Book Review of The Wise Man's Fear
The Wise Man's Fear, The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day Two is New York Times bestselling author Patrick Rothfuss' second published novel and the second in a trilogy. The book came out earlier this year and has received positive reviews by Publishers Weekly, and critically-acclaimed authors such as Terry Brooks and Ursula K. Le Guin.
First Things First... Maybe
The Wise Man's Fear is not told in a linear fashion. Kvothe, the protagonist, is telling his life's story to Devan Lochees aka The Chronicler in his present time, and so narration shifts from third person of what is presently happening to Kvothe narrating in first person about his life. If your choice of reading is a cut and dry linear timeline this might be annoying to you. Everything is done with a purpose, however, and so you never wonder why all the back and forth is necessary. Nothing seems too flashback-like either as the major plot of The Wise Man's Fear is Kvothe telling his story of how he came to be a living legend in his fantastical world. The time shifts to the present are necessary interludes because the question what Kvothe's fate will be is what we the readers, the characters involved with Kvothe, and Kvothe himself want answered and will be answered in the last installment of the trilogy.
The Plot Over-Simplified
The story begins where the first novel left off. As I haven't read the first novel, The Name of the Wind, I had no foreknowledge of what had happened or who was who and why they are in the story at all. However, we are subtly given all the information we need to know without the annoying interruption of a character having to give a detailed description of it all. The world in The Wise Man's Fear is much like that of an 18th century Europe. There are unique and individual lands ruled by nobility, social castes that are almost impossible to escape, and no technology that involves electricity. Legend and superstition are widespread but some magic is indeed real. The University is the school where a person may learn magic such as sygaldry and alchemy. Magic doesn't seem to be an innate talent exactly. It's more like a skill that has to be learned and cultivated for most, immortal supernaturals being the exception. The University is not like Harry Potter's Hogwarts, though; the school is much like any college set in a college town. Students still have to worry about where they're going to live, how they're going to pay tuition, and frienemies who might try to kill you magically from afar using your blood. That last one totally happened to me when I was in college on more than one occasion.
At that beginning of his narration, Kvothe is a student at the University and a prodigy in a few ways. He is fifteen and is much younger than the typical student admitted into the University. He is an orphan of travelling performers called the Edema Ruh, who are not understood and therefore shunned by society at large. These people are very reminiscent of Romani people with their travelling lifestyle, close nit community, and hardships with society. Kvothe's entire clan has been killed by a group of seven called the Chandrian, who most believe to be myth. Kvothe obviously has a few things he not only has to overcome but keep on the down-low. He cannot be open about his age, his roots, or even about the murder of his family for fear of negative repercussions. He's a trooper though (that's my attempt at a pun) and makes amazing feats using his cunning nature and talents that inevitably add up to him becoming a living legend. To tell you much more would give away too much, but with 933 pages, you can bet Kvothe goes through a lot that's worth talking about. His battles are hard worn (or lost). He's got friends, ambiguous acquaintances and enemies of all calibers that help the plot along and give us many ways of seeing Kvothe and his world. Even though this is a fantasy novel, magic is really but one element of the story. The real magic of The Wise Man's Fear is how Rothfuss makes a subtly elegant point of telling us the power of our minds and of words. Though literally knowing someone's "true name" might not have magical power in our world like in Kvothe's, in both worlds words are powerful things. Stories travel like the wind and take on a life of their own, often leaving important truths in the dust. Opinion's about a person's character or culture can make life more difficult or easy. Defining something by what's on the surface and not knowing its truth, its "true name" if you will, can lead a person blindly into the wind.
Opinions on Kvothe
I've heard some people say that he isn't believable because even though he has all these detriments, Kvothe hardly ever seems irreconcilably lost since he is so smart, magically gifted, and blessed with looks that an immortal being would essentially make him her sex slave. (Now you're going to read this book, aren't you?) While he does have all that going for him I never found him lacking in believability. Kvothe has been both victimized and awarded by fate. If he wasn't nearly as smart as he is, he would just be a doormat to everything bad that happens to him, and that's a lot of bad. There wouldn't be a story to tell if he wasn't overcoming anything, and with all that is against him, the only real way for him to succeed at anything is to be smart. Luck definitely does seem to help a bit, but without the drive to be as knowledgeable as he can he'd just be dead. So, he has amazing flame-red hair and emerald-green eyes, a fast metabolism and arcane knowledge. The least one can say is that he's got morals, he didn't buy his good looks and he doesn't even use them to his advantage for the most part. If anything the unusual red hair makes him noticed by the wrong people, usually when he's done something good for somebody else. He certainly goes about doing the right thing in a not-so-right way often, though.
I definitely recommend The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. It's a dynamic novel well made. My one complaint of significance is that the editing could have been a tad cleaner but nothing was unforgivable. I only hope that all questions I have will be answered in the last installment, The Doors of Stone, which is still being written by Rothfuss. If you look on the web, many people who love "The Kingkiller Chronicle" trilogy are of the same people who love George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series. Being that I am a fan of both series, I feel comfortable saying that if you love one, you will most likely love the other though I am not saying they are much alike. They are more like 2nd cousins, once removed -- related by Great Grandaddy Fantasy but not directly so.
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