The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

So, my first real post! Whoot! And it’s a long one. I swear most of them will not be this long. This is because it’s a book rambling and the book in question is 997 pages long and took me a couple of weeks to read, and I had a lot to say on it. I’ll probably say this more than once over time, but pretty much every rambling of a book that I will write will contain plot spoilers. As I’ve said, this isn’t meant to be a review or recommendation. It’s simply meant to be a piece of text in which I give my thoughts to the book as it related to me and, as a result, it lacks some coherency, it has grammatical errors, and it would really only be useful to people who’ve already read the book. But hey, if you want to read it, far be it from me to stop you! After all, the purpose of this blog is to pretend that what I have to say is important! So, seeing as this intro is getting a bit long and the rambling is long enough as it is, without further ado:

So, The Wise Man’s Fear has been a long time in coming after the first book, The Name of the Wind, and it’s been one of the most eagerly awaited fantasy books in the last four years. It’s actually pretty strange just how much sff releases can sound exactly like movie or fashion releases: “the new Rothfuss, the new Martin, we’re waiting on the next Lynch and Abercrombie…” The way the blogosphere talks about it is in the form of blockbusters, and the next eagerly awaited one (probably the most eagerly awaited one since last decade) is George R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons, due to be out on July 12th (if it’s not out by then I think the sff world will go on strike and potentially commit acts of violence and/or vandalism).

Anyway, on to the book!

It’s actually difficult in some ways to talk about this book because it’s being told in both a traditional and non-traditional way. The entire trilogy tells the story of an exceptional individual named Kvothe and how he became a legend, and the third book will presumably explain how he got where he is now, which is the innkeeper of an inn in a small village in the midst of a war and general unrest. The entire thing was originally meant to be one book and was split into three so it could actually be published, and as such, the endings and beginnings of the books aren’t the cleanest, natural breaks ever. In addition, each book does have a general, individual idea of a plot, but at the same time, each book isn’t a separate story; it’s a portion of the larger story. So in some ways it seems unfair to hold the individual books of this trilogy to the same standard as other trilogies. But then again, LOTR was split into three books and nobody comments on that (I can’t speak as to whether it works better than there or not, I can’t stand LOTR and never got past the first book).

So anyway, this book starts out with Kvothe wandering around and doing his thing at the university. It doesn’t really introduce anything new; instead it’s a slow build-up to the larger portion of the book, which is him leaving the University for a time, travelling to Vintas, killing bandits, being the first dude ever to survive Felurian, and learning the ways of the Adem, the awesome mercenary fighters whose language and culture seem to be based a lot off that of China and Japan. And he does a couple of other things interspersed between those big things as well.

This book, and this trilogy as a whole, really is just one big saga. And it’s a pretty epic saga; Kvothe travels all around the world, learning new languages, facts, and secrets in order to become the King of Awesome. And also find out about the Amyr and kill the Chandrian. This story could very easily fall flat on its feet, as it doesn’t at first glance appear to have an overarching plot or journey. But there are three reasons why this story is the success it is.

The first, beyond anything else, is that Patrick Rothfuss love of stories, how they’re made, how they’re told, and the power that stories have over people and how they can change a world. I love books that deal with stories in a meta way (which explains my ongoing love affair with Jasper Fforde), and this book, as well as the series, has it in spades, such as Kvothe as Kote telling his story to Chronicler and Bast in the future, the various tales characters tell throughout, and the creation of new stories concerning Kvothe’s adventures and how he manipulates stories about himself to create the legend that people come to know and love. Stories are immensely powerful things, they provide narratives through which to view the world, and give us space to dream and imagine, as well as provide possible explanations. People are what change the world, but it is the hope for a better narrative, a happier ending to the story that is the universe, that provides the impetus to do so.

The second thing is the writing, and man is the writing beautiful. But it’s beautiful in a completely readable way. It’s deliberate, but it’s precise and each word evokes the right emotion. Another thing that’s really nice is that the author’s personality shines through the writing so much, but it doesn’t impede or distract from the story. Instead, it enhances it and shows how much he’s put into the story and the love he has for it. I’m a huge fan of Patrick Rothfuss’ blog, it’s hilarious, and there are some portions of Kvothe’s narrative that I know couldn’t have been written by anyone else except for Patrick Rothfuss, such as Kvothe’s love for the university, for all things chemistry related, all the acerbic comments he makes about the silliness that is the nobility, and just general poking fun at tropes in literature. My personal favorite example of this is when Kvothe packs his things in his the secret compartment in his lute case, and after he puts a dried apple in there, he says, “There was nothing special about the dried apple, but in my opinion if you have a secret compartment in your lute case and you don’t use it to hide things, there is something terribly, terribly wrong with you.” One thing that people had complaints with in The Name of the Wind was that there was far too much text taken up with saying how poor Kvothe was and how he was on the verge of being penniless so many times, and there were plenty of those instances again with this book. But it makes complete sense. If you are poor and your existence/livelihood (in this case, studying at the university) depends on you having money, money is going to be a particularly constant thought in your head. The only reason in which it wouldn’t be is if you are lucky and privileged enough to not have to care.

