The Wise Man’s Fear: A heftier tale with a much broader scope

Patrick Rothfuss The Kingkiller Chronicle: 2. The Wise Man's FearThe Wise Man's Fear Patrick Rothfuss book reviewThe Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

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 RothfussKINGKILLER CHRONICLE. And now the long wait begins for book 3…

~Stefan Raets

CLASSIFICATION: There are different types of epic fantasy. There is the kind written by George R. R. Martin, Robert Jordan and Steven Erikson, which feature huge casts of characters, multiple storylines and subplots, epic battles, and world-altering events. Then there is the kind that can be found in the Soldier Son trilogy by Robin Hobb, Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series and The Imager Portfolio by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. This kind of epic fantasy is character-driven, intimate, introspective. The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss is of the latter variety with a little Harry Potter charm thrown into the mix. Regarding The Wise Man’s Fear specifically, there is a surprisingly gratuitous amount of sex in the book — tastefully done though I might add — the occasional curse word, and a few moments of dark violence, but for the most part the novel maintains a PG-13 rating.

FORMAT/INFO: The Wise Man’s Fear is 1008 pages long divided over a Prologue, 147 titled chapters, and an Epilogue. Like The Name of the Wind, The Wise Man’s Fear is a framed story with the framing parts set during the novel’s present day and narrated in the third-person. The story that is framed, which comprises the majority of the novel, is narrated in the first-person via Kvothe. The Wise Man’s Fear is the second volume — or Day Two — in The Kingkiller Chronicle after The Name of the Wind. While The Wise Man’s Fear is a middle volume in a trilogy, the book is structured so it has its own beginning, middle and end. The Kingkiller Chronicle is set to conclude with the tentatively titled, The Doors of Stone.

March 1, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of The Wise Man’s Fear via DAW. The UK version will be published on the same day via Gollancz.

ANALYSIS: To say that The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss is one of the most anticipated novels of the year is a bit of an understatement. Not only is The Wise Man’s Fear the sequel to The Name of the Wind, arguably the most hyped and successful fantasy debut ever, but the unexpectedly long wait between books has increased expectations even further. As readers may or may not remember, when The Name of the Wind was released in 2007, we were led to believe that the already written sequel would be published the following year. Instead, a one-year wait turned into four years. The reasons for the delay have been well-documented, but it basically came down to what was more important: rushing out a product as soon as possible or taking the necessary time to produce the best product possible? Personally, I believe quality is always more important, and after finishing The Wise Man’s Fear, I can confidently say that the decision to delay the book’s release was the correct one.

At the end of the day, despite all of its praise and recognition, The Name of the Wind was far from perfect. The book, after all, was still a debut effort. Still rough around the edges with uneven pacing, one-dimensional supporting characters, and shallow world-building some of the novel’s more notable flaws. So when the two books are compared against each other, it’s easy to see how much Patrick Rothfuss has grown as a writer and how much better The Wise Man’s Fear is than The Name of the Wind. The writing, for instance, is much more polished. The prose is more refined, the pacing is tighter with fewer lulls, and the overall flow of the narrative is smoother, which is especially impressive considering how much bigger the novel is than its predecessor.

Supporting characters remain largely one-dimensional, but this time around Patrick Rothfuss does a better job of injecting his characters, both old and new — Denna, Wilem, Sim, Auri, Master Elodin, Puppet, Maer Alveron, Bredon, Tempi, Felurian, Vashet — with color and personality. This is aided by much improved dialogue, which helps to mask the characters’ lack of depth with entertaining conversation. In fact, dialogue is one of the novel’s greatest strengths, with Kvothe and Denna’s playful banter and Kvothe’s interactions with Auri, Puppet and the Adem some of my favorite moments in The Wise Man’s Fear. On the flipside, the lack of villains in the book, or more specifically a tangible antagonist, is a bit disappointing.

As far as the shallow world-building, little has changed. The Chandrian and the Amyr for example, remain a mystery, although there is a reasonable explanation for that lack of information. The same can’t be said for why the rest of ‘The Four Corners of Civilization’ is largely ignored, but at least Patrick Rothfuss branches out in The Wise Man’s Fear to give readers a taste of the world’s different cultures and races including the Fae; the Kingdom of Vintas with their superstitions, prejudices, and courtly customs and politics; and the Adem with their unique method of communication which includes hand signals, their way of life which follows the Lethani, and their Ketan fighting style. If you also factor in the author’s well-developed magic system — sympathy, sygaldry, naming — with all of its various rules and restrictions, then one can see how Patrick Rothfuss at least possesses the capacity for more detailed world-building.

Perhaps the greatest improvement made between The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear is the story. Looking back, not a lot really happens in The Name of the Wind, at least nothing major, while the novel’s climactic moments involving a herbivorous dragon, Kvothe’s rival student Ambrose and a possessed mercenary left a lot to be desired, especially considering the lengthy page count and the hype that came with the book. To be fair, the story in The Wise Man’s Fear suffers from some of the same issues as its predecessor does, like major plotlines failing to progress and the author spending an extravagant amount of time on Kvothe’s day-to-day minutiae — his studies at the University, his money problems, Ambrose, courting Denna, his love life, et cetera — but as a whole, The Wise Man’s Fear is much more rewarding than The Name of the Wind. Part of it is being able to experience the more dramatic events responsible for shaping the various legends tied to Kvothe. Then there’s the ending, which Patrick Rothfuss handles beautifully, slowly winding down the story to a satisfying stopping point, while tantalizing clues and unfinished business serve as reminders that there is third and final volume in THE KINGKILLER CHRONICLE.

