Book Review: The Wise Fan’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Format: Hardcover, First Edition, 2011
Reading Time: about 20 hours
It seems you can’t swing a stick around the Internet without hitting a review of The Wise Man’s Fear. This is to be expected, of course, since it briefly hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. I’m always happy to see a fantasy novel claim that prize; it is no small feat to outsell all the other books in the world. Most reviewers tried to keep their reviews spoiler-free, and talked about what they liked or didn’t like. I’ll continue that trend, as The Wise Man’s Fear seems to have a different effect on everyone. I’m not adverse to throwing in a spoiler or two, however.
My first impression was that I had picked up a lost section of The Name of the Wind rather than The Wise Man’s Fear. This is because the story resumes exactly where the previous one left off; I had exhausted my patience with the whole University storyline, yet here we were, right back in it once more. Indeed, it takes over 300 more pages before Kvothe is pressured away from the University.
My reaction to Kvothe leaving the University was satisfaction. “Finally!” I thought to myself – finally we would see Kvothe venture out into the world and meet with all kinds of action and adventures. My first disappointment came with the glossing over of the events that lead Kvothe from the University to Vintas. A huge amount of adventure and tragedy is described briefly in a few paragraphs. I felt more than a little cheated.
The next section, however, is quite good, with a poisoned noble to save, and Kvothe trying to fit into court life. The story stalls once more, however, with Kvothe courting a woman for the Maer. And from bad to worse, the section of the story where Kvothe searches out bandits was too drawn out, and dare I say boring. Then comes what I consider the worst part of the story, a frolicking romp with Felurian of the Fae. This is little more than a sexual-coming-of-age tale, designed to enhance Kvothe’s reputation, that also seemed to stall the flow of the book.
Now 700 pages into the story, although I was enjoying it and reading it with every free moment I had to spare, I was also very frustrated. I had expected so much more. Soon I was changing my tune, though, in what I consider the most intriguing, thoughtful, and engaging part of the story: Kvothe’s training with the Adem. From having to learn the language and history, to dealing with prejudice against outsiders, Kvothe’s struggles in Adem and the way their culture is presented is some of the finest writing I have read in quite some time. Though I consider The Name of the Wind to be the superior story, the Adem portion of The Wise Man’s Fear transcends anything found in The Name of the Wind. The subsequent meeting with the Edema Ruh was also quite excellent, though everything that happens after that (about the last 100 pages) is very anti-climactic.
I still have a lot of questions after reading this book, based on some of the things that happen to present-day Kvothe. I’m going to hide my speculations using a black font color, so that the only way to see it is to highlight it. That way, if you don’t want to see a few spoilers, you can just skip over this next bit to the end. These are the conclusions I drew by the end of the book:
- Kvothe has forgotten Sympathy, calling the Wind, and even the fighting he learned from the Adem. or maybe he has mentally blocked it out. In any event he seems rather powerless.
- He was not successful in killing the Chandrian, as Bast still is terrified about using their names, which he wouldn’t be if they are dead.
- The last sentence of the book describes Kvothe as a man waiting to die. The only way I can see Kvothe wanting to die is if something terrible happened to Denna.
I know this review sounds very negative, because I’m pointing out what I consider to be serious flaws. A flawed Patrick Rothfuss story, however, is still more than the sum of many books out there. His style continues to be easy to read and enjoyable; his writing is beautiful and at times astonishing, with a lyrical and poetic quality that hasn’t been seen since Tolkien. I’ve maintained all along that this is why I don’t give a rating to the books I read…Rothfuss reaches for immense heights, and though The Wise Man’s Fear falls short of my lofty expectations, it can in no way be considered equal to or lesser than some other book that doesn’t have as many flaws but plays it safe.
Despite the flaws I discussed above, The Wise Man’s Fear is fully deserving of that New York Times #1 Best Seller trophy, and is the best book I’ve read since The Name of the Wind. In fact, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. I’m sure the next book in the series will be as well. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take Mr. Rothfuss another 3 years to do so, because I really need to see how it all turns out…
UPDATE: I’m having some formatting issues with paragraphs for this review and I have no idea why. The HTML says everything should be working properly. Some kind of WordPress quirk, I’m guessing…