Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe the Arcane, Kvothe the Kingkiller. He is a legend but the real man is an enigma. A man named Chronicler is trying to find out the truth behind the legend by convincing Kvothe to tell him his life story, a task so long it will take three days to complete.
On the second day, Kvothe relates more of his time at the Commonwealth University, his ongoing feud with another student named Ambrose and his increasingly proficient studies in various areas. He also tells of his time spent in Vintas, serving a nobleman seeking to woo a lady, and learning the arts of combat in far Ademre. But how much of Kvothe's story is truth and how much is his own fabrication?
The Wise Man's Fear is the sequel to The Name of the Wind and the second in The Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy. Since the trilogy was originally one extremely long novel split into three parts, The Wise Man's Fear has little preamble and not much of the climax. It starts, we follow the story for a time, and then it ends with little resolved. For a novel that is 1,000 pages long in hardcover, that should be a fairly damning comment.
Rothfuss's saving grace is his immense writing skill. He could make the telephone directory sound warm and interesting, and whilst the book is extremely long most of the chapters are short and snappy. The narrative is divided into two distinct sections, basically Kvothe in the University and Kvothe out in the world, and these sections are themselves fairly episodic. Whilst Kvothe's hunt for information about the Chandrian, the mysterious creatures that killed his family, provides a narrative spine of sorts, sometimes dozens of chapters pass without this plot element being as much as mentioned.
As a result The Wise Man's Fear feels less like a novel and more like a collection of tightly linked short stories (a feeling added to by the fact that one episode in the novel, The Road to Levinshir, was previously published as a separate short story almost a decade ago). This dichotomy - a very episodic book presented as a single novel - creates problems for pacing and consistency, with some of the episodes and stories being fascinating and others being tedious, whilst several more interesting-sounding incidents (like Kvothe standing trial for a misdemeanour) are skipped over in a couple of paragraphs. The Name of the Wind suffered from this as well, such as the incongruous and dull draccus incident towards the end of the book, but due to its much greater length The Wise Man's Fear is even more prone to it. Kvothe's dalliance with a famous Fae temptress goes on for far too long and winds up feeling a bit like the porn version of Tom Bombadil, whilst Kvothe's training montage with the Klingon Aiel Dothraki Vikings of the far north-east is just plain dull. Those who found Kvothe insufferable and Gary Stu-esque in the first novel will likely plain hate him here, as he picks up a ton more skills (including unarmed and armed combat, more magical skills and several more languages) with ease.
But Rothfuss does seem to be more overtly pulling the wool over the reader's eyes here. Kvothe reports on his badass fighting skills but then in a 'present' incident is unable to effectively defend himself from attack. Is this because he overrated his combat abilities, or because he's rusty, or because he deliberately holds back? The reader is invited to decide. Anomalies in Kvothe's story are also pointed out by Chronicler, and Kvothe admits to occasionally sprucing up his story. He's not exactly an unreliable narrator on the scale of Severian in The Book of the New Sun, but Rothfuss is at least letting the reader know that Kvothe himself might not be the best person to tell his tale, but he's all we've got to go on.
Elsewhere, plot elements are carefully alluded to rather than being spelt out, such as the motivations and identity of Denna's mysterious employer, or the relationship between Kvothe and a minor character that Kvothe himself is totally oblivious to. There is an impressive degree of subtlety running through this brick-thick tome that will no doubt raise questions and discussions that will keep fantasy forums busy until the final volume is released.
Rothfuss's powers of prose and characterisation remain highly impressive. The writing is rich and atmospheric, setting the scene perfectly, and Rothfuss has a keen eye for detail, humour and warmth (though in this book slightly more undercut by bitterness and cynicism), but those hoping for the story to explode into life, become bigger and more epic, will be disappointed. In a way Rothfuss is writing an anti-epic fantasy, with the focus narrowly on one character and the ordinary events that have been inflated out of all proportion. This forces the reader to keep downplaying expectations, since Rothfuss isn't playing the same game as a lot of other epic fantasy authors.
