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Review of The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

By / April 26, 2012 / no comments

The Wise Man’s Fear is the first sequel to 2007’s smash hit The Name of the Wind. It is the second book in Patrick Rothfuss’s series the Kingkiller Chronicles. The story picks up soon after the events of the first book, with Kvothe once more preparing for the university’s entrance exams, by which his tuition will be set. The first part of the book largely concerns his life at the university, his rapidly escalating rivalry cum minor war with Ambrose the Jackass, his burgeoning pseudo-relationship with the lovely Denna and his increasingly desperate troubles with money which in turn lead to another encounter, and later conflict, with the money lender Devi. After a particularly brutal show down with Ambrose he elects to leave the university for a term, having his friend Count Threpe set him up in a distant court where the local aristocrat needs an in house musician.

And here we come across the first of two problems that afflict this otherwise highly enjoyable book. It is aimless. The story meanders without purpose. The first book did this too but it was alright because it was the first in the series, it was supposed to be setting up the larger adventures and conflicts to come and the fact that it centered mostly around a single setting made it less noticeable. But now we’re on book two, we expect more than a drawn out bildungsroman; but still the Chandrian (who were implied in The Name of the Wind to be the series’ Big Bad) remain elusive. Only a few rather tenuous hints about them are dropped. Meanwhile he gets himself involved in half a dozen or so distinct stories. Most of them are entertaining, some of them clearly feed into the larger legends about Kvothe, but none of them follows any real pattern or central plot. After two thousand pages it feels like we deserve a plot. This problem also occurs within the framing narrative, as Kvothe tells his story to the Chronicler and Bast nothing of significance really happens or is revealed, unlike in the first book where it was used much more effectively. Now it’s merely an interlude, designed to divide up the main narrative and occasionally provide some commentary or explanation.

The minor plots are fun though; they include helping the Maer Alveron of Severen (a powerful noble) seduce a wife, hunting down bandits in the Eld (a large forest reminiscent of the Black Forest of Germany), a time spent with a fae lady, training among the Adem and travelling with a group of Ruh before returning to the university. Denna, mysterious and flighty as she is, makes an appearance in several of these. The first two were excellent and enjoyable, setting aside any complaints about the larger plots. And if you can ignore the absurd level of Author Appeal and fantasy fulfillment implicit in his time with the fae woman it is very interesting; in particular for the light it sheds on the world’s history and mythology, and for the Cthaeh. The Cthaeh are evil, omniscient oracles who interfere in the lives of others as best they can. It is his time training among the Adem which is the most irritating. First of all, the Adem are such clichés; a race of super warriors by virtue of their hard lives, lifelong training etc… It’s been done over and over and it’s not like it was a decent trope to begin with; it’s an unrealistic, vaguely racist plot device. On the other hand this section of the book was definitely the funniest, which may not be the most laudable trait in something which could be reduced to a training montage, but serves to make it more palatable. The fact that the plot is so inconsistent, so clearly divided into discrete chunks, is that we are being constantly introduced to new ideas, people and settings. It also means that we are constantly saying good bye to old ideas, people and settings; we’re given little opportunity to form attachments.

The books other main problem also appeared in the previous novel and was also less of a big deal because of the nature of that book. Kvothe’s competence is annoying and means trouble for the plot. He masters things too easily, he excels too frequently. It challenges what claim the book might lay to realism and can be alienating.

The best part of the book was definitely his brief time alongside a Ruh troupe. The Ruh are similar to our world’s Roma or Irish travellers; itinerant, pacifist musicians who are unsurprisingly hated by xenophobic many. This section is the book’s most intense and most suspenseful, not to mention emotionally devastating. The Wise Man’s Fear lacked a lot of the depth and characterisation of the first book but it makes up for that shortcoming here.

Kvothe’s relationship with Denna continues to be both frustrating and charming. The reader should resent Denna for her flightiness by now; instead she garners sympathy by virtue of the skill with which she is portrayed. Kvothe’s classes with Elodin (titled Introduction to not Being a Complete Jackass) which comprise a large part of the novel’s beginning are funny and entertaining and his conflicts with Ambrose continue to excite. The best moment of the book, and the funniest, is when Elodin decides to combine a sharp lesson about inquisitiveness with arson.

The Wise Man’s Fear has problems yes. The biggest of which is that it is a letdown in terms of plot; we get no central conflict, despite implicit promises to the contrary. Instead we get another book which dedicates itself to setting up the adventures to come. All I can say is, by this point, those adventures had better be awesome. Aside from this it is a decent book. Its fractured plot means characters and plot elements are being continually introduced and discarded. The result is a somewhat shallower experience than the Name of the Wind but still enjoyable. And it has moments of undeniable brilliance. All in all, worth a read for fans of epic fantasy.

About the author

Ben

Blog editor, admin and founder of BestFantasyBooks.comYou'll find me on the BestFantasyBook forums and spending my spare time reading fantasy books and writing lists for this site. In fact, I have no spare time -- running this site IS my spare time!

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