on March 6, 2011
I love The Name of the Wind. In fact, I've been able to make myself a hero on oodles of occasions by recommending Name of the Wind to people "looking for a good book." The only person I've recommended it to who didn't really care for it was my wife. So figure that one out.
I received Wise Man's Fear from Amazon early Tuesday morning and devoured it. I was never bored while reading it - the characters were sharp, Rothfuss is a ridiculously skilled writer, and there's plenty in this book to keep you engrossed and entertained.
So why three stars? Why am I not falling all over myself to praise this one?
Because it's kind of a mess. An engrossing, brilliant, hot and swanky mess, but a mess just the same.
My biggest problem is that, with some minor, token exceptions, I know exactly as much about the Chandrian as I did before I read this book. Same goes for the Amyr and the Valeritas door in the archives. I actually feel like I know less about the framing story with the Scrael and Kvothe's slow-mo death wish. All the new things Rothfuss reveals in Book II are things that are kind of cool and groovy in their own right, but they seem fairly inconsequential to the overall story, and often they feel as if they've been dragged in from the Kvothe band's inferior opening act. It's like I've watched an entire season of a Kvothe TV series that is saving all the good bits for sweeps, which presumably doesn't arrive until Book III.
And, to dangerously and alchemically mix metaphors, Book III is going to have to do a whole lot of heavy lifting to tie up all the loose ends. I would not be surprised if the Kingkiller Chronicles isn't really as trilological as Rothfuss initially intended. (No, trililogical isn't really a word. Shut up.)
And, to move from the trililogical to the puritanical, I found it jarring that Kvothe shifted from Gentlemanly Prude to Sheenlike Horndog in about twenty pages. Lots more sex in this book than the recommended daily allowance. Kvothe also kills a lot of people in very gruesome and bloody ways, and, disconcertingly, he seems to enjoy it altogether more than he ought. He's a very interesting, compelling character, but I don't like him nearly as much as I did before this book started. But what do I know? He's on a drug called Kvothe, and if you took it, your children would weep over your exploded body. (For the record, I don't really like Charlie Sheen that much, either.)
Oh, that leads me to a minor spoiler: Kvothe also, apparently, nibbles on some obscure birth control root on a regular basis to keep his Kvothified spermies in check. This was the only moment in the book that I thought was unqualifiedly ridiculous. Kvothe loses everything he owns multiple times in this book, but somehow, someway, he holds onto his arboreal condoms? Please.
To sum up: Wise Man's Fear is a mixed, messy bag. Still love Rothfuss; still love The Name of the Wind, and will buy and devour the third book on the first day of its release.
on March 31, 2011
The first half of Wise Man's Fear is an improvement over the previous book in the Kingkiller Chronicles. There is intrigue, mystery, complex interpersonal drama, great writing, and great pacing. Then halfway through the book, Rothfuss decides to let us in on the fantasies of his fifteen-year-old self, and the book goes downhill from there.
The book picks up precisely when the previous book left off, sparing little time to catch people up or re-explain everything in case a reader started with book two. I'm glad about that. I hate it when a series is up and running and the author or publisher feels that they need to throw in some exposition for people who didn't read the earlier books. Seriously...who starts a series at book two? Anyway...It goes great for a long while. I found the second half of the first book to be the best, and this seemed like a continuation of that. A lot happens, mostly having to do with Kvothe's adventures at the University and then on to a different land, where Kvothe gets some experience dealing with nobility and goes on an adventure with a ragtag group of adventurers.
Then...just over halfway through the book, the plot comes to a grinding halt. Don't want to spoil anything. So I'll just say that something happens that is totally unrelated to what had been going on in the first two books. It is mentioned in book one (I think), but only as one of Kvothe's many legendary accomplishments. Funny thing is, what happens is very similar to one of the fantasies I used to dream up before bed when I was a nerdy, lonely, sex-crazed teenager. I don't mind the occasional bit of self-indulgence from an author, but this goes on way too long, further emphasizing just how juvenile it is. After it is finally over, we are then diverted again to another side-adventure in which Kvothe learns how to fight. Once again, the teenage fantasies kick-in, and not only does he learn to fight, but he gets to have sex with hot women while doing doing it. As I was reading this, I couldn't help but chuckle and shake my head at just how unbelievable and juvenile the whole thing is. And yet again it goes on way too long. After these two bits are over, we get a bit of the good from the first half again...then the books is over.
I felt the author took too long with side-diversions and things left unresolved from book one were left hanging, especially his relationship with Denna. I'm not going to spoil anything, but I feel confident in advising anyone who hasn't read this yet to go ahead and skip the "romantic" scenes with Denna. Seriously. Just skip them. NOTHING is resolved. They are frustrating, and not in a Pride and Prejudice way, but in a "Yeah, yeah, dude...We get the picture...She's hard to get! Can we PLEASE move ON!!!" way. Also, Denna is the most uninteresting character in the series. Her only good qualities seem to be that she is pretty and witty. Given the many interesting women with whom Kvothe finds himself, Denna is the least exciting.
My favorite of Kvothe's relationships is the one with loan-shark Devi, a fascinating character who practically leaps off of the page. When you read her scenes, it almost feels like Rothfuss realizes how much more interesting she is than Denna, and so stubbornly stops himself from letting her truly shine in the way she should.
