Book Review: ‘The Wise Man’s Fear’ by Patrick Rothfuss

The longest book in the history of ever.
‘The Wise Man’s Fear’ by Patrick Rothfuss

So, if you’re anything like me, here’s some reasons you’ll pick up this book:

  1. You’re underemployed and sit at home and read a lot because you don’t like things like ‘outside’.
  2. You needed something ungodly long to read in the hopes that, by the time you finished, George R. R. Martin would have finished the 6th installment of A Song of Ice and Fire (spoiler: he didn’t).
  3. You’re not a huge fan of Harry Potter but still like magic.
  4. You kind of like main characters that are jerks.
  5. You can’t start a series without finishing it (this is book 2)

It’s a complicated book, and I have complicated feelings toward it. That is to say, it’s a long book, and I have long feelings toward it (Word tells me I have exactly 1,900 word-feelings to say about it).

Also, spoilers.

I originally gave this 5 stars, but I suspect that was a rating I was awarding myself for finishing this behemoth of a novel. Now, I’m wavering between 3 and 4 stars. I gave Name of the Wind 4 stars, and I stand by it, but I’m fairly certain that I did not like The Wise Man’s Fear better than it’s predecessor.

Which is not to say that I didn’t like it–I did. Immensely. Even in this book’s harshest reviews (which, be honest, even if you loved the book, you always read through the reviews that hated it because they’re the most fun), they still generally agree that Rothfuss’ has the inexplicable and much-enviable talent to write the ever-loving crap out of anything he so chooses.

I have the feeling that I just read 1000 pages about nothing in particular, but at no point did I feel the need to stop and say, ‘I’ve read enough for now.’ In another review, someone summarized it nicely by saying, ‘Interesting characters do interesting things.’ Which, even if that’s just surface entertainment and the book lacks depth of theme, isn’t that what you want from a book? You *want* to be entertained, you *want* it to last 1000 pages so it takes you forever to read and the fun almost literally never ends.

Let’s talk about my favorites:

Ahhh, the world-building. It makes me sigh wistfully. Talk about subtle and nuanced. Sure, it helps a great deal that Kvothe is curious and wants to learn everything about everything and is a convenient vehicle for huge info-dumps, but I think it fits in nicely with his character (I mean, what was the first book if not this personality-trait-turned-driving-force eventually bringing him to the University and having a *ahem* over the Archives?)

So, through Kvothe, we get to meet a delightfully real world and a rich cast of characters. Was anybody else sold on any character that stepped into the story within, like, two paragraphs? Nobody seemed to be an archetypal character. Those who do smack of archetype are quickly turned on their heads. For example: the mother-figure of Shehyn is actually some bad-ass grandmother mountain-warrior. The sterner-but-still-motherly figure of Anne turns out to be much more sinister and dark and gets what’s coming to her.

The only characters I don’t care for are villains//bullies that are there just for the sake of needing a villain//bully. Of course Ambrose (says everybody), but I was more annoyed with Carceret in this role. But, again, whatever. She’s one character out of a billion, and the worst that she does is push Kvothe down a mountain (which, he kind of deserves from time to time). I can live with it.

Perhaps the major exception is Denna. Disenchanted courtesan constantly on the run as a metaphor for trying to run from herself? It’s been done. But, she doesn’t bother me too much. Not as much as others, apparently.

This may be a minority opinion, but I actually really liked the Ademre parts. I thought it was believable; learning a new language and culture *is* a bitch, and doing it with complete grace and ease isn’t going to happen. I like that Kvothe stumbles through the language, is put in his place by Vashet (she says he’s something like a bumbling idiot with his hand gestures). I like that there’s not a one-to-one correlation between the languages and that the nuances of emotion and inflection are completely different, and any outside observer would completely misread the people. Particularly, I like these last two points because, as anyone who has ever been the outsider in a different group knows, there simply are some things that are *such* a foreign concept that, no matter how we try, we cannot wrap our heads around it.

Though, as far as foreign concepts: the ‘man-mother’ thing and no concept of fatherhood might’ve been pushing it a *little* too far. I have to believe that, for a civilization that’s supposedly 2000+ years old, they would’ve figured it out by now–either by the women who stay celibate and never have children or the homosexual couples who don’t conceive on their own. Whoops?

But, that’s all right. It’s a fairly minor flaw, and I’ve already been sold on the world-building.

Anyway, my point was that Rothfuss has a deep handle on how to convincingly create a world-within-the-fantasy-world, that is, the difference between Adem and the rest of the world. But he also has a solid grip on how to shade and slightly differentiate between the parts in the main world (I’m not sure what the main continent is called. The Four Corners? I never really took the time to study the map). So, for example, the posh cities of Imre and Severen: they both have their approaches to nobility, but the court politics of Severen seem to have their own sets of idiosyncrasies (the rings, the dinner etiquette, their overly superstitious, etc…). I’m a fan.

