#CBR4 Maneuver #18 – The Wise Man’s Fear
Profile: Epic Fantasy, The Kingkiller Chronicle
Summary: From The Name of the Wind, “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…”
After Action Report:
The best way to check if a book is good is to start reading it right before you fall asleep. A really good book can hook you out of exhaustion and keep you going for hours, as I discovered when I started in on the last third of The Wise Man’s Fear at 12:30 one night and didn’t stop reading until I was finished at 4AM. I already sang Patrick Rothfuss’ praises in my review of The Name of the Wind during the third Cannonball Read, and I mentioned then that the sequel was already receiving critical acclaim. Now I can confirm that Rothfuss meets and exceeds all expectations.
The Wise Man’s Fear picks up where The Name of the Wind left us; reeling from a brutal attack on the inn run by retired adventurer, Kvothe. The narrative arc of the series continues as before, alternating between Kvothe telling his story to Chronicler and the brief asides in the present day. There’s more meat to the present day chapters this time around, partly to deal with the fallout of the attack, and partly because we’re moving into parts of Kvothe’s story that aren’t as well known to the general public, prompting questions from both Chronicler and Bast, Kvothe’s companion.
Kvothe’s narrative also picks up in the same place, giving us another term at the University before he gets tacitly evicted for a term after getting dragged into some unfortunately legal proceedings. The rest of his story takes place out in the world, giving us the first glimpse of the wider setting that Rothfuss has built around his protagonist. While some of The Name of the Wind was spent wandering out in the world, the younger Kvothe’s point of view wasn’t very good at relating details of life and culture. Now older and more experienced, his narrative is filled with vivid details.
There are still some strange choices being made behind the scenes. Some of the sequences, such as Kvothe’s trial are described with the barest summary sweep, while others, like an apparently random evening at the Eolian are fully detailed. Kvothe does give a reason for why he skips over the trial, namely that the story is one of the well-known legends about him, but we as the readers are still left in the dark, getting only the wildly inaccurate version second hand from a farmer. It is an interesting storytelling tactic, if only because it successfully subverts expectations. Still, I’d personally like to know more.
Of more concern is the Mary Sue nature of Rothfuss’ protagonist. I didn’t mention this at all in my review of The Name of the Wind because the bulk of that book was written around Kvothe overcoming some truly staggering obstacles, and doing so in a way that cost him almost as much as he gained. The struggle never felt simple or cheap. In The Wise Man’s Fear a lot of those weighty obstacles are gone, and Kvothe starts to feel like a combination of King Arthur and Gandalf the White. He’s unreasonably powerful, incredibly smart and totally adaptable to any situation. His only flaw is his temper, which does get him in a bit of trouble. The problem is that his triumphs are worth less because they come easier to him. Tarnishing his exploits with rage after the fact just feels like Rothfuss is trying to dodge the accusations of creating a Mary Sue, without actually fixing the problem. As a caveat, Kvothe does get his ass handed to him by a pair of bandits in a present day aside chapter, which is deeply satisfying.
As before, Rothfuss’ strength lies in the skilled weaving of a story. His pacing and language are second to none. Kvothe’s story flows from the same primal place as Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the Norse tale of Ragnarok. It is that basic success that makes these books so compelling. It’s almost impossible to believe that this is only Rothfuss’ second book. He has a grasp of writing that eludes many of the successful writers I’ve enjoyed and reviewed.
I really cannot recommend this book, and this series, enough. Even the flaws I’ve picked at in my reviews are endearing and part of a package that would be less if any of the pieces were missing. Rothfuss is quite simply, brilliant.