The Wise Man's Fear (****) is a difficult book to review, as it's well-written, sometimes compulsively page-turning and features some extremely well-played and subtle storytelling. On other, briefer, occasions it's tediously dull, cloying and prone to attacks of purple prose (particularly in the frisky fairy section). The book is also monstrously overlong and could have been split into two or three more focused, shorter books without too much of a problem. But Rothfuss is too good a writer to let the book's many issues sink it, and the book ends with the reader left wanting to know what happens next, which is the key thing. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.
on 24 June 2011
To say that The Wise Man's Fear was one of the most anticipated books in the genre community this year is an understatement. The eagerness and amount of speculation on when the book would be done and would consequently released, reminded me of fans waiting for Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and GRRM-fans waiting for A Dance With Dragons (though less rabid). I was lucky to only read Name of the Wind for the first time last year, so my wait wasn't as long. Still, I was very glad to finally read it.
Once I started the book, it took me a bit to get back into the story, because I was trying my best to remember all the details of the first book. Once I decided to just not wonder at what I didn't remember, I slid right in. And I read the book over the course of six days during the work week, which for such a chihuahua-killer of a tome is really fast for me these days. I really liked it and it was so good to return to Kvothe's world. As last time, I fell in love with Rothfuss' prose and the cleverness of his wordsmithing. For example, the way Felurian often speaks in rhyme, whether standard end rhyme, alliteration, assonance or internal rhyme. It's really clever and helps create her almost hypnotic effect on Kvothe. But for all that I loved The Wise Man's Fear, there were also a few things that caused some problems with the book for me. But let me start off by talking about what I did like.
Discovering more of Kvothe's world and the University was great. Exploring the Archives and returning to the Fishery and The Eolian was fun, especially the Archives. It might be a professional deformation, but I love reading about libraries and I loved the time we spent there this time. I couldn't repress a shudder of sympathy for Wilem when he explains the problems of the different cataloguing systems due to the different masters and the resulting Dead Ledgers. At work some of the faculty libraries were moved into the main library building last year and they're are still working on getting all the numbering systems switched over, I can just imagine how hard it would be to have to work with several different systems!
Seeing more of returning secondary characters, especially Elodin and Auri, and meeting new ones, was another pleasure, though I'm still hoping for Auri's mystery to be solved. Elodin, while as enigmatic as ever, became less frightening and more human, especially in the scenes he and Kvothe shared with Auri. My favourite new characters were Bredon, Tempi and Vathas. Bredon's urbane wit and easy acceptance and mentoring of Kvothe made me like him a lot. Tempi and Vathas are great characters and a good window into the Adem personality. Tempi since he's the first one we meet and Vathas because she is able to translate between Aturan culture and Adem culture not just for Kvothe, but for the reader as well. The silent complexity of the Adem and the Adem language was fascinating and as a result I loved the time Kvothe spent at the Latantha school. To me the education he got there, was far more interesting and valuable than that Felurian gave him, though I realise the latter's helped his reputation far more! It wasn't just the martial skills the Adem taught him, but the need to be accepting of different viewpoints in the world. Not every society's mores will be the same as your own and you have to respect that. For all his worldliness, Kvothe has some pretty strict notions of what is proper, with which he's confronted living amongst the Adem.
Now onto the somewhat less glowing part of this review. Problem the first: at times, the story stalled quite a bit. Most noticeably during Kvothe's stay with Felurian, but in Severen and Adem as well. Though, honestly, in the latter two cases this didn't bother me as much as it did with the Felurian chapters. Every time we'd get to a point where it seemed now we'd be getting on with the story, something else happened to keep him in the Fae world even longer. And for some reason, beyond their stroll to create Kvothe's shead and his little talk with the Ctaeh, I didn't find this episode in his story very interesting. I mean, yes it's nice that she teaches him how to please women, but after two scenes of that, I kind of get the picture already. That part was easily my least favourite of the book.
Problem the second: Denna. I mean I don't dislike her, but come on already! She's turning into a Molly or an Elene and, as mentioned before, I can't stand those sorts of slavish, pre-destined love stories. It's not just the endless pining, the will-they-or-won't-they of it, it's also that it makes Kvothe blind for other, perhaps more suitable love interests, such as Fela (though in that case I'm on Team Sim) and Devi. And I understand Denna is damaged and fragile and has a phobia of commitment and Kvothe has to step lightly around that, but she just makes me grit my teeth.
