The Wise Man’s Fear
After several years of waiting (not as long as certain other series **cough**dancewithdragons**cough) Patrick Rothfuss The Wise Man’s Fear, book two of the Kingkiller Chornicles, has been published. It should be noted that I more or less devoured this book over the course of several days and had I not been distracted by PAX East would have finished it much sooner. The problem is that while on the one hand The Wise Man’s Fear is everything I had hoped it would be it was also extraordinarily disappointing; and not just the usual “it ended” disappointing.
For those that don’t remember in The Name of the Wind the traveling scribe Chronicler had managed to track down the Kvothe, epic hero or villain depending on the story, running a small Inn in the middle of nowhere. Chronicler then convinces Kvothe to tell his story so that the truth can finally be heard. The tale will be told over the course of three days the first of which occupies the first book and the second day being chronicled in The Wise Man’s Fear.
Now one of the brilliant things about the series so far has been the dual narrative of the present day taking place in the inn and the story Kvothe is telling. That continues here and Rothfuss continues to allude to the fact that the world is in a bad place. While there were inklings of that in The Name of the Wind it is here that it begins to become more obvious. There is a growing disconnect over the course of the novel between what Kvothe is telling and the world as it is now. While it seems increasingly obvious (or at least likely) that Kvothe has somehow played a part how things have gotten so bad. At least that is the only assumption I can make since the world Kvothe describes, while certainly dangerous, does not have the same air of darkness and desperation as the small village where the tale is being told. Quite frankly, I want to know how the world got to be the way it is and that we don’t move in any real way towards that I find myself frustrated.
Of course Rothfuss has deliberately obscured the age of “present day” Kvothe while making sure we know precisely how old past Kvothe is at the end of the second day of tale-telling (around 17 or so if I’m not mistaken). What this means is that we have no way of temporally contextualizing Kvothe’s past with his present and thus completely unable to draw and connections between past and present (yet). Rothfuss offers glimmers of things here, hints in the present day of what Kvothe once was and what I think is one major clue as to what he might have done to himself in order to become who he is in the present. The Wise Man’s Fear ends with what has to be lion’s share of Kvothe’s story yet untold. The next, and supposedly final book in this series (italics are mine, but I have suspicions) has to be a massive undertaking.
While I’m dissatisfied with the lack of forward progress that isn’t to say that there isn’t forward progress. Rothfuss finally moves Kvothe out from beneath the sheltering arm of the University for a bit and here, absent one small section, that the novel truly shines. While the politicking and jockeying for status at the Arcanum make for entertaining reads Kvothe really comes into his own once he is finally able to operate outside the rigid social structure he is most familiar with. Even better once Rothfuss finally puts Kvothe in a situation that is really outside his experience, tracking down bandits, it allows for us to see not only how he has progressed but how the outside world views him.
Rothfuss also manages to push a little deeper into the world he has created. For a section of the novel Kvothes takes up with Adem; a people roughly modeled on Taoist principles. So far the only experience with the Other is with the Edema Ruh (another facet explored more fully here) and adding another group with a culture and valley system that is far from the “normal” adds a welcome level of depth to world of The Wise Man’s Fear. At the same time Rothfuss also relates Kvothe’s first encounter with the Fae. Though were some shining moments in Kvothe’s lengthy stay (his initial showdown with Felurian, the crafting of his cloak, his encounter with a cruel prophetic tree) they were unfortunately overshadowed by Kvothe’s lengthy sexual education. There is a part of me that wants to believe that the way the narrative lingers over young Kvothe’s time with Felurian (and later his newfound Lothario tendencies) are a clever play at vanity by the elder Kvothe. Given the way Kvothe built his reputation while at school it isn’t outside the realm of possibility but it does seem at odds with the seeming candor of present-day Kvothe.
While I mentioned it above I thought Rothfuss’ expansion on the historical treatment of Edema Ruh was a wonderful touch. Admittedly there is a stereotypical element here, the Ruh fall in line the romantic treatment of nomadic groups in fantasy (Jordan’s Tuatha’an, being another good example) but Rothfuss approach has Kvothe confront the prejudice head on (with nigh disastrous results) as well as respond in a rather frightening way to those who would make use of prejudices against the Ruh for their own gain. Indeed, throughout the course of The Wise Man’s Fear Rothfuss makes strides in expanding the historical backbone of his world and we get some tantalizing clues as to some of the large events of the distant past that are still causing ripples. There is a lot of groundwork laid here for some interesting things in the last volume and I sincerely hope that Rothfuss can take advantage of what he has built.
Equal parts uplifting and frustrating, self-indulgent and awe inspiring, The Wise Man’s Fear is the novel that fans of The Name of the Wind have been rabidly awaiting. While it sprawls a bit more than The Name of the Wind it is never anything less than engrossing and despite a few stumbling blocks caries it’s thousand odd pages lightly. At the same time those same stumbling blocks leave wondering how or even if Rothfuss can pull the series together in the third, and supposedly conlcuding, volume of the Kingkiller Chronicles. Needless to say I’ll be anxiously awaiting what comes next.