C'mon Patrick! Free Devi! ...Or else make Denna more interesting. We should be given a reason to fall in love her along with our protagonist. SO far, you have given us no reason for Kvothe's bizarre obsession with her, and given us every reason to fall in love with Devi. Can't blame us for that.
The book is worth reading if you can tell yourself to go ahead and skip ahead a few pages when it feels like it is meandering. I will read the third installment when it comes out. Hopefully Rothfuss will keep it moving forward and spare us the adolescent fantasies the next time around.
on March 31, 2011
Maybe the review title sounds like a pan, and I guess it is, but as much as I was absolutely enchanted by "The Name of the Wind", Rothfuss's followup "The Wise Man's Fear" left me tired and ultimately frustrated, and yet all the while I couldn't put it down. Many have spoken about how 1000 pages of story barely advanced anything in the grand scheme of things, and it's a sound argument. As pointed out by another review I read, WMF feels like Act 1: Part 2 rather then Act 2 of 3. It's a ***, maybe a *** 1/2 whereas the first one was a full *****.
*** SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON ***
My main problem was that every time it felt like the story was advancing and evolving in an organic way, Rothfuss slammed the breaks on the plot and sent Kvothe off in another disappointing direction. The transition from the University to the Maer's palace was fine enough, if you don't mind several chapters worth of plot excised (the shipwreck, pirates, etc.) I can see why it was removed -- anything to move the story along, right? We needed to get Kvothe to Vintas. OK, cool. And everything in that section of the book, the palace intrigue, political maneuvering, Kvothe's cunning and observation really felt like it was pushing Kvothe towards a new chapter in his life. And it was. And just as things got interesting and were leading towards a culmination of several hundred pages worth of plotting... Rothfuss decides to send Kvothe out on an elongated, drawn-out bandit hunt.
I felt the air draining from the novel's lungs. So now we have to start a whole new plotline just when things were getting REALLY good in Vintas. The Bandit Hunt. Great. What was the overall purpose? To introduce Kvothe to Tempi AND to show a brief glimpse of a Chandrian (who makes a hasty exit to no last impact). OK well several seemingly endless pages later, everything's wrapped up and we can get right back to Vintas, right?
Nope. He sees Feleurian one night (out of the blue), runs off after her, and the plot is sidelined AGAIN for a hundred pages of Kvothe: SEX GOD! He can't lose his virginity in a human way that reflects his growth into manhood, he has to pursue and subdue an anotherworldly Fae sex goddess who teaches him some combination of the Kama Sutra and the Malaysian Pile Driver that makes him the master cocksman of the universe. Oh and he gets a cloak and some plot exposition from a powerful talking tree. Can we get this over with please?
So now he comes back and he's banging half the universe, but OK, **NOW** the plot can start getting interesting again? Nope, Tempi's in trouble for teaching the Ketan and Lethani, so now he's going to run off and defend him in Admere. For the love of God, we don't have THAT many pages left in the book and we're off on another tangent. But it's OK because now not only is Kvothe a 16-year-old Sex God, he ends up being the only barbarian admitted to the world's baddest martial arts order as well. But as long as he ends up learning something from it, right?
Wrong. He goes back to the University and he's back EXACTLY where he was before, still headstrong, still angry, only now this time he has money. And the book ends.
I haven't mentioned Denna at all until now. Because the fine, mysterious, intriguing character from the first book became an annoying, obnoxious, forgettable buzzkill in this book. Every time she showed up -- magically, wherever Kvothe seemed to be -- she was the literally equivalent of 17-car pileup in a deep fog. The dynamic of their relationship never changed, and the sum change in their relationship from book to book is nonexistent.
And yet, for all the problems I had with the plot -- and there were many -- it was the details, the universe, the sense of wonder, the dialog, the humor, Rothfuss's prosaic writing style... it was the little things that I loved most. Overall I didn't think too much of the book. Taken on its own, it was fine. It just didn't seem to add up to much in the end, and the narrative kept tripping over itself so much that it never was able to maintain any momentum after the first half of the book or so. Disappointing.
on July 24, 2011
It took me several months to put my finger on why this book was so disappointing to me. Here goes: In TNOTW, Rothfuss set up an entirely different framework than he now seems to be working on. In the first book, as Kvothe grew up and learned about his world, it looked like he was going to find some kind of ancient conspiracy that ties into his current situation. This was set up in the present-tense of TNOTW, with battle sequence where Kvothe kills off some spider monsters that seem to be magical killer drones, and there is a hint they must have come over the frontier where the war is going badly for the local king. The main narrative recounts Kvothe's discovery of the Chandrian at about age 12. In the big city of Tarbean, a bard sings the origin myth of their enemies, the Amyr, and is carted away by the soldiers of the priests of whatever the religion is, for heresy. When Kvothe tries to learn about the Amyr or the Chandrian at the University, he is blocked every which way. Every time that the story reverts to the present-tense frame for the extended flashback that makes up most of TNOTW, there is mention of a war going badly, and supernatural enemies massing just out of sight. Surely, I thought, there is some critical fact or set of facts being withheld from Kvothe in the past-tense story that will shed light on the kingdom's present-tense difficulties?