Problem the third and my biggest problem was a problem that arose mostly after finishing the book. Where is Rothfuss taking this? If you see how slowly the story moves, how on earth can he wrap it up in only one more book? If you see what Kvothe has done and learned in this book, and if you take into account what he still has to do, guessing from the story so far, I can't see how Rothfuss can do all of that in one book. At least not in one that's the same size as The Wise Man's Fear and maintains the quality of the series. And of course, there's the question of what will happen after. In the interludes it seems af if both Bast and Chronicler are trying to manoeuvre Kvothe towards something, some action, though it isn't clear what. And if that is the case, will Rothfuss tell us that story in a new series? Or will it be left untold? There are so many question marks after this book. And we'll have to wait for the publication of book three for the answers.
While The Wise Man's Fear didn't blow me away as much as Name of the Wind did, I truly enjoyed it and I am looking forward to seeing how the trilogy ends. Hopefully, I'll be lucky again and it'll take only another year for the last book to be published, but however long it takes, I'll be there to discover the rest of Kvothe's story.
on 16 August 2012
Back when I read the first of Patrick Rothfuss's high fantasy novels, The Name of the Wind, I wasn't entirely sure what I thought of it. I knew I must have liked it, because I couldn't wait to read the second novel, but even so, I wasn't quite sure. Not a lot happened in it, and not a lot of that seemed of great significance.
I'm pleased to say that all my reservations have gone in this second book of the Kingkiller Chronicle. I think I was in the process of adapting in the first book, because Patrick Rothfuss is not your average high fantasy writer.
As in The Name of the Wind, for a good part of this book, not a lot actually happens. Kvothe (the hero) tootles around the university, feuding with rivals, impressing attractive women, and generally figuring out how to get by day-by-day with not enough money and the enmity of several powerful people.
But there's stuff building here. Atmosphere, in-depth characters, a rich world, and we know, as Kvothe tells us in the framing story, that this is not a tale with a happy ending.
Far more importantly, though, Rothfuss is a compelling writer. He could spend a thousand pages writing about Kvothe painting his toenails, and I would still want to read it. (Luckily, he doesn't...) Rothfuss doesn't need to throw in a battle every other page, or a bunch gratuitous shock scenes, in order to keep us wanting to read. And because of that, once again, I can't wait to read the next volume. (Hear that, Rothfuss? Get writin'!)
on 26 February 2015
So here we are once more in the world of Kvothe. If you've read the first book you will know what to expect. If you haven't already read the first book you are going to be so confused. Go read it. I'll wait.
Once again we are immersed in a fully realised world. We are still going through the story of Kvothes early days and life is getting more interesting. The friendships and relationships built up in the first book are still there as he starts to learn his place in the world.
A big chunk of the novel is built upon Kvothe having a 'gap year' from the University. It's during his travels, still as a relatively young man, that his reputation starts to take seed. Although it has to be said, he is not unchanged by it. A particularly interesting scene late in the book with Fela talking about how other people see him shows more of his new character than pages of exposition could do.
If I was to have one quibble, it would be the amount of time spent in the past. We do have short jumps back to the present, where it is becoming obvious he is not the man he was, but for my taste not enough. Saying that of course this is the second book in a trilogy so next novel should pull it all together.
Once again this was incredibly hard to put down once I'd started it, and for a book the size of a house brick that's saying something. The writing flows easily, the characters are all well rounded and believable, even the Fae ones, and the world itself is exquisite. Not entirely sure how I am going to manage to wait for book 3.
on 27 October 2013
'The Wise Man's Fear' is the second instalment of The Kingkiller Chronicles, a fantasy trilogy centred on the `autobiographical' tale of the protagonist, Kvothe. It picks up where 'The Name of the Wind' left off, continuing Kvothe's tale without much preamble, and cleverly reminds us of key events and important information as it goes along, rather than simply dumping it all at the start.