And the ‘magic’. God bless something that has doesn’t involve pointing a wand, saying some pseudo-Latin, and magical-deus-ex-machina-magic may or may not happen. It’s not that I don’t like magic, but I care a great deal how it’s approached. I don’t like hand-waving and the tautological reasoning that something is the way that it is ‘Because it is’. It’s infuriating and strikes me as either a lack of creativity on the author’s part, or perhaps the author doesn’t trust his/her readers enough, or just simple and pure laziness. The magic realism in this series is elegant and believable. Sure, there are times when you must suspend your disbelief, but it is usually required in small hops rather than great leaps and bounds. And most of all, I love that it’s not without consequence. Use magic incorrectly, and it may just kill you.

HAH. That’s how it *should* be.

Now, onto to some of my bigger gripes.

Perhaps the reason most of all that I lowered my rating is that, once I stopped to think on it and step away from the glow of beautiful writing and the triumph of reading 1000 pages is this:

I have no idea what I’m reading.

The paperback version of my copy of Name of the Wind is 722 pages. The hard-cover version of Wise Man’s Fear is 994. That’s 1,716 pages, and I still have no idea what I’m reading.

Is it a story about Kvothe’s quest for justice against the murder of his family? Doesn’t really seem like it, as the search for clues about the Chandrian and the Amyr always seem to take a back-seat to whatever misadventure Kvothe is traipsing through. Is it a story about coming to the University and becoming the most magical and powerful wizard in the world? I… don’t think so? He’s not even at the University for 3/4 of this book, and he’s expelled at some point? I’m not really sure.

Yes, yes, I know. According to the synopsis, it’s a story of him becoming a legend. Well, duh. But, more than that, what is this *about*? As previously alluded to, I don’t think the theme is very well inlaid within the narrative. I don’t know if I could even eloquently describe what I think the themes are in this book alone, let alone what the overarching themes would be between the two books. That’s not to say I need the moral of the story to be glaringly obvious, but I need something to hold on to. Otherwise, the story is just a protagonist and his series of zany adventures, and I don’t know where it’s headed.

And, it’s fine not knowing. I realize that the series is incomplete. But, it’s just, after nearly 2000 pages, I just wanted to have a little more sense of direction. I’m not left with any sort of soul-crushing anticipation and suspense for the next book. I mean, I want to read it and I will because I’m in love with the writing, but I want to want it more than that. I want to have a reason to read other than, ‘Well, what will our wayward hero get into this time?’.

I suspect it will have something to do with ‘I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings’ and maybe some actual King-Killing. But, then again, I thought that’s what this book was going to be about…

A bit of my problem lies in that I like when things build upon one another. I like when thing-B happens as a direct result (good or bad) of thing-A happening. I like when it’s layered and leaves you wondering, ‘Well, what if tiny-element-C hadn’t happened? What would’ve happened then?’ and the answer is ‘Something completely different’ and it teases at your brain for forever.

Basically, I like consequences as a result of conscious choice.

What I don’t like is things that just happen for the sake of happening. Thing-A happens and then is done. Thing-B happens and then is done. Etc etc.

…which is like the ENTIRE BOOK. The events don’t happen as a consequence of one another, they just happen because the author made them happen. Again, this would be all right if I knew what I was reading about, where this was all eventually leading to, what the overarching themes are, etc etc. But, I don’t. So, because of this, the things that happen seem (to me) random and contrived.

He is randomly sent out to hunt some bandits? lolwutwhy
He randomly manages to hook up with the fairy-goddess of sex? lolwutwhy
He makes a pilgrimage to the mountain and learns their ancient secrets in two months? lolwutwhy
He comes across a rag-tag team of bandits just to save the day? lolwutwhy

And so forth.

It’s not a good thing when you can rearrange the major events, do a little tweaking in your head, and still have the same story.

And the two perhaps biggest consequential events are ones that the reader doesn’t even get to see: his trial in Imre and becoming shipwrecked on his way to Vintas. Ok. These are cool things. I want to read about them. WHYYY did I need to re-read his struggles with poverty and coming up with enough money for tuition for the first hundred or so pages of the book. Couldn’t the author just have omitted those in favor of the two more interesting and newer plot points?

I guess not.

Anyway, those are my most unforgivable problems.

On a technical level:

1. Has anyone ever taught Mr. Rothfuss the difference between ‘lay’ and ‘lie’?!
2. ‘Alright’ is not a word. Well, fine, maybe it is… But, I was hoping it’d be a longer time into the future before I started seeing it in print like this.
3. Stop using the same adjective/verb/participle/turn of phrase two paragraphs away from one another. STOP IT.
4. How the fuck do you pronounce… anything.

Siiigh.

Should I say that I really did like this book? I really did. Unfortunately, it’s just way too easy to get caught up in what drives you mad.

I’ll end this on a good note.

I was a Latin major in college. So, perhaps my favorite line of the entire series:

“So,” Chronicler said. “Subjunctive mood.”
“At best,” Kvothe said, “it is a pointless thing. It needlessly complicates the language. It offends me.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

.+++.

Check out the original review on my GoodReads page (and then go and read those 1-star reviews I was talking about because you know you want to).

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