Patrick Rothfuss: The Wise Man’s Fear

Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind is an amazing fantasy novel. It is the opposite of most of the other fantasy I read these days, as it’s obviously crafted with great time and care. It is the fantasy novel my more refined (and librarian) friends recommend to people wishing to discover new fantasy authors.

However, having started his trilogy with such a spectacular work, Mr. Rothfuss faces the task of living up to the expectations he’s set.

To be brutally honest, he doesn’t.

This doesn’t mean that The Wise Man’s Fear isn’t a spectacular book, it is. It just isn’t more spectacular than The Name of the Wind, and perhaps a bit less so since we know what to expect.

The tale continues, as expected, from where The Name of the Wind left off. As in the first book, the setting is a tavern where the protagonist, Kvothe, retells his life’s story to a chronicler. Obviously things are afoot that tie into the history, but almost all of the writing pertains to the past, and the current time is advanced via brief interludes. Once more, Mr. Rothfuss uses this narrative device with perfect skill.

Unlike works from Patricia Briggs or Wen Spencer, The A Wise Man’s Fear is not a book that kept me up past my bedtime because I just couldn’t set it down. I have been wondering why this would be, and came up with a few hypotheses. Narratively, we know the end point to which the retold tale will lead; Kvothe in his tavern. There is little indication that the real-time thread of the narrative would reach a conclusion in this work either, so that motivation is also not present. Similarly, I suspected that Kvothe’s biographical tale would only proceed another third of the way.

However, there are other aspects as well. I had a slight feeling of dread for Kvothe as I went along; I fully expected horrible calamities and unpleasant events to befall him any moment — to the extent that it detracted from my reading pleasure. Whether this ominous air was Mr. Rothfuss’s intention or my own doing is unclear to me; perhaps others who have read it can chime in. On a more positive note, I was also unwilling to skim ahead or read it with less than proper attention, in fear of missing wonderful language or sayings.

Rothfuss continues with his world-building, introducing the fae archetype and the ascetic eastern warrior archetype, among others. I’ve always been fascinated by sidhe, fae and similar mythos, but even so I feel that Rothfuss has done an amazing job with both. While these are known archetypes, the re-imagining, both in prose, in plot and in world-building are top-notch.

The ancillary characters do not gain much in depth; Kvothe, Bast and Denna being ones that notably come alive. Trying to judge beyond that runs into the many-layered nature of the narrative; the description of the protagonist is one of a young man given by his older self, both of whom are clearly flawed and blind to certain aspects of themselves. Some darker plot elements are introduced, and Rothfuss earns another honorary mention on that account — something occurs in the book, and it is left for the attentive reader to speculate what it means and whether it’s important — and if it is, it will appear later in the tale, without being telegraphed or explained. The same applies to some philosophical aspects, such as the notion of free will in the face of prophesies of omniscient beings.

The book ends on a cliff-hanger of sorts, but a tasteful one that does not artificially hold the plot hostage. It also winds down, narrative-wise, in a sort of epilogue that I found very pleasing.

Summarizing The Wise Man’s Fear is hard. It contains many epic and memorable characters, lines, and ideas. It is tremendously well written. Is paced in a very deliberate manner. My brain is still thinking about the people and events in it, long after I’ve set it down. Perhaps it is like a fine spirit, to be enjoyed in a quiet setting with proper decorum and gravitas, rather than a beverage which allows for a good, raucous party.

Five out of Five. It’s not the best possible book, but it is so far above most of the other things I read in the genre these days, that there’s no point in splitting hairs.