One aspect of the world of TNOTW was seeing that the religious/folk myths there are dangerously close to fact. The myth of of a god chaining the devil to an iron wheel and burning with the devil as he holds him to the wheel is almost duplicated when Kvothe slays the dragon, using an iron wheel. The Chandrian's sign is blue flame and decay, which Kvothe sees with his own eyes when his parents are killed, and again at the beginning of the dragon sequence. In the University plotline, Kvothe is enabled to explain the chemistry of the Chandrian's signature blue flame. It all looked like the major plot line was going to tie myth and fact together, and then the author would link the flashback story to the present-tense frame for that story. I was intrigued. Surely Kvothe would sleuth this all out to learn . . . something critical.
Then book 2 is all about little feats and little accomplishments. Kvothe takes a semester abroad, gets l**d, takes an intensive 8-week martial arts course that, like, changes him, totally, forever. What do we learn about the king? Nada. The war? Nada. The religion and its tie to a group of priests that have their own soldiers? Nada. The Amyr? To be fair, a little. The Chandrian? Nada. Oh, wait, a butterfly-eating monster on a tree tells Kvothe that he saw one recently, unaware. Well, you have to admit that's almost nothing. And the blue flame that we spent so much time and energy on in TNOTW does not appear when Kvothe is fighting the crypto-Chandrian.
There are lots of interesting stories in TWMF. But none of them is directly connected to the plot line that appeared to be set up in TNOTW. It's like a group of short stories set in the same world, as if Rothfuss published his Silmarillion before he got to The Dark Tower. Look at the plot synopses of the two novels on Wikipedia, and you can see how disconnected the second book is from the first. That's what bothered me.
on May 25, 2011
Kvooooothe....old buddy old pal. Where have you been? No, no, man, come in, I love you! Here, have a seat by the fire! I've been waiting forever for the next part of your story! Say...hold on...what's that in your pocket? Are those PANTIES? What's up with that? Never mind, never mind. It must have been terrible, being kicked out of the Univ...oh. Oh, you're still there. But then, how did you...oh. During...your...sabbatical...
The major problem with Wise Man's Fear, for me, was the structure. Anyone who read the first book is fully aware that Kvothe is going to get his ginger butt kicked out of the University at some point. I fully expected Rothfuss to do it fairly quickly. Kvothe had, after all, proceeded pretty far in his studies. He'd established himself as a dangerously precocious student, he'd saved a few girls from fires, made a few enemies. All that was left was a few lessons with Elodin, and then it was time for the old heave-ho. It's not that I don't like the University, but let's face it, the whole thing is a side-plot from his main quest concerning the Chandrian, which the end of TNotW proved he still hasn't given up on. And this is a trilogy, not an open-ended series. Rothfuss, I thought, only had limited page space to make Kvothe a legend. He had to get a move on.
Unfortunately, Rothfuss seems a touch reluctant to let go of the University as a setting. Perhaps that will be necessary in book 3, perhaps not. But it means he has to fit Kvothe's rise to badassery in around the University, and that becomes problematic. Since Kvothe is denied actually LEAVING the university, his adventures on the outside are turned into a side quest. And another side quest. And another. Rothfuss seems very unwilling to simply clear a slate and let Kvothe start something new. He always ends up with a lot hanging over his head.
The problem with using a structure like this, aside from the fact that it makes a reader antsy when an unfinished plot is neglected for so long, is that it starts to stretch the bounds of credulity. Kvothe's adventures in Wise Man's Fear are extremely episodic and unrelated, and there are a lot of them. To some extent, we could buy this in a lone adventurer traveling across the land with a decent amount of time to get into trouble. But that's not the way this story runs. We spend a lot of our time in the side quest of a side quest of another side quest. Kvothe meets something he should never have met while surviving a woman he shouldn't have survived while accomplishing a quest he shouldn't have been qualified for while serving a man he realistically shouldn't be so buddy-buddy with. We can accept that a nomadic swordsman will have adventures once in a while, with an indeterminate time separating them. It may not be likely that one man gets into all of this, but a la Hobbit we can just go with it to some extent. As fantasy readers, we accept a lot.
What becomes harder to accept is the sheer amount of "just-so-happened"s necessary to a story in which each adventure occurs while on another adventure, and occurs in a neat and well-packaged timeframe so that the hero can get back soon enough that he doesn't have to rush on polishing off the adventure he started out on. Or the adventure which THAT adventure is an off-shoot of, and so on. It's like reading the Matryoshka dolls of fantasy. Kvothe opens the new adventure and discovers...wait for it...ANOTHER ADVENTURE! It all starts to feel a little ridiculous (and that's setting aside Denna's miraculous appearances EVERYWHERE. In the first book, I could buy it, as they were in the same general vicinity anyway and she was clearly stalking him, but when he manages to just bump into her in various places across the world, my forgiving nature begins to feel strained).
So the structure is a clear weakness, as is the preponderance of coincidence (that sounded a touch less pretentious in my head). Another, regrettably, is the content, particularly in the latter part of the novel. It starts off well (and I'll say more on that in a moment), but Kvothe's abrupt about-face into a complete horndog and super-badass about halfway through the novel feels a little too sudden, and also a bit problematic with the text's conceit. What drew me to the first installment was the personal nature of it, the humility. In Name of the Wind, Kvothe was (as far I could tell) basically saying "You all know the unlikely and legendary stories about me. This is the reality that inspired the legend." In Wise Man's Fear, Kvothe seems to have gone to "You all know the unlikely and legendary stories about me...AND THEY'RE ALL TRUE, BWA HA HA!" I've fervently defended Kvothe from charges of being a Mary-Sue before, but by the end of the novel, he's starting to look like one. He gets most every girl he wants, he's a superior fighter (after a few weeks of training, in a medieval society...uh huh...), he's one of the most powerful wizards in the world, and he's just written the Commonwealth's latest number one pop hit.
