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The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
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Book Name: The Wise Man’s Fear
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Publisher(s): DAW (US) Gollancz (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: March 1, 2011

This review contains spoilers! Please read with caution if you have yet to finish The Wise Man’s Fear.

When readers have been waiting more than a year for a sequel to one of their favourite books patience becomes shorter and expectations become higher. So it’s always satisfying when the book finally arrives it also happens to be huge, it makes us feel the writer was making the most of the time and our wait has been rewarded. Then it’s all a question of whether the content itself is worth the wait. Now credit must first be given to Rothfuss for consistency as it really feels like no time has passed; it’s only been an evening in the overall narrative. You could easily put the two books together and the transition would be seamless. The only trouble with this, and when it comes to reviewing a book this size, is so much happens I found myself losing track of what happened in which book.

One of the first real highlights of the book is the narrative surrounding Ambrose and his use of voodoo against Kvothe. It is so gripping, especially when you don’t know the source of all the horrible things happening to our hero. One of the initial suspects is Devi, which you could easily believe; this leads to intriguing scenes where you hear all the rumours surrounding Devi which make her an even more interesting character.

Another fascinating character is Auri, every scene with her is lovely and magical; she is a definite favourite of mine. I even find myself wishing Kvothe could love her rather than Denna. Kvothe’s relationship with Denna does develop somewhat but not in a positive way. Denna is still as complicated as ever and, aside from the scene where it is pretty much stated she’s a whore, little ground is covered concerning her. There is a lot of mystery surrounding her patron, who I personally believe is a member of the Chandrian. These scenes takes us to a very dark place when it becomes clear that her patron is abusing her. This also resulted in one of my favourite scenes in which Kvothe goes to confront Denna about her abusive patron, but then Denna highlights the fact that Kvothe has been physically abused by the University and you realise the moral line is not so clear.

The topic of Naming is covered in more detail but I found myself frustrated with Kvothe because of his impatience and his ego; Kvothe starts thinking he knows more than Elodin who might be frustrating but he’s also done a lot for Kvothe. As a result it was satisfying to see his ego taken down a peg by Fela becoming a Namer first and also his realisation that Elodin has been trying to teach him all along. Another aspect of Kvothe that tried my patience was his taunting of Ambrose; it gets to the stage where he’s bringing it on himself. Yes, we despise Ambrose but Kvothe makes the situation worse which I found dulled my sympathy somewhat.

A considerable portion of the book is the storyline with the Maer and the bandits; it was certainly interesting to see a different culture and the poisoning episode was full of suspense. However, it sounded like so much excitement and horror happened on Kvothe’s journey to the Maer but this was just skimmed and instead we were given detailed accounts of Kvothe and the mercenaries being bored in camp which left me bored as well. I appreciate one of the overarching themes of the series is stories and the telling of stories but it all just seemed unnecessary.

This brings me to the issue of Felurian; now I’m not morally against this section of the narrative as it is a classic theme, one of the most memorable being A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, but I just couldn’t take it seriously. Everyone I told about this section of the book had the same reaction, “Was it written by a man?” in a knowing tone. If it were a woman being ‘sexed’ to death by a man or going mad with desire it suddenly takes on very different connotations.

My real issue with Felurian is Rothfuss has spent all this time creating this great love story surrounding Denna but then Kvothe doesn’t even spare her a thought when he’s with Felurian. Furthermore, he then goes on to have sex with every woman who asks; that doesn’t say great love story to me. Fair enough he’s a young man with needs but it just seemed counterproductive to the love story. It reminded me very much of Harry Potter: The Order of the Phoenix in which the author suddenly realises their character is a teenager so they feel compelled to give them hormones. Harry became angry, Kvothe became horny. This is why I particularly I enjoyed the scene with the Cthaeh, it says exactly what I was thinking, reminding Kvothe of the feelings he’s conveniently forgotten.

My particular highlight was the section with Adem, for those who think Kvothe is a flat character who is good at everything they will appreciate getting to see Kvothe struggling with something. It was also refreshing to have a new element, until that point the focus had been very much on magic so it was good to see the other popular aspect of fantasy i.e. swords and fighting. I also greatly appreciated the number of strong female characters; it was great to see a fighting society where the prominent figures are women.

My main concern with The Wise Man’s Fear is the pace. The Name of the Wind took its time and so does this one which would be fine and enjoyable if this was a seven book series but there is apparently only one book left and Rothfuss still has so much to do. As a result I found myself becoming less patient with the rambling and seemingly unnecessary scenes. Although something I did notice was the amount of scenes where you see Kvothe creating and manipulating his legend around events that aren’t as impressive as the stories they produce. This has left me wondering whether or not Kvothe is as sublime as we hope and if it’s more legend than fact. This is not to be interpreted as a criticism it would certainly be intriguing and a brave step for Rothfuss. Anti-heroes and reluctant heroes are far more popular in recent fantasy so perhaps Kvothe not being all he seems is exactly what the readers want most; this remains to be seen.

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Rating: 8.9/10 (12 votes cast)
The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, 8.9 out of 10 based on 12 ratings
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5 Comments

  1. Christopher Keene says:

    The entire time I was reading this review I just had one sentence in my mind. “But that was the point!”

    Still obsessing over Denna even after he’d had sex with Felurian showed that there was more to his obsession with her than just sexual attraction. It was showing you how his stories were exaggerated because it was a ‘behind the scenes’ story of how these sublime legends about him were created and exaggerated.

    And pacing… look at the size of the thing, he could barely have made it bigger and not split the thing. It was no wonder he couldn’t fit the full story of his rough sea voyage to Severen into it, though it would have been nice to get a little more detail on that particular part of the story and maybe another conversation with Tempi would have been nice…. ah now I’m nit picking!

  2. Rosalia says:

    I completely agree with the Felurian criticism – for me it’s the weakest part of the series so far.

    The best way to think of why it’s wrong is to reverse the genders: would it be funny and dreamy if it was a man attempting to sex a woman to death? No, it would be horrific. I don’t think the true horror of being sexed to death/insanity by a CREATURE was properly explored or ever reflected on by Kvothe. For me, Felurian should have been alluring in a horrific way. We should have desperately wanted Kvothe to escape.

    ..

    BUT the series is still AMAZING!!!!

  3. I haven’t read this series before but it sounds really good. I’ll have to give it a try.

  4. Tim says:

    Lol, yes Ferullian was fan service. I guess on an artistic level it did bother me because it slowed everything down. Also, good catch with the gender reverse. Plots, characters, become very interesting when you do a gender flip.

    You know he does something quite interesting with the Adam. Do you know a scene where an old/overweight man is a bad-ass? You feel admiration and a sense of ‘he’s still got it’. I think he did a reversed gender of that scene with the leader of the Adam. Do you know the one who dodged him all the time? Whether it worked or not is another story, but, still, a very impressive gender flip of a well known trope.

  5. KJ, thanks for the review. I enjoyed the second book, but some of the wonder was lost for me — I wasn’t as hungry to understand Kvothe. Maybe some of the less than sympathetic things he did in book 2 caused that loss. In reading your bio — I hope you’ve discovered Earthsea by Le Guin as well. I suspect you’d like those novels. For me, fantasy is about wonder despite loss — how something else might be going on here. I’ve always suspected the wiser the writer, the greater the impact. Of course, what that might say about my own writing…uh oh! ;->

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