So I just finished Patrick Rothfuss’s second “Kingkiller Chronicles” novel, Wise Man’s Fear. In general, not quite as good as Name of the Wind, but still a brilliant novel. Rothfuss has a command of the language and ability to paint with words that’s just awe inspiring. I’m not going to be spoilery in this, well, more of a reaction than a full review. But I must be specific in mention how, in Wise Man, there’s a picnic scene near the end that is heartbreakingly beautiful and, and gut wrenchingly tragic. Rothfuss is able to manipulate emotion with words the same way his Kvothe can do it with song. Even the almost-Tom Bombadil-superfluous segment of his adventures in the land of fey is a roller-coaster of drama.
One of the things about Name of the Wind that kept me on the edge of my seat and constantly unsettled (in a good way), is the way he constantly changes the fortunes of his picaresque hero on a dime. One minute Kvothe is doing something so brilliantly, he succeeds at something so skillfully, that I would be shaking my head incredulously if not for being thrilled by the process of success. A success that almost invariable makes me think in some small voice, “Oh, that’s a bit too convenient. He can’t lose, now!” And then, before the thought is fully formed–wham! Kvothe is blindsided by a problem, an issue, a challenge, a loss that is actually worse than the previous success was wonderful, in such a way as to make me gasp and wonder, instead, “Yikes! How the heck is he going to recover from that? That’s really going to cost him.” And then, what follows, is an entirely believable and well-earned overcoming of misfortune.
The one problem I had with Name of the Wind was that the ending felt anti-climactic. But, when you consider, it’s really meant to simply be a first act, it works okay–especially since I was able to carry right on into the next book.
The problem(s) I had with Wise Man’s Fear is that it felt too much like his escapades were unearned, and Marty Stu-ish. Such as the afore-mentioned time in fey with a “lust goddess.”
(Oh, that’s funny. Re-reading that comic’s title, I just realized realized the very connection to the complaint I just made above! Duh! [Larry Stu is another name for Marty Stu, which are both variants of Marry Sue. See trope link.])
And then his excursion into the realm of, yeah, what’s essentially the equivalent of a ninja-factory, and all the fantasy sexinating he does there. (Another tangent: His time there reminded me way too much of the hero Anjin-san’s sexedumacation of the free and lusty way of feudal Japan in James Clavell’s Shogun.) It just didn’t have the same realism of the first book.
But then, what we’re reading in these two books, is the bildungsroman of a man who would become a legend, a subject of fantastic tales. He has to develop as a young man from urchin to world-wise proto-myth. He has to have the adventures and experience to create the mythic figure. And, I said before he doesn’t seem to earn the rather too-good-to-be-true romps, and as I think of it, he does… but doesn’t. *sigh*
Before he enters fey (like, literally stumbles into it from out of nowhere), he has an experience during a fight that is rather horrific. It’s horrific for him, and it’s wonderfully and properly horrific for the reader. On the surface it’s an event that should be worthy of a positive turn for him. A piece of Kvothe’s “soul,” if not his sanity, should have been harmed in that event. But, then, really, it’s not. Rothfuss creates this event, this scene, that should have been extremely formative to Kvothe’s psyche, but it’s dropped almost as soon as it’s over. He does have a very negative event in fey with an enchanted tree (not as silly as it sounds–it’s described quite wonderfully!) that does in fact harm him and he carries the pain through the rest of the book. But, in my opinion, the tree event is a far lesser terror than what happens in the battle, and the lasting reactions and terribly flipped.
…unless, it’s intentional. Unless the the reason why Kvothe is able to shrug off the one and let the other emotionally haunt him, is very telling of the kind of man he becomes. If so, well, it needs to be more apparent in book three.
And, speaking of the man he becomes, this is the last thing that bothers me: The books are the story of Kvothe’s early life wrapped around a frame narrative of the man that he became telling his story. But the man in the “present” is constantly shifting, as if Rothfuss isn’t very solid on who Kvothe is these years later. One minute he feels like he’s in his 50s and has done and seen many great things before essentially retiring, and the next minute, he’s only a couple years older than the character he’s telling the story of. It’s very shaky.
Okay, the criticism aside, Wise Man’s Fear, not as good as Name of the Wind, is still one of the best fantasy books I’ve read. The emotion feels so authentic, the drama is compelling, the dialog is extremely believable, the writing is endlessly skillful yet completely painless to read. The wait for book three has been two days long for me and is already interminable!