Thursday, August 16, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Patrick Rothfuss is famous for having written one of the most celebrated debut fantasy novels of all-time, The Name of the Wind (see my A+ review). After that, he had to accomplish an even harder task, writing the sequel to the most celebrated debut fantasy novel in recent memory. Happily, in The Wise Man's Fear , Rothfuss has produced a work which has a different, but similarly entrancing effect as his first book had. I read the first one in paperback but once I heard that the sequel was being released in March 2011 right before my 20th anniversary trip to South Africa I ordered my advance copy from to ensure that I would be able to start reading it on the very first available day.

One of the highlights of the two 10-hour flights it took to get to Cape Town was that I was able to spend so much time reading The Wise Man's Fear, as well as enjoy the book during down time on the trip.

The Wise Man's Fear was released nearly four years after The Name of the Wind, but happily, the 3rd book, tentatively named The Doors of Stone will not take as long to appear.

The Wise Man's Fear has not had as universally acclaimed a reception as its predecessor, with people both praising and decrying it's similarity to the first book.

I think I probably fall somewhere towards the middle of the spectrum of the reviewers of The Wise Man's Fear, though closer to the positive end of the range of reactions. I agree that it is not as good as the first book (but it is hard to imagine how it could be, really) but I disagree with those who basically pan the book or who claim that Rothfuss is wildly over-rated. However, the second coming of Tolkien, Rothfuss is not.

Read for its own merits, there is no question that The Wise Man's Fear is still a major accomplishment and makes a genuine contribution to high-impact fantasy writing. The story of the central character of Kvothe continues to unspool in this second installment. One of the key conceits of the series is that the books are told as a story within a story. Someone who people call "Kote" is telling a first-person narrative about how the infamous "Kvothe the Kingkiller" got his reputation, and in the process explains the "real story" behind some of the outlandish claims of impossible feats associated with Kvothe. The story is being told in 3 days to someone called Chronicler, who is attempting to record a complete account of Kvothe's story.

Much of the story in The Wise Man's Fear is as compelling as the stuff in the first book. There are several elements which are combined to make the books incredibly attractive: the main character is an outcast, a member of a culturally subordinate group called the Ruh but yet he is attending a school (of magic) called the University where he is succeeding far rapidly and on a level which exceeds his social "betters." And he's only 17! Additionally, this main character is a creative/artistic type (musician/singer) who also has special powers which seem to elude other people. For the vast majority of fans of the fantasy genre, the characteristics of Kvothe are precisely the ones they most admire and would like to see in themselves and their (fictional) heroes.

That being said, there are defects in the second book which either were not present, or were more easily overlooked in the first book. The most prominent problem  (and even Rothfuss boosters I believe would acknowledge this point) is the agonizingly slow rate at which the story is advancing. There are many, many interesting and even captivating questions that the reader is dying to know the answer to, and that the young Kvothe is also trying to investigate but after 2,000 pages of exposition are still completely up in the air. In a similar manner that many are skeptical that George R.R. Martin will be able to conclude his epic A Song of Ice and Fire in a mere 7 books (only 2 books left!), it is very difficult to see how Rothfuss concludes his epic Kingkiller series in one last book of the trilogy. At the end of The Wise Man's Fear it doesn't feel like we are two-thirds of the way through an epic journey. However, only time will tell. I do know that I will be most interested to follow Rothfuss (and Kvothe!) down that path

Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Length: 1008 pages.
Publisher: DAW Hardcover.
Published: March 1, 2011.

OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.83/4.0).


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