And the third, final reason why this story is awesome is because of Kvothe. Well, it’s all about him, so he’s got to be a strong character, but he goes beyond that. Part of it is because he’s a legend and he legitimately has done legendary and amazing things, but at the same time he makes stupid mistakes and falls on his ass numerous times, and can be a complete thickhead about certain things, particularly when being taught by Elodin (who’s also awesome, I’d love to have him as a teacher, except I wouldn’t). And then of course, Kvothe knows how awesome he is and all the talents and skills he has at music, composing, and sympathy, and he feels he can do anything, including spend the night with Felurian and not die. Kvothe’s such an arrogant ass, but at the same time you can’t help but go “hot damn, he has guts!” I enjoyed many of the other characters too, most notably Devi, Tempi, and Vashet. I actually kind of wished that Kvothe and Tempi would fall in love on the road and have a one-night stand, because Tempi is adorable! I am pretty sure there will be slash fic of these two eventually. And Devi and Vashet are just plain freaking awesome characters, largely helped by the fact that they’re able to kick Kvothe’s ass and keep him a little humble.

I was less annoyed with Denna this time around, but she still feels too idealized in terms of  her being a love interest. I realize it’s Kvothe telling the story, so of course he’d idealize her, but it’s still frustrating to have so little of her background because then there’s very little to justify her behavior. The mystery’s getting drawn out long enough, and I’d prefer it if she came down to earth and became more of a human being.

My favorite part was definitely the time that Kvothe spent among the Adem learning the Ketan and about the Lethani because the Adem culture was fascinating. I thought it was really cool how the language was like Chinese in that it included tones, but also was based on hand gestures which expressed different gradients of emotion, but that displaying emotion itself is extremely private and therefore anyone who plays music in front of others, which can carry a huge amount of emotion, is considered to be a whore. On the flip side, their society is possibly the most sex-positive society in existence, so much that having sex with a number of people is considered as natural as eating or conversing, and therefore is not given any extra thought.

I also liked the interactions between Kvothe and the Maer in Vintas because I really liked how the Maer was portrayed as a sharp, but fair ruler, but he also believed in the social customs of the nobility and took seriously that he was the ultimate authority. He might acknowledge when someone’s right or that he is in someone’s debt, but he’s still the uncrowned King of Vintas and he is the ultimate authority of where he lives.

That’s not to say I didn’t have problems with this book.  The first 350 pages  are Kvothe at the University and while it does set up the rest of the book, it’s still somewhat slow and all the while you’re wondering where the hell the book is going. The section in which Kvothe and the other people search for the bandits is also not as interesting either, and the sole savior of that section is Tempi because, as I have said, Tempi is adorable. In addition, there were some conversations that I wasn’t sure they quite needed to be had. The book takes its slow, sweet time in terms of telling the entire story, but that means that there are some parts where you want things to pick up already and move on, have something happen, because the story is so large and you’re really not sure where the trilogy is going with this whole thing that you want events to actually happen.

At the same time, this isn’t a book you read for plot or because you want to know how things will resolve. You read this book because you want to read about a man named Kvothe and how he interacts with the world he lives in. And that will appeal to some and repel others.

Like I said, I feel like it’s unfair to pass final judgment on this book because I feel like it will be the third book that will tie everything together and then suddenly it will all make sense, because it was meant to be one book and it still feels like one book, so right now I’ve basically read the beginning and the middle, and now all that’s needed is the end. Only when I have that will I pass judgment as to how well these books work as literature and contributions to sff. Still, I enjoyed reading this book immensely, and I know I’ll be revisiting parts of this book a number of times. I know it’s going to take another few, perhaps several years for Patrick Rothfuss to finish revising the third book, but I am content to wait. I trust him as an author and I know he will call forth fire to make it the best possible book it can be to end the story as it should end. And that’s all anyone can ever really ask of an author

Published in: on April 4, 2011 at 8:13 AM  Leave a Comment  

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