem, his fighting skills are better than the skills of most people in the world, but still far inferior to the skills of the Adem.  It was refreshing to find something that Kvothe couldn't pick up in a flash.

One of the things that I really enjoy about this series is that while it follows the traditional structure of a normal epic fantasy series, it deviates from standard fantasy in a lot of aspects.  For example, Kvothe doesn't learn to become a warrior until two thirds of the way through the second book.  Traditionally, this is something that occurs in the very beginning of the first book.  And as explained earlier, when Kvothe does learn to fight, it turns out that he's only passably good at it.  The romantic aspect is really muted, as Kvothe's love interest is easily scared away and because Kvothe, at 17, doesn't really have any idea of how to woo a woman.  At no point does the book start to take on a quest feeling... as the story of Kvothe's life, there isn't really a clear beginning and end to a particular "quest"... everything that happens is just another part of the larger story.  Finally, I really like that there is one storyline and one storyline only, told in first-person perspective by the main character.  Instead of having a multi-faceted story that follows multiple characters on their own journey, we can instead have one story that follows one character in a richly detailed and intricate account of his life, with both the boring and the exciting aspects.  Far from making this a simpler story compared to other fantasy epics, we instead get depth in one character's story, as opposed to breadth in many characters' stories. 

The biggest weakness of The Name of the Wind may have been its slow pacing.  While the pacing doesn't pick up that much in the second book, the change in settings goes a long way to moving the plot along.  We also meet a lot of new characters, and see a lot of new cultures, including Kvothe's first foray into the faerie realm.  Despite the faster pacing, The Wise Man's Fear still only covers a year, maybe a little more, of Kvothe's life.  The Name of the Wind covered Kvothe's childhood up until he was about 16.  It will be interesting to see how Rothfuss will manage to cover the years from Kvothe, the 18-year-old University student, to Kote, the 30ish-year-old innkeeper waiting to die in the middle of nowhere.  That's a lot of material to cover, considering the slow pacing and the fact that Rothfuss has declared that this will be a trilogy, and considering the number of events that are implied in the "present" storyline that have yet to be covered in the "past" storyline.  However, a great deal of foreshadowing occurs throughout the book, indicating that the story will only get darker.

Since the pacing issue from the first book was improved in the second, I think my biggest complaint about this book is that it very much feels like the middle book in a trilogy.  To be fair, I have yet to read a trilogy where the middle book doesn't feel like a middle book.  In this case, we don't have the bright-eyed, young character getting introduced to the world, like we would in a first book, and we don't have the hero conquering all odds like we would have in the final book of a trilogy.  Instead, we have further character development and a lot of events that are clearly leading to some kind of epic-ness that will become clear in the final installment. 

Highly recommended reading for fans of fantasy of epic scope and epic length... and epic waits between books.

5/5 stars

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