What remains to be seen is how truthful exactly Kvothe is being about this. Parts of his story at least are being verified by Bast, but Rothfuss teased the possibility of Kvothe either exaggerating or wholesale fibbing even more heavily in this installment. It would do much to make the story more palatable if Kvothe was lying in some particulars, but that remains to be seen. I have to review the text I have, not the one I may get in the future.
I've given the bad. Now for the good. The first part of the novel is excellent, as good as the first. In fact, it's not until Felurian that things really start feeling strained. Rothfuss's writing is tighter in this installment as well, with far fewer of the over-the-top metaphors that were endearing but a little distracting in the first one. His style has definitely improved, and there are some genuinely funny and beautiful moments throughout the text. In fact, many of Kvothe's adventures would work very well were they standalone short stories. The dialogue is still good, and Rothfuss's clear and precise system of magic continues to be fun.
He also retains his enthusiasm, which is part of what endeared the first one to me so much. Rothfuss, even at his worst, never feels crass. He never feels as if this is a text he's only writing solely for a paycheck or to stop getting angry e-mails. He's genuinely invested in the story and the character, and he handles everything with style. I say again, there is little wrong with his style, or his writing. I would be hard pressed to point to any single page of Wise Man's Fear and cry "Aha! Behold, errors and incompetence!" (in terms of writing ABILITY. There are still a few typos that slipped past the editor, but these don't mean much to me). This is a very well-done book in a lot of ways. It's easy to read, even a delight. The dialogue and imagery sparkle. The wording is inventive but not distracting. Rothfuss's technical ability is very good, and the time he spent polishing and refining have definitely paid off.
What with how mature and deft the writing itself is, I'm almost tempted to write the problems with the broader structure and events off as being a result of older writing held onto with too much tenacity. I'm not sure if this is the case, but it's no secret that Rothfuss plotted and drafted the book years ago. Yes, he's rewriting, but it's possible that he's only playing with the wording itself and regarding the overall plot as essentially set in stone at this point. I can't make an educated guess about whether or not this is true, but it did occur to me as I read the book. Perhaps it's a mark of how skilled Rothfuss is in the particular that I felt the need to consider theories like this to explain why I found the whole less satisfying.
As you've noticed, I still gave the book four stars. I think that it's still an entertaining story. But when a first novel leaves a reputation in its wake as Name of the Wind did, it's an occupational hazard that we review the text as a sequel and not as a novel in and of itself. So let me just say here that it still stands high in the fantasy genre, despite its weaknesses.
That's Wise Man's Fear in my opinion. It's a collection of very pretty, well-told stories. It's only when they're all set out in this structure and context--when they're taken as a whole--that I find the book lacking. I wish this weren't so. I desperately wanted to love The Wise Man's Fear as much as it's predecessor. Here's hoping the third book makes us forget the structure of this one, and turns my quibbles over content to foolishness.
on July 8, 2011
I think most of us who've read this second book in the series have all agreed that it is not as good as the first. The main flaws have been already pointed out numerous times, but I thought I'd add in my opinions anyway.
First off, the good stuff. Again, the author wrote a good novel. Overall, I enjoyed it and recommend it. For me, this is the story of how Kvothe went off on an adventure and truly learned the name of the wind. I think that's what this novel was mostly about. Kvothe's ultimate development as a namer. However, there were some issues that didn't make a lot of sense. I'd like to discuss those.
We know, from the first book, that Kvothe has accomplished great deeds, he has a Fae disciple, and is currently "hiding out" as a small-village inn keeper basically waiting to die. We also know he no longer plays the lute and apparently can't perform any "magic" anymore.
We don't know why, and this book doesn't bring us any closer to those answers. We just basically get more of the same history of Kvothe for basically one year. Book one of this series basically covered Kvothe's birth to 15 or 16 years old or so. Book two covers basically one year of Kvothe's life. It's certainly an eventful year, but we spend a great deal of time on things that perhaps didn't need all that much time and we gloss over a lot of events too.
*** SPOILER ALERT ***
It's hard to discuss this book without spoilers. Be aware I'm about to spoil things here:
Some things that didn't make sense in this book:
1. Kvothe takes a trip from the University to the Maer on a ship that sinks. He's robbed multiple times, he looses the Gram he created, but throughout it all he keeps an apparently expensive lute (with case). How does someone do that? "Here, take my money and my shoes, but don't take my lute?" I can understand that having Kvothe enter a new city penniless makes for bigger drama, but this situation didn't make much sense.
Likewise, I got really, really tired of Kvothe being penniless. By the end of the book, he began to have cash, but does he need to be so poor all the time? I found the whole pauper bit overdone and tiresome.
2. The whole "I chew on an herb every day so I won't father a child" deal is quite outrageous. Okay. This is a *fantasy* novel, so such an herb could possibly exist in a fantasy universe. Let's give him the existence of such a wonder-herb. But, he chews on it every day? In preparation for sex but other than his sudden excursion into the Fae to have sex, he's never had sex before and doesn't seem to be indicating that's something he's been looking for. We never see him searching for this wonder-herb, we never hear of it before, we never see him buying any, and he never discusses its existence prior to the sudden revelation that Kvothe has been primed and ready to have sex but not father a child for who knows how long.