The format of the story follows the same pattern as the previous novel: Kvothe narrates the chronological events of his younger years, and the tale is occasionally interrupted by interludes focusing on the present day. Kvothe is one of the Edema Ruh, renowned travelling performers and famed for their storytelling skills; however, the narrative is somewhat stale and rambling when compared with the previous novel, perhaps because it covers a much shorter period of his life and strings it out over a thousand pages. Roughly half the novel is an account of Kvothe's continued shenanigans at the university: most of these are highly amusing, though others seemed tediously similar to those in the previous book.
It's clear that the author is playing with the concept of the unreliable narrator, and Kvothe is doubly unreliable: he's narrating his story for an audience, and it is also being set down for posterity. As such it becomes something of a fun game for the reader to question some of his assertions: for example, he claims to have learned an entire language in a day in order to successfully be acquitted at a public trial; however, he deliberately skips over this part of his story, refusing to supply details of the trial because his readers will find it boring. He later proceeds to give a long and detailed account of his time in the Fae with Felurian, during which he spends several dull chapters doing a whole lot of nothing. Kvothe's egotistic determination to focus on the parts that he finds most interesting is no doubt a deliberate part of the author's message about the misleading nature of stories, and the dangers of becoming a legend in your own lifetime; unfortunately, this also makes the novel significantly less compelling than its predecessor.
'The Wise Man's Fear' isn't without its strong points, though. One of Rothfuss' biggest strengths is the ease with which he creates characters that are not only likeable, but also complex and memorable. 'The Name of the Wind' was almost solely focused on Kvothe; it was introspective and very much self-indulgent. In 'The Wise Man's Fear', there is still plenty of this trademark self-indulgence to be found (Kvothe's ego is not something to be easily pushed aside) but there is also a much wider awareness of the world and its inhabitants. The reader is given a distinct impression of each character no matter how infrequently that character appears in the story. We have Kilvin, the gruff yet somehow fatherly Master Artificer; Tempi, the quiet but deadly Adem mercenary; Denna, the flirtatious yet insecure con-artist-turned-musician; Bast, Kvothe's loveable apprentice with a dark secret; Auri, the frail and flighty girl who lives beneath the university; and lots more. Kvothe's mentor, the enigmatic Master Elodin, has a relatively small amount of page space devoted to him, yet he is undoubtedly many readers' favourite character, myself included. He is one of the nine Masters of the university and is more powerful in the magic of naming than most men alive; he is mischievous, brilliant, and ever-so-slightly insane; he walks on roofs, engages in petty crimes against other Masters who have offended him, and encourages his students to stand naked in thunderstorms.
My point is, it's characters such as Elodin that make this story dance off the page, and I think this, along with the beautifully poetic narrative voice, is definitely one of the stronger aspects of 'The Wise Man's Fear'. Though some of the setting and events feel a little stale, and despite the fact that the plot is occasionally lacking, well, plot, 'The Wise Man's Fear' is an entertaining and passionate novel, and I would recommend it to those who thoroughly enjoyed 'The Name of the Wind'.
on 10 March 2012
Patrick Rothfuss returns to the Kingkiller Chronicle part 2, which picks up much where part 1 left off. Great if you just finished the previous novel, but if you did not you really could use one or two reminders up front of where we had got to in the story.
Even so the writing continues to be exceptional. The dialogue flows naturally and the characters are compelling. In some parts the writing is so good it can leave you astonished. For example there are several sections where the characters are using couplets. These are handled so effortlessly and naturally you don't even notice it's rhyming, just a peculiarly pleasant rhythm. There is also great subtlety here. Is Kvothe really this superhuman learning machine, or is this the mark of a story that is about someone writing their own story, and telling it their way, lies and all? There are also several less than obvious relationships that are left to the reader to work out for themselves, rather than being explained in Kvothe's own words. It's these kind of details, easily overlooked, that demonstrate just how clever the writing is.
The story itself also continues to be enticing. Some parts feel very reminscent of Robin Hobb's excellent Assassin's Apprentice (no shame in that) and the reader is seriously at risk of missing their stop if they read it on the bus or train (as I did on three occasions). Yet, this time around the editing was less tight, and there are several sections of prose that simply could have been removed without their passing being marked. At it's heart, the book is also an incongruous collection of events, and they keep going off at a tangent that can be a bit exasperating. You may even find yourself shouting: "Get back to the story!" And though the diversions are good reading, there is a limit.
