A MYTH IN THE MAKING
There are three things all wise readers should fear: unwarranted hype, meandering narrative and directionless plot.
The Wise Man’s Fear
(The Kingkiller Chronicle, Book 2)
Genre: High Fantasy
Format: Paperback, 994 Pages
Date: 6th March 2012 (First Published 2011)
For bookworms who have previously read Patrick Rothfuss’ epic fantasy novel, The Name Of The Wind, this review could tell you everything you need to know about the second instalment of The Kingkiller Chronicle by simply stating: this sequel offers more of the same, only hundreds of extra pages more of it; and the review could end there. Whether or not that is a good thing will depend entirely on how much any given reader enjoyed the first book. If The Name Of The Wind’s six hundred plus pages was a chore to read, then you can be sure that the nine hundred plus pages of The Wise Man’s Fear will require greater patience, still.
Assuming that the precocious protagonist’s meandering narration of his life story had you engrossed while reading the first book, you’ll be pleased to know this follow up pretty much resumes where its predecessor left off, and continues in the same vein. Rothfuss keeps Kvothe within the confines of his Inn, with his fae student Bast, and Devan the Chronicler for company, where he continues to recount his life story. As with the previous novel, Kvothe’s first person narration is intermittently broken up by the interludes of a third person narrator whom Rothfuss uses to keep readers abreast of events in and around the Inn.
These interludes, which occur when Kvothe is taking a break from telling his story, tended to be quite frustrating during The Name Of The Wind as they frequently highlighted that potentially more intriguing matters were going on beyond the four walls of the Inn. This sense of frustration is perhaps far greater this time because it is even more apparent that larger, more significant events are brewing in the outside world. Yet these mysterious occurrences are made to take a backseat to the much less interesting teen angst and drama of Kvothe’s days at The University.
Given the slow pace of the series thus far, it is likely that the full extent of the dark goings on in Rothfuss’ fantasy world, and the role Kvothe may or may not have played in their genesis, won’t fully come to light for some considerable time: Assuming, of course, that the author intends to reveal these things at all; which is by no means guaranteed.
It would be great to be able to say that more focus has been given, on this occasion, to the more interesting aspects of Kvothe’s story that were given scant attention throughout the previous book. Regrettably, that just isn’t the case. Kvothe’s pursuit of knowledge pertaining to the not so mythical preternatural group known as the Chandrian, who slaughtered his family; and tangentially, knowledge of of the ancient order of knights known as the Amyr, remains the most compelling facet of Rothfuss’ tale. Yet once again it is given such little prominence, which continues to be surprising given that the motivation for nearly everything Kvothe does is to exact vengeance upon the Chandrian. With that said, a small amount of progression is made in regards to Kvothe’s search which leads to one or two intriguing revelations about both the Chandrian and the Amyr. But The Wise Man’s Fear retains much of its predecessor’s focus on Kvothe’s personal relationships. So expect even more hanging out with Sim and Wil; more bizarre interactions with Master Elodin; more late night rendezvous’ with the enigmatic Auri; and even more pathetic pining for his unattainable infatuation, Denna.
Anyone with concerns that Kvothe’s continued recounting of his life story would remain rooted at The University might be pleased to know that events do indeed move beyond the goings on in and around The University. And the story is probably better for it, for the most part. But it does require reading several hundred pages before Kvothe takes an extended leave from his studies, which sees him embark on a journey abroad to pursue his musical ambitions when the opportunity to acquire a wealthy, powerful patron presents itself.
Kvothe’s journey and subsequent adventures, which add to his growing legend, provide the highlights of the book. But even then, these highlights suffer from the same problem as the other parts of the story; the author’s pacing. Rothfuss’ narrative consistently moves at an inordinately glacial pace. Even during genuinely exciting moments frustration invariably sets in as a result of the unnecessarily prolonged dwelling on the details of events rather than getting to the point. This issue is especially pronounced during two particular plot developments: The first being when Kvothe is tasked by his patron with leading a group of mercenaries into a vast forest wilderness to apprehend then kill a band of ruthless bandits that has been terrorising the area. This storyline drags on for so long it could be a novel in its own right.
The second ponderous plot is Kvothe accidentally entering the world of the Fae, and encountering the mythical Felurian; a woman so beautiful, with an insatiable appetite for carnal pleasures, and an intoxicating sexual prowess that quite literally drives men to insanity. While this storyline doesn’t drag on for nearly as long, it actually feels more egregious as it follows immediately on the heels of the resolution to the aforementioned bandit hunt. And as for why it was necessary to dwell on Kvothe getting laid, again and again, and again; one can only imagine.