I hereby recommend any future fantasy author who wishes to include such a wonder-herb in his or her next novel call it the Rothfuss. "I'd been chewing on some Rothfuss for a few days prior to entering that inn, so I knew the baby the tavern wench claimed was mine couldn't have been."
3. Should we even begin to discuss the fact that an entire nation of seemingly intelligent people don't even begin to understand the basics of human propagation? No, we shouldn't. However, I fail to see the purpose of including this in the novel. To make the Adem seem stupid? To make it seem like they don't care about fatherhood and fathers aren't important? I sort of got that somewhat anyway, but not entirely.
4. My biggest disappointment in the novel was when the current Kvothe attacked the two soldiers robbing his inn and lost, badly. After all this, "I was trained by the Adem." and "He's stronger than he looks." (from Bast in the first book), he loses to common solders? Honestly, I was ready to put down the novel at this point and stop reading the series all together. Really? He's that bad off now? How did he forcibly stop a Fae Prince in book 1 but lose to two common thugs in book 2? Does a day make that big of a difference in his skills?
I do think the book indicated he may have intended to lose to the thugs, but I wasn't convinced.
on March 26, 2011
The Name of the Wind was a great book. With the exception of when Kvothe was in Trebon, the book did not drag. A Wise Man's Fear is the antithesis to The Name of the Wind when it comes to the pace of story telling. Pat has a great prose, almost lyrical (of course, it did take him over four years to edit it - I wonder how much better most authors writing could be if they spent that long just editing their books). If all you're looking for is great writing, and damned be the story, then this book is for you. If you want the story to move in a direction, ANY direction, then you might want to skip this book until at least the third book is out.
- Kvothe leaves the university at 35% into the book. Nothing much of interest occurs in those 350 pages.
- Seemingly interesting scenes (e.g. when he learns a language in a day and a half, his bad luck during his initial trip from the university which sees him become broke again, etc) are quickly covered in a paragraph or two.
- Denna. Denna. MORE Denna. Every time she randomly appears I was able to guess it was coming beforehand. Every time this prescient came upon me I dreaded reading the next dozen pages.
- Kvothe learns swordplay ... badly. Kvothe learns self-control ... badly. Kvothe learns sex ... goodly? Bah. The author just tries to ensure that he doesn't follow some prescribed fantasy pattern, in which case it is easy to tell what will happen next. Just expect Kvothe to do the opposite of what you would expect. I mean really, (Spoilers) Kvothe spends all this time trying to get the Maer to be his patron, kills a few dozen men, and then explodes on the Maer's new wife just because she doesn't like the Edema Ruh? What about that constraint he showed with the Adem? (End Spoilers)
- The book starts and ends at the same spot with almost no character growth.
- Ambrose. Enough said.
- The Chandrian. Who are they? Oh? They are the main villains in the series? Huh. Kinda hard to tell from this book.
- THE STORIES. Stories within stories is a novel idea. Well it is novel in the first, second, or hell, even the third story. But when these stories can last a dozen pages or more and then we get swamped with them (bandit hunting anyone?) it isn't a novel idea anymore. In fact, it is just plain boring.
- The loose ends. So many. Unless the next book weighs about 10 lbs, we aren't going to see the true conclusion anytime soon.
- And many more. It is tiring having to recollect all the issues with this book just to counter all of the two sentence five star reviews. Enough said. Wait for the third, or fourth, or fifth book, you'll do yourself a service.
Bottom line: the writing is great, the story is disappointing.
on January 13, 2012
KVOTHE: Hi y'alls, welcome back to the awesome story of my awesome life! I'm still in the University and basically just doing the same stuff as usual...ya know, working my cute lil tushie off to pay for my tuition, mooning after Denna/Dianne/Daene (omg she is so mysterious I love her), and going out of my way to annoy Malfoy, I mean, Ambrose. So anyway, I managed to annoy Ambrose so badly that he sued me. Can you believe that? I mean seriously, how lame was that?? It's so lame that I'm not gonna tell you ANYTHING about the whole process and how I managed to convince the judges of the Iron Law to let me off scot-free.
Anyways y'alls, after that, everyone was like, Kvothe you are so full of scandal, you should go on a vacay for a semester and lie low like Charlie Sheen did, ya know? So then my boy Threpe was like, I got your back, I'll write you a recommendation letter so you can go work for this billionaire in Severen. So I was like, well okay...and along the way to Severen I had all these exciting adventures with PIRATES and stuff, but I'm not gonna tell you anything about that either.
So when I got to Severen, y'alls aren't gonna believe who I ran into. Guess. Omg you have to guess. It's Denna!!! Well, except she's Alora now (omg her name changes so often it shows how mysterious she is I love herrrr). So we were all like, Omg! Why are you here? Let's flirt in verse! And it was totally romantic. Anyway, then I went to the billionaire, who's the Maer (I think it means Mayor) and his doctor mixed his poison like, right in front of me, so I was like, "Omg Maer, your doctor is totally poisoning you!" And he was like, Omg! So I totally saved his life. And then the Maer was like, "Kvothe, there's this chick I wanna marry. Go be my wingman." And I was like, sure Maer. And then after I hooked them up with each other, he was like, "Kvothe, as your reward for saving my life and getting the love of my life for me, I am sending you to the wilderness to look for bandits."
