If, like me, you were so impressed with The Name of the Wind that you neglected all but the most pressing business until you turned the final page, you may have decided to give it a quick re-read in anticipation of the sequel. If you did, you probably spotted this quote in Chapter 43:
There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.
After a long but worthwhile wait, we now have the second novel in The Kingkiller Chronicle, and its title refers directly back to the quote: The Wise Man’s Fear. (And by the way, if you didn’t feel like rereading book one, Patrick Rothfuss posted a wonderful web comic recap on his blog).
Saying that the level of anticipation for The Wise Man’s Fear was high is an understatement, especially given that The Name of the Wind was only Patrick Rothfuss’ debut. It’s not as if this is the concluding volume of a long multi-volume saga, decades in the making. The Name of the Wind struck such a powerful chord with many readers that, before long, messages started popping up left and right, complaining that things were taking too long and couldn’t he write a bit more quickly?
Well, merciful Tehlu be praised, Patrick Rothfuss took his time, polishing and refining his manuscript until it stood up to his own standards. The result is The Wise Man’s Fear, a novel that for the most part fulfills the promise of The Name of the Wind. You’ll find the same sweeping prose, deft characterization, rousing adventure, emotional highs and lows, and just plain and simple gripping reading of the “I couldn’t put this book down even if my house caught fire around me” variety.
Also, there’s much more of it, in terms of sheer length. Weighing in at about 1,000 pages, The Wise Man’s Fear is a heftier tale with a much broader scope. Where most of The Name of the Wind was set in and around the University, the sequel starts off there but soon has Kvothe venturing out into the world. As a result, some of the blank spaces on the map start to get filled in, giving this fantasy world a welcome new level of depth. Make no mistake, Kvothe is still front and center, but the details of the world’s geography are starting to come into focus, as well as its history, with the central mystery still being the exact nature of the Chandrian and the Amyr.
And Kvothe… is still Kvothe. One of the most memorable characters to appear in fantasy in the last decade, he again carries the tale easily. Let’s not forget that The Name of the Wind’s blurb, as well as the title of the series, seemed to spell out several major plot points: anyone who read the back cover of The Name of the Wind knew the edited highlights of Kvothe’s life even before opening the book. How often do you see that, and even if you did, how often did it actually succeed?
Here, Patrick Rothfuss makes it work purely on the strength of his main character. Kvothe, telling his own story to the patient Chronicler, has so much sheer panache that his personality has the same effect as a minor tsunami on the people around him. In some ways, he’s like a taller, more musically gifted version of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan. Sure, when he describes a noble as being as “self-centered as a gyroscope”, you can’t help but think that this could easily apply to him too, but his charm, brilliance and inexorable forward momentum easily make up for it.
Then — next brilliant trick — to forestall those readers who might get annoyed at an impossibly brilliant and already semi-legendary character, the framing story shows us a much different present-day Kvothe, now going by the name Kote, who seems to be a shadow of his former self: a small town innkeeper with the lowest of profiles and the gentlest demeanour. The fact that we still don’t know exactly how we got from Kvothe the high-flying warrior-arcanist-singer to Kote the soft-spoken innkeeper creates the tension that makes these novels so powerful. Evil is abroad, war is coming, and Kvothe, so different from how he describes himself in his story, hints that he is somehow responsible — and, to top it all, we still don’t know exactly how and why. Maybe most disturbing (or exciting, depending on your perspective and amount of patience): if Kvothe is recounting his past to Chronicler in three days, does that mean that the real conclusion of the story, describing the current and future state of the world, will only follow in books 4, 5, 6… ?
Regardless, The Wise Man’s Fear is another excellent novel. Just getting to read more about the young, brilliant Kvothe at the University is a pleasure, although it did feel as if the first few hundred pages of this novel moved a bit more slowly and actually could have been part of the first book, with Kvothe’s eventual departure making a perfect starting point for the sequel. Then again, we know this is meant to be one long tale split across three days of narration by present-day Kvothe to Chronicler, so it makes sense to think of these books as one big story with somewhat arbitrary cut-off points. (And oh, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to mention that the ending of this novel is once again of the somewhat anti-climactic “and then they all went to sleep to continue the story the next day” variety.)
Patrick Rothfuss’s prose is still a pleasure to read. He does high comedy as expertly as heart-breaking tragedy. He occasionally throws out a sentence that’s so perfectly on point, it’s not hard to see why his book-signing events draw such huge crowds:
Hespe’s mouth went firm. She didn’t scowl exactly, but it looked like she was getting all the pieces of a scowl together in one place, just in case she needed them in a hurry.
If the plotting is sometimes a bit transparent, with the timing and sequence of some events being so convenient that it flirts with improbability, it’s all easy to forgive because — and this is really all that matters, in the end — The Wise Man’s Fear is more sheer fun to read than most fantasy novels I’ve read since — well, since The Name of the Wind, come to think of it. Plus, we finally get to read the bit about Felurian…
If you’re looking for solid, character-driven, consistently entertaining but occasionally quite dark fantasy that has more heart than several other series combined, you couldn’t do much better than Patrick Rothfuss’ KINGKILLER CHRONICLE. And now the long wait begins for book 3…