Thoughts on Patrick Rothfuss's The Wise Man's Fear
I adored Patrick Rothfuss’s debut novelThe Name of the Wind. It was a wonderful, entertaining first volume (of a planned trilogy) of a boy’s quest to acquire a suite of skills, talents and knowledge, increasing his power to the point where he can avenge the slaughter of his family at the hands of an evil mythical being, growing his own legend in the process. The book felt much shorter than its six-hundred-plus page length due to Rothfuss’s superb storytelling. I was excited to read the sequel.
The Wise Man’s Fear, topping out a nearly one thousand pages, is just too long. While the first novel felt tightly crafted, the sequel seems to meander at times, settle too long in one place at other times. While the transition from one location to another was supported with believable narrative reasons in the first novel, protagonist Kvothe’s reasons for traveling in The Wise Man’s Fear do not feel like an organic part of the story. They are more like cheats used by the author to get from point A to point B so he can get on with the next part of the story.
A portion near the middle of the novel dragged the story nearly to a halt and had I not already been invested in the story, I might have stopped reading. I am no prude, but the entire section deals with Kvothe growing his sexual prowess through a lengthy series of training sessions with a literal sex goddess. As the character is only sixteen years old, this section of the story comes off as teenaged boy fantasy and I was unable to take it seriously. By the time I struggled through this scene, I could have sworn it was a couple hundred pages long. After finishing the novel, I located that section again and was shocked to discover that it was a mere sixty pages. Even after finishing the book, I do not feel there is a good purpose for putting a sixteen year old kid in a sex scene. I understand that Kvothe’s talents between the sheets are a part of his legend, but to have him acquire this particular skillset in the manner in which he did just did not sit well with me, especially given his age.
Another gripe I have is Kvothe’s repeated and coincidental reunions with a particular supporting character. No matter the time of day or place in the world, the two seem to find each other just when it is most convenient. The first time or two it happened did not bother me, but when the characters repeatedly separate, independently travel hundreds or thousands of miles to different places in the world and still happen to end up at the same place for no reason, I find it just too unbelievable. It happens multiple times and I uttered an audible "ugh" the last time.
Despite these problems, I think Patrick Rothfuss spins a great yarn. This second volume could have benefited from some additional edits, but the story he tells is engaging. I like Kvothe. He is witty, intelligent, and determined. His smart mouth and arrogance get him into a lot of trouble and sometimes he gets out of it, but usually he suffers painful consequences. I am not sure I can trust him and I do not know if this story he is telling us is the truth or more legend of his own fabrication. A handful of times during the first and second volumes of this Kingkiller Chronicle, Kvothe claims to be the source of embellishments designed to expand his reputation. He says things like, “There are many versions of this story, but I like this one best.” These statements establish Kvothe as an unreliable narrator, adding a layer of intrigue to the story that draws me in. I want to know how he ends up being the Kingkiller referenced in the series title or if he is even the true Kingkiller at all. I enjoy following Kvothe on his journey, watching his skills and talents evolve, watching his legend grow.
While I had some narrative problems with The Wise Man’s Fear, I still enjoyed the story and look forward to reading the final volume of the trilogy.