Okay, so y'alls remember that part in Harry Potter book 7 where they were wandering about in the wild for like, EVER, and Ron was all whiny? This was exactly like that, except we were all grown-ups (except me, but I don't count cause I'm so awesome). So for about 200 pages y'alls, we just went round and round the wilderness looking for bandits, but that's okay cause I got to learn yoga from this ninja. Then we caught the bandits and I was like, DIE, BANDITS. And they died. And everyone was like, YAY KVOTHE, you are so awesome! And I was like, you know it! But on the way back to the Maer's pad we came across this 1000-yr old sex goddess Felurianwho was bathing nekkid in the moonlight. So OF COURSE I was like, zomgs y'alls, I need to lose my virginity to her. And they were like, noooo! But I ditched them all and went after Felurian.
Felurian and I totally had amazing sex. It was almost as awesome as my hair. Serious. She was like, Omg you're the best I ever had, and I was like, same here, I'm the best I ever had too. And then she was like, Kvothe, you totally have to get out there and sleep with as many women as possible to prove that you've been with me. And I was like, well okay, but only cause you insist, babe. And then she was like, Kvothe you are so awesome I'm gonna make you a cloak out of unicorn farts and moonbeams and in the meantime we can live off flowers and deer sashimi. For the next 100 pages or so. Oh, I also ran into this tree thingy called the Cthaeh but the tree was totally being mean to me and reminding me that I was kinda cheating on Denna, so I was like, screw you! And then I ran back and cried on Felurian's lap.
Anyway, when I finally got tired of Felurian, I dumped her and came back to the real world. She's kinda old for me anyway. I mean, I was only 16, and she was like, senior citizen times 15. So I came back to the Maer...oh wait, I didn't. I went to learn to be a total NINJA. Omg did I not tell y'alls how awesome I am?? So now I'm not only an arcanist, a genius, a musician, and the world's greatest lovah, I'm also a NINJA. I totally whoop a$$ y'alls. Okay, so AFTER THAT I finally went back to the Maer...except that I didn't again!! Lol, yea I had to take a detour to save these two chicks from kidnappers y'alls. I dunno why that happened in the book other than to make me look less like a horndog and more like a hero.
FIIIIINALLY...I went back to the Maer. When I got back to his pad, he sent me a message and was all, "Kvothe see me in 15." But I was like, "Uhhh, I haven't even chosen my outfit yet!!" And then he got all angry cause I was like all fashionably late, but I mean, come ON. I'm Kvothe! How can he stay angry at THIS? So anyway, he gave me his bank account details and was like, I'm a billionaire, use as much money as you want.
So then I came back to the University, where Dumbledore became sick and Snape became headmaster. Oh wait, I mean, Lorren became sick. Or was it Arwyl? Wait, who's the Chancellor again? Anyway, y'alls know what I'm talking about right. Oh, and then for NO REASON AT ALL, I decided to write to Malfoy, I mean Ambrose, and tell him that he made some chick preggo. LOL! I am so witty I crack myself up. Anyway, the only disguise I put on when I delivered the letter was a hat. Hahaha, omg I am so daring y'alls. Oh yeah, I also got to see Denna again, only she didn't like the fact that I'm now a manwhore, which is kinda hypocritical of her cause like, uhhh, at least I don't have a pimp who beats me like she does, so whatever. At least Ron and Hermione, I mean, Simmon and Fela, were glad to have me back, even though Fela was like checking me out right in front of Simmon. But Simmon understood that I am Kvothe and no woman can resist me, so he was like, Kvothe, you are so awesome I'm so glad I'm your best friend. And I was like, you know it. And then I slept with more women.
If, like me, you were so impressed with The Name of the Wind that you neglected all but the most pressing business until you turned the final page, you may have decided to give it a quick re-read in anticipation of the sequel. If you did, you probably spotted this quote in Chapter 43: "There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man."
After a long but worthwhile wait, we now have the second novel in The Kingkiller Chronicle, and its title refers directly back to the quote: The Wise Man's Fear. (And by the way, if you didn't feel like rereading book one, Patrick Rothfuss posted a wonderful web comic recap on his blog.)
Saying that the level of anticipation for The Wise Man's Fear was high is an understatement, especially given that The Name of the Wind was only Patrick Rothfuss' debut. It's not as if this is the concluding volume of a long multi-volume saga, decades in the making. The Name of the Wind struck such a powerful chord with many readers that, before long, messages started popping up left and right, complaining that things were taking too long and couldn't he write a bit more quickly?
Well, merciful Tehlu be praised, Patrick Rothfuss took his time, polishing and refining his manuscript until it stood up to his own standards. The result is The Wise Man's Fear, a novel that for the most part fulfills the promise of The Name of the Wind. You'll find the same sweeping prose, deft characterization, rousing adventure, emotional highs and lows, and just plain and simple gripping reading of the "I couldn't put this book down even if my house caught fire around me" variety.
