Books: The Wise Man’s Fear

In Brief:  Patrick Rothfuss returns to the saga of Kvothe (aka The Boss) in this beautifully written book.  It’s Portrait of the Wizard as a Young Man, with Kvothe telling the continuing story of his days at the University, his ongoing love with Denna, and adventures out in the world.

Pros:  Rothfuss can really, really write, and with Kvothe he’s created a wonderfully accessible and fascinating lead character.  This volume of the story features adventures outside the university, to include a trip to faerie and a sort of internship with a quasi-bushido culture.

Cons:  The books is long, long, long, and the pacing drags for at points.  Also, the sense of tragedy within the third-person frame started to feel strained.

Review:   Since this book was published, I’ve been looking forward to diving in.  It had been sitting on my shelf, awaiting the right time in the old reading schedule (it is nearly 1,000 pages after all).  I was pretty certain  The Wise Man’s Fear would deliver, based on how much I enjoyed the first book (The Name of the Wind), as well as the knowledge that Pat Rothfuss was doing it right, taking some time, and getting the second volume out on what we can assume was something close to his timetable. It was worth the wait.

Kvothe is a wonderful character, flawed, self-aware, sensitive yet prone to temper-induced lapses of judgment.  But always, he’s a kind and decent soul at heart – the kind of guy you can root for.  And it just so happens that he’s the most famous magician of his time.  As in volume 1, Kvothe is telling the tale of his youth to the Chronicler, so most of the book is a 1st person recounting of adventures.  The third person frame takes place in a distant future, with Kvothe surviving as a simple innkeeper, seemingly a shadow of his former self.

If I have a criticism of the book, it’s that this third person frame seems a little intrusive at times, a little too somber.  Rothfuss is setting this book as a semi-tragedy, and we know from various bits of dialogue that Kvothe was involved in some dirty dealings and has lots of regrets.  But these tonal shifts don’t always work and serve as a slight distraction from the main narrative.

I can’t complain about the relatively slow pacing and length of the book, because it’s otherwise a wonderful read.  Rothfuss has great writing skill and great confidence in his lead character, which has certainly led to the crossover appeal of this series.  You don’t have to be a devoted fantasy reader to get swept up in the book, and all but the most uppity of literary snobs will find joy in these sentences and pages.

But make no mistake:  Kvothe is the Boss here.

His adventures are many, his skills and cleverness are, well, song-worthy.  In The Wise Man’s Fear, he continues to utilize his impressive intellect and ability to think quickly to solve problems and help his friends.  He also seems to have a wellspring of great power, of course, but his only comes to the fore on rare and extreme situations.  Rothfuss painstakingly weaves the rules of this world’s magic into the narrative, so the reader not only understands what the wizards can (and can’t do), we are left breathless by Kvothe’s continuing education and ability to turn his teachings towards his quest.

We won’t go into the details of the story here, but it bears repeating:  Kvothe is the Boss.  He just has the coolest adventures…  We continue to learn about his time at the University and the ongoing love affair with the lovely but transient Denna.  Kvothe takes a sabbatical and ends up ingratiating himself to and assisting one of the most powerful nobles in the realm.  And he gets himself abducted by an immortal seductress from faerie, who teaches him the ways of wild magic and walking with women.  And he befriends a mercenary from a land steeped in a bushido/kung fu-type culture, from whom he begins to learn their philosophy (and kung fu) before traveling to that land for more training.  I loved this part of the story, which gave Rothfuss rein to describe a different culture and embrace his inner Shogun.

Before you know it, you’ve gone through nearly 1,000 pages and yet Kvothe is still just an ambitious teen-ager with a growing list of friends and enemies in the grand narrative.  And I was a little depressed because I know it will take Rothfuss several years to get us the next book.  That’s what good fiction is all about, though.

Bottom Line:  Fantasy readers should get on board the Rothfuss train.  Enjoy volume 1, then come back to The Wise Man’s Fear, because we don’t often get stories of this caliber.

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