It all comes back together in the end. The writing is just too good to miss, and even most of the diversions are entertaining in themselves. Still, lurking at the back of your mind is the unease of a George R R Martin novel, or the Wheel of Time; did I actually go anywhere in this book? In the end the good far outweighs the bad. Many trilogies are weak in the middle, and if this is as bad as it gets, what's coming promises to be an incredible treat. Rothfuss goes straight into my top 5 fantasy authors, but I hope the editing is a bit tighter on the next one.
on 14 January 2012
It seems a little redundant to write a review for the second book of a fantasy trilogy. If you haven't read the first one, there's not much point reading the second just yet, if you have, you'll probably already have a fairly firm idea of whether or not you want to continue with the series. Nonetheless, I haven't reviewed the first book in the series (The Name of the Wind) despite absolutely loving it, and one of my New Year's Resolutions is to review every book I read, so I'm going to do a bit of a review of both.
In essence, I'd definitely recommend this to anyone who likes fantasy, and it's well written and engaging enough that it could well be worth giving it a try even if that isn't your usual genre. I hugely enjoyed it and can't wait to read the third book when it comes out. Nonetheless I think there were some flaws and on balance, I feel that the first instalment was the better book.
How much you enjoy the tale will probably depend on how you feel about the main character, Kvothe, as the story really does revolve entirely around him. Personally, I really liked him and was rooting for him all the way through, but I've heard several people say they found him extremely annoying, and I can see where they are coming from. He is extremely, instantly good at almost everything he puts his hands too and throughout this book he only gets more skilled, powerful and popular with the ladies. In the hands of a lesser author he could easily have become a total Mary Sue and clearly some people think that he has crossed that line. For me though, he gets into just enough scrapes to be believable and, especially in the present day sections in the Inn is well aware of his faults and emphasises the way his reputation has been blown out of proportion.
There are two very unusual and clever things about this book - firstly, the framing device - something bad has happened and modern day Kvothe is hiding out as an innkeeper, with his powers now seemingly reduced, and telling his story. This allows for lots of fun foreshadowing and raises all sorts of questions of what happened. It also allows us to hear the overblown legends that have grown up around him from yokel customers, which provide an interesting counterpoint to the more rational tale being told by Kvothe himself.
Secondly, there is lots of use of old stories, poems and legends that really add depth the the world, but which also make an interesting point about how tales change over time - for example a smutty poem recited by one character turns out to be a newer version of an older prophetic rhyme; or two characters write a song about an event, one making the main character a hero, the other a villain.
All of this means that there is lots to analyse and speculate about if that's your cup of tea (and I've certainly had lots of geeky fun working through some of the references and guessing at events in the third book over the last couple of days!) but unlike some books, which get bogged down in this sort of thing (A Dance with Dragons for example was practically unreadable in parts without the detailed lists of all the characters), it is also a smooth, easy read that makes perfect sense to readers who don't have or want an encyclopaedic knowledge of the line of succession in Vintas or all the myths around the Chandrian.
The main problem was one that seems all too common with recent fantasy books - it was too long and too little was resolved. Few of the plot lines and questions set up in the first book have been resolved after nearly 1000 pages and some were barely touched on. There were parts - a trip with some mercenaries, an encounter with a sex-mad fairy - that could have been half the length they were without really losing anything.
On a similar note, I was surprised that roughly the first third of the book is still set at the University and there seemed to have been no progress since the first book - Kvothe still desperately needs money and schemes to get it, Kvothe once again goes through admissions, dividing the teachers between those who love him and those who hate him. Ambrose attacks him some more, he gets further revenge, Ambrose attacks him yet again. Kvothe meets Denna. They still don't get it on. She disappears again. All of this is actually very enjoyable to read, and the university sections are actually some of the best in the book, but all of these plot elements were getting a bit repetitive by the end of the first book and I wasn't expecting this cycle to recur again.
