Hippogriff's Aerie

Apparitions of Imagination

Book Review: The Wise Fan’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Format:  Hardcover, First Edition, 2011

Pages:  994

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.
Ok, now that your past my speculative musings, shall I tell you what I find the most frustrating about The Wise Man’s Fear? It is something that carries over from The Name of the Wind that I call “convenient timing”. When things are looking up for Kvothe, bad things happen. Or just when things are looking their worst, suddenly Kvothe’s fortune takes a turn for the better. Denna keeps popping up nearby, when in a world this large, Kvothe should rarely be able to find her. This “convenient timing” helps move the story forward but at times becomes ridiculous.

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…

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April 21, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , | 4 Comments

Book Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Format: Hardback, First Edition, 2007

Pages: 662

Reading Time: about 13 hours

I’m three years late to the party that began with The Name of the Wind, and what a party it has been. Winner of the Quill Award, on most people’s best new book and best new author awards for 2007, and with hyped anticipation for a sequel that was released this month, The Name of the Wind certainly has its champions. I picked it up from Borders back in 2008, but it has languished in my ever-expanding queue. With reviews praising the sequel as an improvement in every way, I knew it was time to find out what all the (Roth)fuss was about.

The story is a coming-of-age tale about a boy named Kvothe, who appears to be brilliantly gifted in almost anything he learns – music, acting, magic, studies – you name it, Kvothe is good at it. Kvothe goes from beloved son to orphan to street rat to university student to legendary hero in the book. Whenever roadblocks pop up, Kvothe always seems to find a way past them. He spends much of the book poor, looking for ways to get money to keep a roof over his head, food in his mouth, and paying tuition for school. Kvothe’s ability to overcome obstacles reminds me of MacGuyver or other TV heroes such as Sydney Bristow from Alias.

There is, however, a caveat or two, because Kvothe has flaws just like anyone else. Kvothe admits freely that he doesn’t know a thing about women. He also has a stubborn attitude and refuses to lose or back down from a challenge. While such an attitude sees him through many difficult situations, it also has consequences that contribute to making those situations more difficult than they need to be.

This is most evident in his dealings with fellow student Ambrose, the son of a noble. Ambrose and Kvothe start out on the wrong foot, and it escalates from there. Unlike Hemme, an instructor that Kvothe clashes with but has no teeth, Ambrose has the wealth and influence to make life difficult for Kvothe. Given that Ambrose is truly unlikable, I found myself both rooting for Kvothe and shaking my head at the same time, because it is soon apparent that every time Ambrose is insulted, he’ll find a way to strike back at Kvothe. Still Kvothe cannot resist pushing back against Ambrose’s arrogance, and seems surprised at the results, underestimating Ambrose each time.

The beginning of the book almost has a David Eddings’s Belgariad feel to it. It then moves into something you might find in Dickens, or Robin Hobb’s Assassin Apprentice series. Most of the book, however, has a Harry Potter-like feel, as it takes place in a university. It is, however, a darker Harry Potter, targeted at adults rather than children. I was surprised to find out later that Orson Scott Card had already voiced these same sentiments, as I hadn’t read this in other sites’ reviews.

I love stories told in the first-person narrative. All my favorite authors follow this style: Zelazny’s Amber, Hobb’s Assassin Apprentice, Cook’s Black Company, and Delaney’s Last Apprentice. The story of Kvothe is told in first person as it jumps back and forth between present day, told in third-person, and Kvothe’s storytelling, which switches to first-person. Rothfuss has an easy, engaging style that makes reading The Name of the Wind a joy to read. He has an ability to weave words into story with enough detail to picture what is happening, without so much detail that the story bogs down. In this way, Rothfuss’s narrative style is much more appealing than say Robert Jordan or Steven Erikson. At the same time, it doesn’t have a simplistic feel as The Last Apprentice or Harry Potter does. There’s plenty of things happening in the story. It is not swords-and-sorcery action, but rather overcoming obstacles through clever means – though there is a sort of battle with a dragon.

Supporting characters are consistent and well-defined. In addition to Kvothe’s antagonists, he has a couple of good friends in Simmon and Wilem, a handful of instructors, and a couple of potential love interests in Denna and Fela. Denna is a strong female character, flawed in a few ways and intriguing in others. I would prefer that Kvothe was attracted more to Fela, who has some intriguing qualities herself, but she isn’t fleshed out enough to know why Kvothe doesn’t even consider a relationship with her. The magic system, called Sympathy, is detailed and well-thought out, although I still don’t have any idea how much power someone is capable of by simply knowing the true name of something.

I do have a few problems with the story. As I stated above, after a chapter or two of the University, it began to feel slightly derivative of Harry Potter at Hogwarts. This leads to my second issue with the book: the story spends so much time at the University that the plot struggles to move forward. It feels more like an “I did this, I did that” recounting, rather than a story with a clear and well-defined plot, although I am sure that is by design since Kvothe is relating the events of his life. And the ending is so abrupt, so unresolved, that it is a disappointment. I feel for those who have been waiting three years for the sequel. We also don’t have any idea yet why the series is titled “The Kingkiller Chronicles.”

The truth is that these are minor issues that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story. Once reaching the last third of The Name of the Wind, I found it difficult to put down, my measure of a great book. While some of the praise and hype of The Name of the Wind is deserved, and some of it is overdone, I can’t deny that this is one of the best books I’ve read in some time. If The Wise Man’s Fear is truly better in every way, I’m looking forward to it with great anticipation, although my fear is it won’t live up to my expectations, which are now quite high. The Wise Man’s Fear is now on its way from Amazon, so I’ll find out soon enough…

March 15, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | 3 Comments