The Wise Man’s Fear, Patrick Rothfuss

Posted: August 25, 2012 in Books, Fantasy, Library, Literature, Reading, Reviews, Sanctuary
Tags: , , , ,

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I had enjoyed The Name Of The Wind. It was refreshing within the fantasy genre. I didn’t think it quite deserved the incandescent – which seems to be my word of the week! – praise that it had received. But I liked it.

Part 2 of The Kingkiller Chronicle, The Wise Man’s Fear, heaps more of the same at you. In fact, the first 300 or do pages are nearly identical to the last 300 or so pages of The Name Of The Wind: Kvothe is at University, he excels in everything, he is really poor, Ambrose hates him.

Again we have three distinct parts to the narrative: Kvothe in University; Kvothe in Vint; Kvothe with the Ademre. Again, in each part, Rothfuss presents the same pattern: Kvothe is really poor and alone but through hard work, luck, music, genius or charm he survives, makes a handful of friends and a couple of enemies.

Whenever Kvothe is moderately comfortable, Rothfuss pulls it away from under his feet to make him start again! A case in point is the way he leaves University. Kvothe has managed to create a reasonably tight circle of friends – Sim, Fela, Devi, Wil – with whom he is able to laugh, prank and get petty revenges on his arch-enemy Ambrose. It’s all becoming a little Harry Potter ish… and within the space of a dozen pages he is criminally tried, persuaded to leave the University for a year and shipped off to some palace a thousand miles away; he is given money and clothes for the voyage but loses them in a storm and fight with pirates, arriving with nothing.

And Rothfuss – presumably for the sake of pace – does not show us either the trial or the pirates. I like trials and pirates.

And exactly the same thing happens in Vint: he becomes a favourite of the Maer – basically a King – as broadly a medical and amorous adviser and then is shoved off to fight bandits in the wood. I mean, there are many people who could fight bandits in this book but I wouldn’t give the job to some chap who had done little more than write a few love letters for me!

And no sooner has he won the grudging admiration and trust of his band of outlaw-hunters than he leaves them all behind to go to the edges of the world to the Ademre.

Oh and, in between killing out laws and going to the Ademre, oh my god, he goes and cavorts with Felurian, a mythical, legendary immortal sex-fairy. I have no objection to sex fairies. Not even to sex fairies who kill their mortal lovers. I mean, Diana and Actaeon is one of my favourite myths! But, please, Rothfuss! It must take a special skill to make a year’s cavorting with the faerie queen of sex quite so boring! I getthe desire to make it seem dreamlike in the world of the fae but not to the point of sending your reader to sleep!

But this is my biggest gripe: Kvothe never changes.

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He claims to learn but never changes. After his sojourn with the fairies, he finds his way back to the human world, walks into the closest pub and carries on as if nothing happened. The only thing he seems to have learned is a range of sexual techniques.

Even worse, after months learning the discipline and control of the Ketan – which is basically a series of movements for a secret martial art which for months he practises and repeats two or three times a day – he leaves the Ademre and it is only mentioned again once. He returns to University and everything continues as it did at the start of the book 1000 pages earlier.

The impression I get of this book is that Rothfuss has spent years on snippets, fragments and portions of the book – possibly even starting and rejecting three or four different books – and has now stitched them together roughly like one if my granny’s knitted blankets! This was a grumble I had with the first book and it has become a massive bug bear with the second. There is little development of character and minimal coherence between sections.

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Comments
  1. dashryan says:

    Hi,
    You have some good points and some… misconceptions, let’s call them, about Rothfuss’s second book. Many of your complaints about his writing are a little funny, because Rothfuss points a lot of them out himself in the text. You said “Kvothe never changes,” for example. Yes, exactly! Most of his teachers have been telling him that exact thing for two whole books. While we don’t know what terrible thing he has done that caused him to go into hiding, it’s pretty obvious that his thoughtless behavior caused it. That is also a major reason he is so different now in the present, as he relays his story. He isn’t off killing dragons and sexing fae beings, he is hiding in an inn and suppressing his magic.

    You should know that Rothfuss has always stated this will be a three book series, from the VERY beginning. Time will tell, but it seems book three will reveal a plethora of secrets and mysteries from the first two books and tie up many overarching plots and subplots that have been building.

    Anyway, thanks for the review, Rothfuss might not be for you but he is one of my favorite Fantasy authors.

    I will part with this: if you read his book as if it just another run of the mill fantasy book, you will miss quite a lot. He is exceedingly clever, and I am discovering new things after my third reading. If you’d like to find out some of the things you might have missed, you should check out a detailed book reread on tor.com that spells out a lot of the mysteries. I guarantee you will appreciate Rothfuss a little more if you take the time to read it, or at least part of it (because it is insanely detailed and long). Here.

    Thanks,
    Dash

    • sampiper22 says:

      Thanks for the comment and your spirited defence of Rothfuss. It’s great to get any comments and as a relative newbie, it’s great knowing people actually read these!

      I don’t disagree with much of what you say: these ARE very different to and more interesting than your usual run-of-the-mill fantasy: the layering of narrative and narrative voices – which was more a feature of the first than second book; the playing with the ideas of drama, presentation, character and reality; the potentially unreliable narrator; the Bildungsroman rather than plot-driven format.

      These all set the series above the usual band-of-unlikely-heroes-overcome-evil-tyrant-possibly-discovering-lost-weapon-along-the-way plot.

      Perhaps it is due to the Bildungsroman format that I was looking for more growth, development, maturing in Kvothe than I got. I’d have accepted his return from the Fae affecting him less because it was dreamlike and unreal and would fade into his sleeping mind as Elodin might say; but it was his not being altered by learning the Ketan that annoyed me.

  2. CanoeSage says:

    I personally find it refreshing to read a book where the main character doesn’t start off childish, then have a few adventures, then suddenly exhibit wisdom and leadership that’s far beyond what feels realistic.

    Rothfus is very good at showing us flaws in his main character. Not the huge flaws that feel out of place in some other series (looses-their-temper-in-a-key-negotiation-causing-a-battle) but rather the small flaws that most of us can identify with. I hasty word offends a friend. An unwillingness to live and let live with an acquaintance who’s a Jackass causes constant problems. Excessive self confidence leads you into a situation you can’t quite handle. Much of Kvothe’s development is in subtle ways.

    One key thing that adds color to everything in the story for me, and which I don’t see mentioned much, is that the tale is told by Kvothe in the future when he is a broken man. As we see him go from success to success, there is a delicious anticipation building: What will lay this man low? The very name he took when he went into hiding/retirement, Kote, translates as “Disaster” in one of the languages of this universe (I didn’t pick that up until the 3rd read through at least. It’s VERY subtle.) He is telling the episodes of his life that are important and formative for him. His successes build the anticipation, but this fatal flaws are there, and they’re near enough to the surface that we can see them.

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