Review of “The Wise Man’s Fear” by Patrick Rothfuss
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    Review of “The Wise Man’s Fear” by Patrick Rothfuss

    Last fall, on the recommendation of the authors of Penny Arcade, no less, I picked up a new fantasy novel called The Name of the Wind, the first book of what is called The Kingkiller Chronicles. To my surprise, I ended up really enjoying the book, and even wrote a favorable review about it, which you can check out here.

    Now I’ll admit I was surprised I liked it, mainly because I am pretty skittish when it comes to buying new fantasy books without a solid recommendation – preferably someone I know personally. While there are some great pieces of modern fantasy literature out there, I tend to stick with the older pulp-era-tried-and-true-sword-and-sorcery stuff, mainly to avoid being disappointed by feeling like I’ve been burned by the author. In high school and college, I had picked up too many fantasy novels that turned out to be poorly told derivatives of The Lord of the Rings, or fantasy female-empowerment novels trying desperately to ride the coattails of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. While I have no problem with strong female characters in heroic fantasy, it’s just not a lead character type that your average college age gamer-dude is going to be able to identify with time and again… and again and again and again.

    So like many others who picked up The Name of the Wind, I waited impatiently for the next in the series to come out. And when The Wise Man’s Fear hit the shelves a few months ago in March, I politely waited until my birthday in April hoping to get the ubiquitous book-store gift card that someone invariably presents me with. But as fate would have it, no Amazon or Borders gift card for me this year. And of course, I ended up waffling for another month about buying the hardbound as opposed to waiting for the paperback, but finally broke down and doled out the 20 bucks for the book.

    And now, I think I should have waited for the paperback.

    The Wise Man’s Fear

    • Author: Patrick Rothfuss
    • Publisher: DAW Books
    • Format: Hardbound
    • Price: $19.20 ([ame="http://www.amazon.com/Wise-Mans-Fear-Kingkiller-Chronicles/dp/0756404738/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1308788285&sr=1-1&linkCode=waf&tag=neurogames-20"]available from Amazon.com[/ame])


    The Wise Man’s Fear is the second book in The Kingkiller Chronicles, and continues the saga of the young arcanist and musician, Kvothe the Bloodless, as he tells his life’s tale to the famed Chronicler. The story continues in the same tale-within-a-tale style, picking up where it left off at The Waystone Inn. Here the now-infamous Kvothe hides out, hiding his true identity by pretending to be an inn keeper. Only Kvothe’s mysterious fae protégé, Bast, and the Chronicler who writes the memoirs knows his true identity, but even they are only beginning to discover just who Knothe really is.

    As I mentioned in my review of the first novel, I really like the method that Rothfuss uses to tell the story of Kvothe’s adventures. As Kvothe relates his life to the Chronicler, the author demonstrates just how rich of a fantasy world he has created, with ancient songs and folklore tales brought to light as Kvothe discovered them in the course of his travels. The author also takes great pains to tantalize the reader with mysteries and then more mysteries. Still in pursuit of knowledge about Chandrian and the Amyr, Kvothe uncovers even more mysterious clues from legends and myth, which might be related to these terrible entities. Rothfuss is a cunning writer, brilliantly hinting at deeper truths hidden behind bits of doggerel and folklore, which had me at one point flipping between chapters trying to see if I could relate one song to another bit of lore to see if I had made some kind of discovery about the Chandrian. And to be honest, I’m still not sure!

    [Spoiler Warning: While I try to keep spoilers to a minimum, it’s almost impossible to offer a review without one sneaking in now and then. You have been warned!]

    Kvothe takes a sabbatical

    The story of Kvothe continues with his study at the Arcanum, and his misadventures there dealing with his nemesis, the cruel nobleman known as Ambrose. While some might draw some parallels here between the Kvothe and the Arcanum to Harry Potter and Hogwarts, and between Ambrose and Malfoy, it would really be unfair to make too close a comparison. The Arcanum is a medieval fantasy university, and the ramifications of infractions are far more cruel and dangerous than anything you’d find at Hogwarts. The conflict between Kvothe and Ambrose continues to escalate to a deadly level, with the baron’s son threatening our hero with all manner of harm, even getting him put on trial with a sentence of death in the balance!

    Although Kvothe acquits himself, the situation proves embarrassing enough to the Arcanum that the young arcanist is forced to take a term off on sabbatical, to go “chase the wind” as it is called. Kvothe ends up seeking his fortune and a potential noble patron in another country, far from the Arcanum and the machinations of Ambrose.

    Frankly, I was glad that Rothfuss decided to take the story in this direction, as it unveiled not one but several new cultures in his fantasy world, with Kvothe struggling to learn how to fit in and thrive in unfamiliar waters. Not only must Kvothe learn to act within a noble society, but also to deal with a mercurial patron, undertake a perilous quest, and even deal with a distant and alien martial culture, which few if any know about. Fantasy gamers in particular, will undoubtedly find many of these new customs fascinating, and worthy of addition into their games.

    Kvothe the Bloodless gets bloody

    The Wise Man’s Fear is a far more grim story than was the previous book, because it puts Kvothe in a situation where he is forced to kill in order to survive and complete his quest. But what takes it to a heightened level is the way that Kvothe kills, using sympathetic magic to brutally slaughter over three dozen mercenaries in some particularly gruesome ways.

    While certainly, the mercenaries deserve their fate, robbing and killing caravans and tax collectors in the wilderness, the transition of Kvothe from fairly edgey street-kid-turned-academic to ruthless-practitioner-of-deadly-magic was almost a bit shocking. This is definitely a turning point for the young hero, beginning to shed his (mostly) innocent youth, and sets the tone for the rest of the book as Kvothe is thrust into manhood.

