A Wise Man’s Fear – Patrick Rothfuss
So, I just finished book 2 of Rothfuss’ trilogy – A Wise Man’s Fear (3rd has not yet been released). It’s 30% bigger than the first at 993 pages (vs 672); and at 43 hours and 18 minutes of listening, it took better than a month to ‘read’ on my commute. So, was it worth it? Well…sort of. I’ll quote the best description I saw of it on Amazon. “It’s kind of a mess. An engrossing, brilliant, hot and swanky mess, but a mess just the same.”
Book 2 continues the story of Kvothe – a young man enrolled in an university dedicated to arcane arts such as sympathy (magic), crafting of magical items, etc. However, in this installment, he ventures out into the world. He journeys to the court of the uber-rich Maer Alveron (line of Vintish kings), he journeys to the Fea world, visits the Adem and has many other adventures. It’s quite a ride.
Well written and has engrossing and really imaginative bits. The battle Kvothe has with the bandits has to be one of the most fantastic tellings of how a D&D style magician would do battle. Honestly, it’s worth the read alone despite being bloody and dark. Some of the court adventures in Severen are quite entertaining and original. You’ll read the whole thing, and should well enjoy it.
The bad :
It is simply not the best storytelling at times. While Rothfuss is a good writer, the story takes some jarring jumps and is beginning to put pants on Kvothe I’m not sure he could/should be wearing. He spends too much time on some boring parts and far too little on the really important parts. For example, after a drudgery of pages about a search for bandits, there is an amazing battle scene. In like 2 more pages they then run into a mythical fae creature and he quite literally runs off to 50 pages of sex-romp in the fairy world only to return and immediately go to Adem for a very different story line. Yet there is very little ‘internal’ growth of Kvothe. The jumps are jarring and it feels almost like Rothfuss is just trying to hit everything on a shopping list as opposed to a really flowing story that shows how Kvothe is evolving. There is also an over-abundance of sex.
Sex by itself doesn’t bother me so much if it’s handled well, but it’s becoming part of a pattern of distasteful….smugness to the writing of our adventurer Kvothe. He is an amazing lover with knowledge of fae lovemaking techniques. He’s a minstrel who’s songs woo queenly maidens. He learns swordplay from the best fighters in the world. The list goes on as Rothfuss tries to take the street kid and make him into the best…everything. It’s honestly getting a bit unbelievable because we never hear Kvothe’s internal workings when he goes from killing a dozen men right into a month-long fae orgy.
At times, I almost hear the author being a nerdy kid imagining what ‘the best’ looks like. Problem is, the ‘best’ in reality doesn’t look like this. True greatness looks more like a Frodo or Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. People with greatness of character often discover that greatness through trial and tribulation by doing the good, beautiful, and right despite challenges to do otherwise. They touch upon great truths via these struggles. Kvothe’s is more like greatness externally draped on a character as a cloak and feels as sterile as a list of things on a resume. It doesn’t really fit when we see nothing of inner growth or struggle in Kvothe to suggest he has the character of greatness or the heroic.
So, would I recommend the book – yes – with conditions. I give it a C+. It’s still got some great storytelling in it, and very imaginative parts. But you’ll have jarring jumps, an author who is kind of throwing in the kitchen sink to build up the resume of a somewhat unbelievable uber-character. I’m honestly not sure what the third book will bring – but I sense it will not end well. I think Rothfuss over-promised a character that is a ‘legend’ and he’s fighting to get that character from the streets to the stuff of legends in too short a time. Unfortunately, he’s doing it by throwing everything in at once instead of a the more believable/organic growth. We want to see the core struggles and relate/learn about becoming ‘great’, but Kvothe has little of this subtlety and what there is of it is a little stilted. So, enjoy the story but expect plenty of flaws.