I did hesitate somewhat when thinking about reviewing this before the first book (The Name of the Wind), but decided that reviewing book two was far more relevant, given its recent release. That, and The Wise Man’s Fear is the book of the moment—at least, for me it is—much like the first instalment of the Kingkiller Chronicles was back in 2007.
Yes, it’s been a long wait. Yes, it’s been frustrating at times. But when the doorstop that is The Wise Man’s Fear is sitting there, completed and only slightlycrinkled about the dustcover from being stuffed into backpacks and being lugged around for a week, how can one complain?
I’ll start by saying that Day Two of Kvothe’s story was just…brilliant. When asked during my first read of it, by a friend who was trudging through the first book, if it was a ‘good’ book, I found myself saying this: It is what it is—it’s Kvothe telling his story, and he’s got one hell of a story to tell.
Of course there were negative aspects—there always are in books of this length. The Name of the Wind saw Kvothe spend just that little bit too long in Tarbean, and just a few too many pages as a starving thing. That did grate a little, but it’s not problematic enough, and doesn’t affect the story enough to really complain about it. In this case, I personally feel too much time was spent with Kvothe visiting the Adem.
Whilst it was very insightful and important as part of Kvothe’s tale, I didn’t care much for the Adem as a culture: I simply don’t go in for the kind of culture they represent. However, whether my view has been jaded by the sheer frustrating length of how long Kvothe spends with them is up for debate. Would I have a better view of these events had they not seemed to last so long? Probably.
As for the rest of the book’s negative points? There aren’t any.
The Wise Man’s Fear as a novel—a story, a memoir of sorts—is one thousand pages of pure magic. It’s a sweeping tale of everything fantasy really shouldn’t be. Just like the first book, it breaks all the rules, and gets away with all manner of borderline clichés. But this, in part, is what makes it magical. In the same way that J.R.R. Tolkien created a mythology for England (heaven knows, we need one!), Pat Rothfuss has created a mythology for fantasy enthusiasts.
Kvothe is a legend; his life is myth. Cynics might suggest we’ve heard this sort of tale of heroes before, merely dressed in different clothes, but anyone who has read even just half of the first book knows this is false. There is nothing trite or over-egged about the story Kvothe tells; on the contrary, Rothfuss offers, through Kvothe, a reimagining of the fantasy story, and this fantastic creation lives on through the second instalment of the series.
Kvothe is a fantastic character. He’s cut from the same cloth of cocky that Scott Lynch’s Locke (The Lies of Locke Lamora) is, whilst being every bit as brave and heroic as any fantasy hero clad in a ton of gleaming, metal armour. Better yet, Kvothe is so damned clever. Finally, a hero for the less brawny, less beefy, less soldier-y, not at all paladin-y guy! He’s a musician (so an artist) and a scholar; he’s the epitome of geek in the language we understand now. That’s why Kvothe is so fantastic; we see (or want to see) ourselves in him.
We see him and his awkward love-dance with Denna, and we think of our first crush. We see him forging strong friendships with Simmon and Wilem, and we think of making friends in college. We see him struggling to pay his tuition and eat, whilst spending every first penny on his lute, and we think of eating instant noodles for a week just so we can pre-order the latest special edition hardback or videogame we’ve been coveting. We see our intelligent, dreaming, idealistic selves. Kvothe is a geek and it’s why we love him so.
As well as imagining ourselves in Kvothe’s world, there is a lot of thought-provoking material in The Wise Man’s Fear. I’m not a fan of having philosophy (or religion or politics) forced down my throat, but the way in which Rothfuss presents everything he does is so subtle and relevant that not once does it come across as being too deep, or too engaging. Nobody wants to read a fantasy novel only to then feel they should write a philosophy essay on the subject. In a way, the fact that anything of the sort is delivered through Kvothe’s life-experiences and learning dresses the philosophy up as something else. Instead of a book that makes you think, The Wise Man’s Fear serves food for thought as a sideboard buffet; it’s there and you can help yourself, but primarily you’re here for the show and that’s featured on the centre stage.
That said, the philosophical aspects of the book are present, and readers can opt-in and take them on board. Personally, rather than seeing the story in any philosophical light, I would rather just let Kvothe sweep me away. Nothing more and nothing less.
Given the length of The Wise Man’s Fear it’s no surprise that many aspects of the overall plot progress throughout the book. As much as I enjoy Kvothe’s daily life at the University—and I do; I could read a book filled just with this—there is excitement to be had when Kvothe strikes out and adventures elsewhere for a while. We get to see Kvothe outside his comfort zone, and we’re reminded of just how clever he is.
Any fan of the series has the right to be suitably impressed by Kvothe as he is, let alone when he accomplishes all he does during the second instalment—especially when we recall his age.
What I liked most about Day Two, is that we begin to see Kvothe growing up. Yes, our Kvothe is becoming a man. More than any fantasy book I think I’ve read, Kvothe’s story is not just a tale of this and that, of adventures and grandiose events; it’s a coming-of-age story as much as it is a story of growing and learning. Moreover, it’s a story of mistakes.
The very silence that carries throughout the Waystone Inn is the sound of Kvothe’s own mistakes, and this silence rings more loudly in his ears than the sound of his numerous successes, seemingly forgotten by Kvothe himself as he resigns himself to wasting away as Kote the Innkeeper.
Almost as an opposing force to this is Bast. Now, I adore Bast—I took to him from the first sentence in the first book and my love hasn’t diminished. There is something about Bast. More so in The Wise Man’s Fear. Above all else, whilst Bast’s character is developed further in regards to his “race” (readers having enjoyed The Name of the Wind will understand), the way in which his desperation for Kvothe to ‘remember’ who he once was and become that man again is gut-wrenching. Bast stated he merely wanted “his Reshi back” and that is all he appears to want in the world. This desire is a thousand times more powerful in this second part, and Bast’s character is all the stronger for it.
In addition, events in the book—Kvothe’s time with Felurian, as documented in the original blurbs—bring Bast into sharper view during the various interludes, and all the while the reader cannot help but wonder just how Kvothe met this young man, and precisely who indeed, Bast is.
The end of the book was powerful: Kvothe still refuses to acknowledge himself in the present, clinging still to the mask of Kote he’s fashioned for himself, whilst Bast’s desperation reaches new heights and events threaten to darken. The novel closes on somewhat of a cliff-hanger, although the reader can guess as to what might transpire next.
Above all else, The Wise Man’s Fear is a book so deep, so engrossing and so magical, that whilst it might be an agonising wait for book three, the wait will be entirely worthwhile—however long it might be.
Pat Rothfuss is an artist, a storyteller and a minstrel: he could make us wait ten years and we’d forget any frustration the second we reach the first page and read “A Silence of Three Parts”.