March 1st, Hardcover
When one of the most anticipated novels publishes and it happens to be the follow-up to one of the most widely praised debut novels, expectations are going to be unfairly quite high. Such is the case with Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear, the second novel in his Kingkiller Chronicles. Picking up, literally, the day after The Name of the Wind, Kvothe continues to relay his life’s story to Chronicler and Bast, Kvothe’s understudy. As with the previous volume, Rothfuss’s narrative pull is strong and perhaps the most powerful in the genre outside of George R.R. Martin.
This novel recounts what will likely be Kvothe’s middle years at the University as well as his time away from University where learns more about the world, himself, his enemies and his loves. This was a very wise choice by Rothfuss; although the University scenes were compelling in The Name of the Wind and here in The Wise Man’s Fear, any more could have easily worn out their welcome. Thankfully, Kvothe’s voice is still the same in its snarky reminiscence of his past.
The story unfolds as Kvothe’s semester takes a great deal out of him and his run-ins with Ambrose are still having a major effect on his ability to secure a patron as a sponsor for his lute-playing and singing. When his friends and teachers suggest he take some time off from the University he reluctantly agrees that all the work both as a student, in the various workshops like the fishery, and time in the taverns have taken their toll on the young arcanist in training. After Kvothe agrees, the one noble who has been aiding Kvothe – Threpe – arranges for Kvothe to help Maer Alveron, a noble across the sea in the land of Vintas. When Kvothe arrives, he begins to learn and play the societal game of nobles, which is most pointedly exemplified by those who receive rings from others.
Kvothe’s impact on the Maer’s life is immediately felt and our hero is soon asked to help the Maer court a woman for marriage. The Maer also appoints Kvothe the leader of a band of men who are to hunt and stop a group of rogues who have been robbing people on the road. Kvothe’s return from this mission is sidetracked by a mythical woman of beauty and a trip to Adem, the land of Tempi, one of the men he is leading for a chance to redeem a friend and learn the ways of the warrior people of the Adem.
Suffice it to say, any summary of a Rothfuss novel does absolutely no justice to the actual novel itself. Rothfuss really had no room for improvement from the last book, in terms of his powerfully addictive narrative abilities, but he may have just upped his ante a bit in Wise Mans Fear. The themes and focus of his story from the previous volume has been carried over to the second volume – that of Kvothe’s search for the Chandrian and the sheer power of story. If anything, the power of story is both elevated and demystified in The Wise Man’s Fear – elevated in that more stories within stories are told and demystified in that stories truly are alive and can change over time.
Back to the expansion of the world, Rothfuss has given a unique spin on the “honorable warrior society” with the Adem. The depth of this culture’s language, communication, mores, philosophy, and history comes though very strongly in this “side quest.” This episode in Kvothe’s life also greatly illustrates that Kvothe doesn’t know everything, though is continually learning things about the world.
Though only hinted in The Name of the Wind, the more fantastical aspects of the world come fully onto the stage here in the second volume. Sure there was a draccus and Kvothe spent much of the novel at a University studying magic, but those two elements can be approached or viewed in more quantifiabl pseudo-scientific terms. Here, Kvothe actually travels to the legendary world of the Fae in a “side quest.” These scenes take on a much more adult tone and mark a transition in both the story and Kvothe, he emerges as a man in many senses of the word.
Once Kvothe returns to the non-Fae world and to the Maer to report his success, his fiery attitude nearly destroy him as had almost done in the past. Though Kvothe returns to the University after his time with the Maer in a much better financial situation than before, the trip didn’t quite accomplish everything he’d hoped it would.
Kvothe’s recounting to Chronicler has him back at University. At his inn, the threat of encroaching war and a reawakening loom over the narrative as a whole. Rothfuss left this reader wanting for more, hungry to consume the remainder of the story.
So, where does all of that leave this reader’s opinion of the novel? It is difficult to view this novel outside of the delays and expectations heaped upon it. That said, does it live up to the hype and anticipation? In many ways, yes it does. It delivered just what I’d hoped it would – the continuing saga of Kvothe the Bloodless in a way that made it difficult for me close the book at night. In many ways, it was better than I hoped it would be, the places Rothfuss took Kvothe were exciting, quite enjoyable and at times, surprising.
But… But… Two elements of the novel nagged at me and an earlier comment may indicate what those elements are, well the same element but two examples. I mentioned above the “side quests” Kvothe took to the Adem and the land of the Fae. “Side quest” may have derogatory connotations, but I’m at a loss as to what else to consider them. In all honesty, I am conflicted about these portions of the story. I enjoyed both of them, for the most part, and what Kvothe experiences in both places are completely essential to the person he is, and likely, the state of the world. In short, Kvothe’s story needed these things, and we as the readers needed to see them through his eyes. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but feel that Kvothe lingered in these two places a bit much, or rather how long the story lingered in these two places. Now, I don’t know how or where Rothfuss and/or his editors could have trimmed these two “side quests,” but I found myself internally saying, “OK, this is good, but maybe we should move on.” Conversely, a small chapter relaying the horrifying events Kvothe experience at sea before arriving at Vintas made me chuckle. Here, Rothfuss could have easily gone on for a couple of chapters about the bad things that happened to Kvothe, but the humorous manner really stood out in a positive way.
My final verdict on The Wise Man’s Fear is that it is an incredible novel, a rare novel that lives up to the promise of its predecessor. It lived up to my hopes and expectations for it and through the vast majority of the novel, I didn’t want to be doing anything else with my life except reading the book. Only the lingering I mentioned above make it anything less than a perfect novel for me (and that “less” is very, very minimal). All the hype and praise (whatever you want to call the positive things people are saying about him and his storytelling ability) Rothfuss is receiving is more than deserved. With only two novels in this series, The Kingkiller Chronicles is shaping up to be a rarity in the genre, one that can both transcend the genre and appeal to a wider audience as well as die-hard fans of the genre.
Highest Recommendation possible.
© 2011 Rob H. Bedford