Monday, March 14, 2011

The Wise Man's Fear - Patrick Rothfuss

The Wise Man's Fear, second book in the Kingkiller Chronicle is without a doubt one of the most anticipated novels of 2011. In fact, I've seen so many reviews pop up over the last days that I questioned the wisdom of adding another. Then again, I really wanted to read it and working my way though a thousand pages of Kvothe leaves me without any other content for the blog. In other words, you'll have to put up with another review of this book. It's been almost four years after Rothfuss' début, The Name of the Wind, hit the shelves and in the mean time expectation of this novel have only been raised. It's hard to follow up on such a successful début novel. Rothfuss clearly realized this and set about completely rewriting the already finished second novel. He took his sweet time but it has to be said, Rothfuss delivers a book that will do well with people who liked the first volume.

The Wise Man's Fear takes us back to the Waystone Inn in Newarre, where Kvothe prepares to tell the second part of his story to the Chronicler. The village is clearly rattled by events of the past few days. One of the villagers has been killed by what the villagers think is a demon and the war that is being fought far away has made it presence felt in the form of high taxes. These are hard times for Nevarre's small community.The Chronicler, Kvothe and his companion Bast know a lot more about what is going on in the world and it worries them. Bast would like to see Kvothe take a more active hand in these affairs, to have him live up to his reputation, but Kvothe refuses to take the bait. It seems Bast has to come up with more convincing methods to get Kvothe to move.

In the mean time, the story of Kvothe's life continues. On top of overcoming the financial obstacles, Kvothe has survived several challenges to his presence at university, most of which are tied to his nemesis Ambrose Jakis. Kvothe and Ambrose are not about to call off there feud however, the two scheme continually to make each other's lives impossible. At one point they cross the line and both of them are told rather bluntly, that they ought to take a term off from university. It is a disaster for Kvothe, who is now barred from the place where he most wants to be. He also sees part of his income cut off as he is no longer able to work in the university's Artificery. To make the best of this setback, Kvothe decides to pursue the hunt for a wealthy patron. Ambrose has made it impossible to find one close to the university but the world is a large place. It is time for Kvothe to see some more of it.

In the first book Kvothe is introduced as a young boy who is to smart for his own good. His rashness and confidence in his own abilities frequently leading him into trouble. Many of his actions are either exceedingly clever or stupid beyond all belief and Kvothe spends a great deal of time trying to deal with the consequences of such flashes of brilliance. In this book he matures a little. That is not to say he doesn't do some profoundly stupid thing from time to time but there does seem to be a little more mature reasoning behind it. The most obvious change is of course Kvothe's discovery of the physical side of love. Rothfuss is one of those authors who discretely fades to black when things get steamy but he suggests rather a lot of activity on that front. Which of course leads to a whole new set of complications.

The young Kvothe's colourful descriptions of his life are a stark contrast to the sad and subdued mood in the Waystone Inn. One of the things Rothfuss does very well in this novel is make the young Kvothe look larger than life, while making the mature Kvothe telling the story is only a shadow of the man he once was. Rothfuss dedicates only a few brief chapters to the present state of our hero but resignation and the conviction that his life is over stand out clearly in those scenes. It is still not quite clear what happened to Kvothe to put him in the state he is in. One thing is clear, while this book ends on a high, the final part of his story will be a tragedy.

At 994 pages, this book is significantly longer than the first novel in the series. It is even a few thousand words longer than The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, one of the biggest books I've read last year. In fact, reading the hardcover is a good exercise in weightlifting. It begs the question if the story actually justifies that many pages. The answer to that is complicated. As I mentioned in my review of The Name of the Wind, the story rambles a bit. Rothfuss admitted as much by having Kvothe warn us in advance. The way Kvothe tells the story is part of the charm of the book but it also has some serious limitations. It didn't bother me in the first volume. Even if the novel isn't very tightly structured, it reads smoothly. Kvothe is a story teller and The Name of the Wind sounds like a story told around the camp fire.

The Wise Man's Fear is half again as long and personally I think it stretches the camp fire story feel of the previous book beyond what the story can handle. Kvothe does a lot in this novel, not necessarily finishing one thing before diving head first into the next adventure. Rothfuss regularly returns to a bit of unfinished business a hundred or two hundred pages later. Had Rothfuss not delivered one of the most celebrated débuts in the fantasy genre in recent years I suspect this book would have been severely edited. Truth been told, it would have been possible to reduce the number of pages significantly while keeping the main story intact.

Would this have been a good thing? I have mixed feelings about that. While I do think the book is a bit too long, Rothfuss clearly made an attempt to keep the problems of this particular format manageable and for the most part he succeeds. He even has Kvote skip some parts of his own story he does not consider interesting. There were a few points where I wondered why Rothfuss added yet another adventure to what already was quite a long list. In particular the inclusion of a long section on Kvothe's encounter with Felurian and his adventures with the Adem. The do in the end play their part in the larger story of course, but the also take up quite a few pages. The way Rothfuss tells his tale does not result in a lot of natural breaks in the story. When one does present itself Rothfuss takes is. There is quite a bit of Kvothe's boast at the beginning of the first novel that still has to fall into place so moving material to the next volume would probably have lead to trouble later on anyway.

Writing The Wise Man's Fear may have taken a while longer than many fans would have liked, it was definitely worth the wait. Rothfuss polished his story until is shines and given the almost impossible task he set himself after delivering one of the most remarkable fantasy novels in this decade, he was probably right to take his time. Kvothe is rash and self-centred but also brilliant and at times as cute as a baby seal. This book is every thing that The Name of the Wind and then some. Fans of the first book will be very satisfied with this second volume in The Kingkiller Chronicle. It is a very good read by a remarkable author but somehow I can't entirely shake the feeling that sometimes less is more.

Book Details
Title: The Wise Man's Fear
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Publisher: Gollancz
Pages: 994
Year: 2011
Language: English
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 978-0-575-08141-3
First published: 2011


  1. I'm a big fan of less is more, and funnily enough, I think Rothfuss pulled of exactly that.

    How in the world can nearly 1000 pages possibly be less is more? There's less of the boring bits, less of the clunky bits, less heroism, less rediculousness, less annoying fantasy tropes. or it's entirely possible that I'm just a huge Rothfuss fangirl! That man can seriously do no wrong.

  2. My response might have something to do with me reading a lot of short and powerful science fiction novels recently. I may have lost some of my tolerance for extremely long books. Still, I can't wait for the third one. Even if it is 1500 pages, I'd still throw anything I'd happen to be reading at the moment it arrives aside. ;)

  3. the next book will probaly be split into two parts and he will have a 7 year gap between the first and second part, then the whole series will fall apart, rothfuss will lose most of his fanbase, and HBO will make a series of it.

  4. I very much doubt the next book will be out in 2012 but given the structure of the previous novels he's kinda stuck with the trilogy isn't he?