    Kvothe gets a little “something-something”

    There’s the old advertisers saying that “sex sells” and I would have to guess Rothfuss was given this advice over and over again as he was writing this second book of The Kingkiller Chronicles. In The Name of the Wind, young Kvothe is put into any number of situations where “something” could happen, but our young hero always acts the perfect gentleman, although whether from his inexperience with the fairer sex or his somewhat prudish upbrining is anyone’s guess. But in this second novel, it’s not too long after Kvothe is forced to kill in cold blood that the straitlaced young arcanist is initiated into ars erotica quite vividly, enthusiastically, and repeatedly - over several chapters!

    But however tawdry, we do get a glimpse here of Rothfuss’ concept of the Fae Realm in his world, and between all the dalliance and sweaty bed-games, there are some really fascinating tidbits about this parallel dimension to the mundane world. The fairy world is a very unique place, with its own folklore and magic, rather like the Feywild of the D&D universe, and again worth consideration by any fantasy role-player as inspirational reading.

    But the sexual exploits of Kvothe do not end when he leaves the world of fairies behind, and to say that he gets just a “little something-something” would be an understatement. Now trained in the physical side of love, Kvothe makes sure to demonstrate his erudition as often as possible, and he becomes quite a Cassanova for the remainder of the book.


    “Dark Knight” Kvothe

    As if being a gypsy, actor, musician, composer, arcanist, wizard, lothario, and infamous folk-hero were not enough for Kvothe, Rothfuss has decided that in The Wise Man’s Fear, martial artist and samurai needed to be added to our hero’s portfolio of amazing skills. At this point in the novel, the author introduces Kvothe to the mysterious culture of the Adem, famed for their amazing martial skills and mercenaries throughout the world.

    While I enjoyed the author’s take on creating a pseudo-Japanese marital society for his fantasy world, including a study of a Zen Buddhist-like philosophy called Lethani, I could not help but feel like I was suddenly watching The Last Samurai as I turned the pages. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for historical pieces and martial arts movies, and I frowned grimly at some of my friends for calling the film “Dances with Samurai”, but I could not help but see a little of Tom Cruise’s role in Kvothe, as he blunders through a myriad of social gaffs with the Adem people.


    And it’s not long after Kvothe leaves the Adem, having learned a solid foundation of their martial arts, that he gets to put his powers to the test in one of the other bloodiest and gruesomest parts of The Wise Man’s Fear. Here we see Kvothe not merely defending himself against a murderous foe, but taking out vigilante justice on nearly a dozen people, “Dark Knight” style, using his newly acquired martial skills and sword rather than his magic. Without a doubt, his enemies were truly despicable, and deserved what they got for the crimes, but the nature of Kvothe has definitely changed quite drastically from the victimized youth we saw in The Name of the Wind.

    Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0


    Conclusions

    Despite some misgivings I have, I cannot deny that The Wise Man’s Fearwas a real page-turner, and I must admit that I lost sleep staying up way too late to read just one more chapter more times that I could count. I really enjoy Rothfuss’ style of writing, and the new dimensions he keeps adding to his fantasy world, not to mention the tantalizing clues and hints he sprinkles into the novel about the mysterious Chandrian and the reason Kvothe is forced into hiding.

    But on the other hand, the book’s plot feels unfocused and just a tinge sloppy, and the myriad layers to Kvothe’s persona feel a bit muddled and forced at times. Sure, Kvothe was always a bit of a Byronic hero, but in The Wise Man’s Fear he lives into that role far more than he did in the first book of The Kingkiller Chronicles.

    The thing is though – and I think Kvothe the lute player would appreciate the analogy - this book feels like the middle movement of a symphony, and its full of brilliant tension and emotions that simply must be resolved or the audience is left hanging. The story of The Wise Man’s Fear is so full of unresolved mystery, suspense, and irritating character development that it demands to reach a resolution in a third and final work. So it seems that I’ll be waiting with great anticipation for the final book of The Kingkiller Chronicles, with great hope that it will make some sense out of what has transpired in The Wise Man’s Fear.

    But unlike this book, I’ll probably wait for the paperback version to come out before I pick up the third book of The Kingkiller Chronicles.
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    the wise man's fear - is that part 2 doesn't live up to part 1

    Far too little happens, the book is MUCH too wordy (could have been 30% shorter without missing anything essential), and Kvothe is becoming quite the little superhuman even while he (and Rothfuss) keep saying he isn't. I was very disappointed by this novel - there are some excellent sections, but they are buried in a fey swamp of mediocrity and repetition. I'm no longer looking forward to part 3 (though I may read it some time).

  3. #3
    I've been reading this at the same time as my NoTW reread and I find both books more enjoyable this way. Also, I have to admit it is a novel designed for internet discussion with all its clues about the ancient myths and the Lackless door.

    I didn't find the sex to be too over the top, but I also think the Adem attitude toward was a little too much like a male fantasy. It might have worked better if Kvothe wasn't seen as such a catch given he is sixteen and his instructor is 26 as one reviewer pointed out.

    I haven't finished the book but already I am wishing for more information about the other characters. Kvothe sadly has become less interesting and I keep hoping for him to hang out with Devi or his school friends to provide some balance.

    As you say I think it is important to realize that to an extent the books are the result of arbitrary splits. What happens in third and last book, which is really the conclusion of a single book that Rothfuss wrote, pays for all.

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