Those readers who don’t give up on The Wise Man’s Fear before successfully navigating through the long, drawn out middle third of the book have a real treat in store as reward for their patience. Kvothe’s travels eventually take him to Ademre, the homeland of the revered order of Adem warriors, where he hopes to learn more about the philosophy and fighting arts of this martial community that produces unrivalled fighters who serve as mercenaries throughout the lands of the Commonwealth. It is during this sojourn among the Adem that Rothfuss introduces, Vashet, the novel’s stand-out character, who is an esteemed, high-ranking figure among the Adem, tasked with being Kvothe’s instructor. When Vashet is first ominously name-checked by the author it is done in such a way as to cause readers to assume the character is a man. So it is a surprise when Kvothe meets Vashet for the first time to discover that the respected and feared warrior is actually a young woman in her mid-twenties.
It is commendable that Rothfuss has created such a compelling, memorable character, especially in light of the book being over nine hundred pages long, and Vashet’s appearance is relatively brief in the scheme of things; which makes it all the more impressive that she is able to make such a lasting impression. From the very first moment of her introduction into the story she is instantly intriguing. Readers will immediately find themselves asking the questions: how has this young woman attained such high status and regard among the Adem? Why is she seemingly so feared and revered by the other Adem? Why has she been chosen to be Kvothe’s instructor? And what will she do to him if he doesn’t measure up?
While some characters can become less interesting the more you learn about them, the opposite is true in Vashet’s case. The more Rothfuss reveals about the character; her position and status among the Adem, her life experiences inside and outside Ademre, and more importantly her personality, the more interesting a character she becomes.
The often times complicated relationship dynamic between Vashet and Kvothe is very entertaining. On occasion she appears to be the model teacher, patiently able to accommodate the perceived foolishness of a precocious young student. At other times she seems so livid with Kvothe it seems as though he may come to serious harm at her hand. As for her reaction upon noticing the arousing effect she has on the horny young Kvothe while they are training together, it is priceless. In real life she would find herself in hot water, but her matter of fact manner makes her response seem like a perfectly reasonable and logical way to address the issue.
When all is said and done, Vashet is such a great character you will likely lament the moment when Kvothe eventually leaves Ademre as it marks the end of her participation in the story. With any luck she will make a more substantial appearance in the next book of the series; but don’t hold your breath.
While some novels with high page counts can seem to be considerably shorter, thanks to swift plot progression coupled with an engaging narrative, The Wise Man Fears is not one of them. Most readers are sure to notice and feel all nine hundred plus meandering pages; assuming they are able to finish reading the book. But Rothfuss’ slow pacing isn’t necessarily the book’s most significant problem. That honour could well be bestowed upon the fact that the story rarely appears to be leading anywhere; Kvothe’s story just seems to jump from one random event to another. While these events do serve to illustrate the origins of the legends that have built up around Kvothe’s name, it’s still not apparent, after two lengthy instalments of the series, what the story is ultimately about. If it is supposed to be about Kvothe avenging the death of his parents, then almost no progress has been made in this direction. If it is about what a great hero Kvothe is meant to become, then thus far all that has been accomplished is to reveal him to be an incredibly lucky individual; able to dupe people into believing he is something he is not, thanks to the fortuitous outcomes of the situations he gets himself into, then subsequently encouraging the spread of rumours to embellish what really occurred, thereby creating the myth of a great folk-hero.
All in all, there is very little to distinguish The Wise Man’s Fear from its predecessor. Much like The Name Of The Wind before it, the story is well written, with great characterisation remaining its principal strength. But the ponderous pacing is even more of an issue on this occasion. And once again the author’s teasing glimpses of what is transpiring in the outside world while Kvothe narrates his story, suggests that Rothfuss is building up to something considerably more compelling as the series progresses. This is given more credence by a major reveal at the conclusion of this book which indicates that Kvothe should choose his friends more wisely. Hopefully this revelation will actually amount to something in the sequel novel.
In closing, it is likely that if you loved The Name Of The Wind, you will feel more or less the same way about this follow up. Though your enjoyment may be tinged with at least some disappointment as The Wise Man’s Fear fails to surpass the heights of the previous book. If you did not enjoy Patrick Rothfuss’ début novel, you may want to give this a miss as you are likely to hate this sequel even more.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.