These points however really didn't drastically affect my appreciation of the book. The writing is so smooth and in parts genuinely laugh out loud funny that even parts that are a little dull plot wise are still a pleasure to read, though I'm hoping for some resolution and some rather more vicious editing in part three.
on 29 April 2012
This strikes me as a typical middle novel in a trilogy. As soon as you know it's a trilogy, you know that the middle book cannot take you to the conclusion. Its main task is to beef up the story, fill in details and provide some red herrings. That's what this book does. It takes us across many countries mentioned in the first book. It takes Kvothe further into his ghostwritten autobiography, telling us wild tales of adventures. However there seems to be a lot of padding here that is almost totally unnecessary. When he travels to the land of the Adem we are told every move Kvothe learns without any of them being described. Sounds a lot like David Carradine in Kung Fu with a bit of Jedi warrior flung in for good measure. The episode in Fae is, to my mind, the weakest part of the story. It is so poorly written by comparison with the rest of the book that I almost skipped it. That said, it's still worth 4 stars IMO because generally the writing is good and it becomes an addictive page-turner. The characters generally are well fleshed out and those who continue from the first book mature through this one. I like the author's way of breaking up the story to return to the inn in the present day. It gives the reader a perspective on Kvothe's life. Oh, by the way, there's a nice little cliffhanger / hook at the end of the book too, leaving us wondering and waiting for the sequel.
on 30 March 2011
The problem with excellence is it demands excellence.
Had this novel been written by anyone other than he-who-wrote-name-of-the-wind I would be frothing at the mouth in my desire to spout out superlatives.
It is a great novel, full of humour, action, pathos. It touches a thousand pages and I couldn't put it down at all - only once actually as I read it in two sittings. It made me laugh, almost cry, cheer and wriggle in excitement. All of which you are very very hard-pressed to find in any other fantasy writer of this (or any other) generation. Rothfuss has prodigious talent and a craftsman's eye for detail. The characters are vivid and complex, the settings engaging and memorable, the plot compelling.....ah, then, where are the five stars?
Frankly, Felurian costs it a star. As has been pointed out by other reviewers quite well, there is a large, painful section in the book that just does not feel like it belongs. As much as I respect and admire Rothfuss as a writer, it has to be said that the whole section is self indulgent and serves very little purpose to the plot or the character or world building. It was an immersion breaking experience for me and I almost did the unthinkable and skipped ahead. It takes a while for the author to pick the threads of the story up again after the meandering section but to his credit he manages this quite well.
I wonder at how this section survived Rothfuss's diligent editorial rewrites etc.. I suspect that it was substantially cut but he was unwilling to let go of it entirely - but personally I just don't think it works.
Anyway, rant over.
It is easy to remember that this is, contrary to most people's belief, Rothfuss's FIRST professional novel. The Name of the Wind was a labour of love, where he took decades to polish it and get it right. That was easy. This was much, much harder - a middle novel of a complex trilogy involving two story lines, one a sweeping account of a life, one based over three days. Impressive. Most impressive.
Excellent book, excellent series. Anyone who has any slight leaning towards fantasy writing should grab this and the first one as soon as they can.
Now we play the waiting game.
on 4 January 2013
I gave this review for the first one and believe it is worthy of the same 5 stars as the first one.
He builds upon what we already know of the main character Kvothe and does so in an engaging and exciting way. The only issue is three quarters of the way through the book, Kvothe discovers and has sex and although this isn't an issue and is written about in a very non-descriptive way, it seems to form a new key thread of most of the last quarter of the novel and seems a little unneeded in my opinion.
'Review of the first one - and just as applicable to the squeal'
Fast paced, enjoyable and intertwined with different threads that run throughout the story, this truly is a fantastic novel!
The characters and fun and believable, the writing style is easy to read and when you start you just wont be able to put it down!
Negatives - This is a chunky book and because of this can be a little uncomfortable to hold after a while of reading. The author Patrick Rothfuss takes a few years over writing each one, as one can tell from the fantastic story that is given it is worth him taking this time but it means a long wait is to be expected between each one!
This is a great book for any fantasy novel fan and would be a great present for anyone aged 14+ in my opinion!