Also, there's much more of it, in terms of sheer length. Weighing in at about 1,000 pages, The Wise Man's Fear is a heftier tale with a much broader scope. Where most of The Name of the Wind was set in and around the University, the sequel starts off there but soon has Kvothe venturing out into the world. As a result, some of the blank spaces on the map start to get filled in, giving this fantasy world a welcome new level of depth. Make no mistake, Kvothe is still front and center, but the details of the world's geography are starting to come into focus, as well as its history, with the central mystery still being the exact nature of the Chandrian and the Amyr.
And Kvothe... is still Kvothe. One of the most memorable characters to appear in fantasy in the last decade, he again carries the tale easily. Let's not forget that The Name of the Wind's blurb, as well as the title of the series, seemed to spell out several major plot points: anyone who read the back cover of The Name of the Wind knew the edited highlights of Kvothe's life even before opening the book. How often do you see that, and even if you did, how often did it actually succeed?
Here, Patrick Rothfuss makes it work purely on the strength of his main character. Kvothe, telling his own story to the patient Chronicler, has so much sheer panache that his personality has the same effect as a minor tsunami on the people around him. In some ways, he's like a taller, more musically gifted version of Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan. Sure, when he describes a noble as being as "self-centered as a gyroscope", you can't help but think that this could easily apply to him too, but his charm, brilliance and inexorable forward momentum easily make up for it.
Then -- next brilliant trick -- to forestall those readers who might get annoyed at an impossibly brilliant and already semi-legendary character, the framing story shows us a much different present-day Kvothe, now going by the name Kote, who seems to be a shadow of his former self: a small town innkeeper with the lowest of profiles and the gentlest demeanour. The fact that we still don't know exactly how we got from Kvothe the high-flying warrior-arcanist-singer to Kote the soft-spoken innkeeper creates the tension that makes these novels so powerful. Evil is abroad, war is coming, and Kvothe, so different from how he describes himself in his story, hints that he is somehow responsible -- and, to top it all, we still don't know exactly how and why. Maybe most disturbing (or exciting, depending on your perspective and amount of patience): if Kvothe is recounting his past to Chronicler in three days, does that mean that the real conclusion of the story, describing the current and future state of the world, will only follow in books 4, 5, 6... ?
Regardless,The Wise Man's Fear is another excellent novel. Just getting to read more about the young, brilliant Kvothe at the University is a pleasure, although it did feel as if the first few hundred pages of this novel moved a bit more slowly and actually could have been part of the first book, with Kvothe's eventual departure making a perfect starting point for the sequel. Then again, we know this is meant to be one long tale split across three days of narration by present-day Kvothe to Chronicler, so it makes sense to think of these books as one big story with somewhat arbitrary cut-off points. (And oh, I don't think it's a spoiler to mention that the ending of this novel is once again of the somewhat anti-climactic "and then they all went to sleep to continue the story the next day" variety.)
Patrick Rothfuss's prose is still a pleasure to read. He does high comedy as expertly as heart-breaking tragedy. He occasionally throws out a sentence that's so perfectly on point, it's not hard to see why his book-signing events draw such huge crowds: "Hespe's mouth went firm. She didn't scowl exactly, but it looked like she was getting all the pieces of a scowl together in one place, just in case she needed them in a hurry."
If the plotting is sometimes a bit transparent, with the timing and sequence of some events being so convenient that it flirts with improbability, it's all easy to forgive because -- and this is really all that matters, in the end -- The Wise Man's Fear is more sheer fun to read than most fantasy novels I've read since -- well, since The Name of the Wind, come to think of it. Plus, we finally get to read the bit about Felurian...
If you're looking for solid, character-driven, consistently entertaining but occasionally quite dark fantasy that has more heart than several other series combined, you couldn't do much better than Patrick Rothfuss' KINGKILLER CHRONICLE. And now the long wait begins for book 3...
on March 7, 2011
Please note: There is a section with spoilers marked with ***. Feel free to skip if you'd like.
Let me preface my review by saying I loved Name of the Wind.
Love, love, LOVED it.
Name of the Wind is without a doubt the best fantasy novel I've read in the past 15 years (*Edit: That distinction now belongs to Anthony Ryan's Raven Shadow Book I: Blood Song. I highly suggest you check it out.*). The personal, gripping, intimate nature of getting inside Kvothe's head was a true joy in Kingkiller Book I.
As a result, my hopes were incredibly high for the sequel, maybe a little too high. And don't get me wrong, being with Kvothe again was for a time enjoyable, like putting on a comfortable pair of jeans you haven't worn for a while. Believe me, nothing would have pleased me more than for Wise Man's Fear to be a bravura, 5-star outing for Rothfuss.
But as much as I wanted to undyingly, unabashedly love this book I just ... couldn't. Rothfuss' genius with prose and demonstrable wit remain intact, but due to some inexplicable plot and character structuring, the Wise Man's Fear simply falls flat. Even worse, however, it subverts our ability to enjoy the epic Story of Kvothe at all.
When it's all said and done, a three-word review of Wise Man's Fear could be put down thusly:
"Huh? What the...?"
That, in a nutshell, is the experience of reading the second novel of the Kingkiller Chronicles. Though occasionally exhilarating and intriguing, too often The Wise Man's Fear simply leaves you scratching your head. As readers it feels as if we're no longer "living" in the world Rothfuss creates; instead we're "peeking behind the curtain," watching the author pull the strings--"Oooh, look how cool this story is! Isn't this story neat? Kvothe's amazing, isn't he amazing?"
