Fiction Reviews

The Wise Man's Fear

(2011) Patrick Rothfuss, Gollancz, 20, hrdbk, 993pp, ISBN 978-0-575-08141-3


I loved The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss debut, so when the postman lugged it's gargantuan sequel, The Wise Man's Fear, up the path and dropped it - literally - onto my doorstep my first reaction was a little whoop of joy as I had been waiting for this a long time.

The story picks up exactly where it left off, Kvothe, under the assumed name of Kote, is running an inn with Bast, a friend and one of the Fae. Kvothe is hiding in plain sight, though what from and why we are yet to discover. In the aftermath of an attack by a creature from the Mael that killed Old Man Shep, they both realise that things are about to change, and not for the better. Meanwhile Kote/Kvothe continues to dictate his memoir to the Chronicler so that his story may be told directly, rather than through hearsay and conjecture, myth and tall tales.

Kvothe's story carries on at the University, bringing to a head his long-running feud with nobleman, Ambrose. Following this incident, he is advised to skip a term or two and travel till things die down, thus he pitches up at the court of Maer Alveron of Vintas, looking for possible patronage. After steering a course through the complex political waters of the Maer's court, Kvothe is soon travelling along uncharted roads with a rag-tag team of mercenaries to stay the hand of bandits that are stealing the Maer's taxes. That done he spends time with the Adem, learning their ways and language, rescues some abductees from slavery and returns to Vintas. But despite his successes, he falls foul of the Maer's new wife and, cast out, ends up back at the University albeit with the patronage he sought.

The Name of the Wind  was as good a debut as I've ever read but The Wise Man's Fear is better in every way. Kvothe has always been a fully rounded and complex central character while other folk sometimes got short shrift but this time all of the characters are nicely drawn and it makes for far better reading. Rothfuss worldbuilding has been accused of being lightweight but I've never subscribed to that point of view. Book one was about a small boy who's world view isn't much bigger than what he can see so why would he know anything about the larger world. Here however, we have a young man who is indecently well-read, learned and more confident, thus we get more detail and more variety in everything he tells us. Even as he travels we discover his world as he discovers it which feels much more real than a teenager who suddenly knows everything of the planet he lives on.

Which raises an important point. At the beginning he is a boy. A teenage boy yes, a precocious and clever boy for sure, but for all that, still a boy. This book marks his passage toward becoming a man and it does that in the two most obvious ways for a fantasy novel. With violence, both magical and non, he learns the value of life, the feeling of ending it and how to make the right choice, but more importantly a decision to be judge, jury and executioner in a way he never has before will colour his personality from now on. He also, not to put too fine a point on it, gets laid...and how! An encounter with fae goddess Felurian sees him divest himself of his virginity and when he finally takes his leave he carries himself in a much more assured manner.

So to the flaws, or really, flaw. At 1,000 pages it's a big ask, but it is so good you'll not regret a page of it, even if you need the number of a good chiropractor after carrying it around for a fortnight. Joking aside though it's too long and there is filler. Almost every scene starts earlier than it needs to and ends later than it should which is okay from time to time and in a novel not the worst crime you can commit, but you could easily cut 150 pages and lose nothing of the central story. The encounter with Felurian in particular is twice the page count it needs to be and, beyond the sex, it does little to move the story forward so, while nicely written, it is a 'Tom Bombadil' moment as far as I' am concerned. As for the rest there are still big questions left unanswered. The mystery of the Chandrian remains largely untouched and although there are mentions I didn't feel we were any closer to resolution, the worry being that it may all be wrapped up too quickly in book three. Also, Kvothe and Denna spend the pages dancing around each other again and I can't believe that any boy - let alone a teenager - would put up with her crap for that long.

But there is so much here to enjoy that to say there is too much seems churlish. The language is rich and vibrant, descriptive without resorting to purple prose and occasionally sheer poety - at some points literally - as he and Denna rhyme conversations with each other while they flirt and tease. The joy that Rothfuss must have experienced in the writing is obvious on every page but there are also moments when Kvothe's words hit much deeper truths, about love, about life and about the search for meaning in both that demonstrate wisdom beyond his tender years.

In every way The Wise Man's Fear is another major triumph and Rothfuss has proved that he is without doubt one of the finest fantasy writers currently gracing the genre.

Robert Grant

A full version of this review can be found at SCI-FI-LONDON.

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