Now if there is one part of The Name of the Wind that needed little fixing, it was Kvothe’s first-person narrative. Charming, heartfelt, and highly accessible, Kvothe’s narrative was a major strength of the first novel, even if the protagonist came off arrogant at times and accomplished things no one his age should be able to accomplish. In The Wise Man’s Fear, Kvothe is still arrogant at times and still accomplishes things that defy his age, but at the same time, the book does a better job of showing off Kovthe’s fallible side including his vanity and his dark temper and his powerful thirst for knowledge. What I personally love about the narrative is the wide range of topics Kvothe covers in intimate detail over the course of his story. In The Wise Man’s Fear, these topics include Kvothe’s music, performing sympathy and sygaldry, working in the Fishery, navigating the Archives, learning how to scout, learning the Ademic language, studying the Ketan, courting Denna and sharing stories like the one about the boy with the gold screw in his belly button, the Faeriniel crossroads, the tale about Aethe and the beginning of the Adem, Felurian, and my personal favorite, the boy who loved the moon. Throughout all of this, Kvothe’s narrative is complemented with witty humor, interesting observations, and thoughtful insights:

  • We love what we love. Reason does not enter into it. In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because. That’s as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect.
  • Secrets of the heart are different. They are private and painful, and we want nothing more than to hide them from the world. They do not swell and press against the mouth. They live in the heart, and the longer they are kept, the heavier they become.
  • It’s the questions we can’t answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think. If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact. But give him a question and he’ll look for his own answers.

While Kvothe’s narrative may have been a strength in The Name of the Wind, the same can’t be said for the framing parts — the Prologue, Epilogue and various Interludes — which in comparison were a bit dull and brought little to the table. Not much has changed for them in The Wise Man’s Fear. The framing parts are still somewhat tedious, while providing few answers about why Kvothe became an innkeeper, his relationship with Bast, and the current state of their world. That said, the mystery regarding Kvothe’s chest is intriguing, while the framing parts do work well as a contrast to how far Kvothe has fallen from the hero he once was and how much stories can differ from the truth.

CONCLUSION: The release of The Wise Man’s Fear may have taken longer than expected, but it was definitely worth the wait. Compared to The Name of the Wind, The Wise Man’s Fear is everything that made the first novel such a huge success except that it is bigger, better and more rewarding. Granted, many of the same flaws that ailed The Name of the Wind can still be found in The Wise Man’s Fear, but considering the vast improvements made to the sequel, these issues are only minor annoyances. To put it simply, anyone who enjoyed The Name of the Wind will be blown away by The Wise Man’s Fear. The book is that much better. Furthermore, there is no doubt in my mind that The Wise Man’s Fear will end up being one of the best fantasy novels of the year. As far as the third and final volume in THE KINGKILLER CHRONICLE, Patrick Rothfuss can take as much time as he needs to finish the book. If The Wise Man’s Fear is any indication, it will be worth waiting for…

~Robert Thompson

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STEFAN RAETS (on FanLit's staff August 2009 — February 2012) reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping. In February 2012, he retired from FanLit to focus on his blog Far Beyond Reality.

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ROBERT THOMPSON (on FanLit's staff July 2009 — October 2011) is the creator and former editor of Fantasy Book Critic, a website dedicated to the promotion of speculative fiction. Before FBC, he worked in the music industry editing Kings of A&R and as an A&R scout for Warner Bros. Besides reading and music, Robert also loves video games, football, and art. He lives in the state of Washington with his wife Annie and their children Zane and Kayla. Robert retired from FanLit in October 2011 after more than 2 years of service. He doesn't do much reviewing anymore, but he still does a little work for us behind the scenes.

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  1. Since you brought up a quote from The Name of the Wind that you’ve applied to The Wise Man’s Fear, I’ll mention another one I noticed during my re-read this week:

    “After a year waiting begins to sour.”


  2. Nice review.

    Like everyone else, I really loved The Name of the Wind, but my problem is; I just usually seem to have an experation date for my interest when it takes longer then a couple years for the next book.

    I had planned to re-read Name of the Wind, in time for the release of this one, but I just couldn’t seem to bring back the excitment enough to do it.
    I have to say though Robert’s and your review does have me wishing I’d have gotten to it. Hopefully I’ll have this worked into my reading schedule within the next 3 or 4 months.

  3. Greg, Aidan Moher told me that you don’t need to re-read. See his post here.

    Robert and Stefan, what do you think?

    • It’s been four long years of waiting, and all I see on his website, is more and more tours. I think he’s totally milking every last penny he can get!!! C’mon, I’ll buy the next book, but that’s it, even george martin, orson scott card, terry goodkind, the greats!!! Never kept us waiting that long. It sucks, and I’ve lost all respect for Pat, and wouldn’t accept anything signed from him. Keep the fans happy!!! That last little teaser book was a joke and to me, totally boring. I’m not a hater, I want another book, or just retire and reap your monthly checks Pat!!!

  4. Is that the same link as what Stefan has in the review? I hadn’t looked it yet but I was going to. Not sure how I’d feel about it over a re-read though.

  5. I don’t think you need to re-read. I think it can be helpful. It’s also enjoyable – I caught some things on my second reading that I’d missed the first time, just because I was so caught up in the story. I’m glad I re-read the first book, but I don’t think it’s strictly necessary. Just fun :)

  6. Yeah. that’s kinda what I was thinking too, that it would just be more fun. Well, I’ve got a few books to read before I decide;
    To re-read or not to re-read. That is the question. :)

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