Other reviewers have complained that the biggest problem with Wise Man's Fear is that "nothing happens" in terms of the "big picture" of the story. That accusation is accurate, but only a symptom of the broader, overarching problem: Rothfuss' "vision for the narrative" now overrides the need for a coherent, engaging plot and believable character motivations. The result is not unlike watching a film by a famous director run amok, indulging in personal whims because they know their studio / editor won't get in the way.
This sensibility from Rothfuss is baffling, because the Name of the Wind had virtually none of it. If there are two words I would use to describe The Name of the Wind, they would be "immersive" and "organic." From start to finish, you FEEL that you are a part of the world, watching "real" events happen within it.
In Wise Man's Fear, on the other hand, the opposite is true--a pervasive, not-quite-unseen "contrived-ness" underlies almost everything.
Too often Kvothe seems to do things because "the story" requires it, not because the character himself would be internally motivated to do so. Elements of his psychology are stripped away and tossed by the wayside, with barely an afterthought or explanation. As a result, our emotional connection with Kvothe wanes; we are far less, not more invested in our hero, increasingly ambivalent to whether he succeeds or fails. Kvothe is still "the Story," but it's no longer clear whether he's a person or plot device--Kvothe the Character, or Kvothe the Deus Ex Machina.
This is not to say that Wise Man's Fear has no redeeming qualities. Rothfuss's prose remains strong as ever: lyrical, subtle, intensely, lovingly crafted. Not all of the plot is wasted either; Kvothe's struggle to earn the respect of his peers, and for himself continues to resonate--when contextualized by the author. Rothfuss seems to forget that we like Kvothe not because he is super-human, but because he is altogether TOO human, and the scenes relating to that struggle--with Devi, Ambrose, the Maer, and up to a point, with Denna--continue to compel. It is in these scenes we come to see ourselves through Kvothe.
Sadly, there's not nearly enough of them, and they come so sporadically that pacing and continuity, the book's sense of purpose, suffers. Too often we're asked as readers to suspend belief, plausibility, and authenticity so the author can "tell his story the way he wants it told."
*** SPOILERS HERE ***
The most egregious offense to internal consistency is without question the Felurian sub-plot. Its sole purposes seem to be to heavy-handedly tell the reader, "Kvothe is now the most sexually experienced human being in the history of this, or any other world," and to introduce Deus Ex Machina Extraordinaire (there's that phrase again) the Cthaeh. The problems with this section are numerous, and for an author of Rothfuss' stature and formidable talents, it's frankly an embarrassment.
"Running off to the Faerie realm to discover the undiscoverable" is hardly a fresh fantasy trope, but since Rothfuss gives zero context before or after for what transpires, the entire instance feels superfluous, a waste of time. To make matters worse, the handling of the sexual content is eye-rollingly facile at best, and as others have commented, could be construed as outright offensive to women at worst. (As a side note, I just can't figure out Rothfuss's aversion to letting Kvothe remain nuanced. It wasn't enough for him to be a world-class mage, scholar, and musician, but now has to be world's greatest lover as well? Kvothe the Deus Ex, it seems, has to either be the "greatest ever," or nothing at all.)
"Surviving an encounter with Felurian" is supposed to be part of Kvothe's mystique, but as a reader it comes across as just straight-up bizarre (and not in a good way). But since Pat hinted at this whole Felurian thing on the cover sleeve of Book 1, um, well, guess we have to do it anyway, no matter how nonsensical and out of character it feels. From start to finish, it's a bad concept horribly executed, and to add insult to injury, it's not even really necessary. Both "Kvothe learns to get some" and the Cthaeh could have been thrown in just about anywhere--"Hey Bast, remember the time I banged Random Chick #77, and then blah blah blah and met the Cthaeh?"
On the whole I'm a little more forgiving of the Ademre sub-plot--though it also dragged on too long--because at least it arose from the actual in-character development of Kvothe's friendship with Tempi. But even then, the sexual content feels more indulgent than internally motivated by the character, and the effects of Kvothe's time spent with the Ademre are inconsistent with what we see later, during his interactions with the fake Edemah Ruh troop and back at the University.
*** END SPOILERS ***
In the end, for all of Pat's talent, mind, heart, and wit, as readers we end up questioning his intentions. There's no substantial character growth, plot arc, or sense of how or why any of this actually MATTERS--to Kvothe, or to us.
It's a supreme paradox, to see such well-crafted, delicious prose mixed so brutally with a meaningless plot and incoherent character structuring. As much as I love the author, and wanted to gloss over The Wise Man's Fear's significant issues, ultimately I realized that I was no longer invested in the fiction. I simply no longer BELIEVED what I was reading, and the world and Kvothe had ceased to be plausible or compelling.
The end result for this reader has been similar to George Lucas' ill-conceived Star Wars prequels: The Wise Man's Fear now taints, rather than enhances, the entire Rothfuss experience.
To be sure, if you're a Rothfuss fan, the enduring intrigue of the protagonist and the author's remarkable wit are enough to propel the book to an above-average read. But there's a part of me that thinks, no, KNOWS, that there's a better story in here than the one Pat put to paper. For good or ill, this is clearly the product Pat wanted us to have--and like movie director Baz Luhrmann at his worst, Rothfuss' excesses get in the way of the enjoyment, rather than add to it.