Dec 09 2013
A few weeks ago, I spent a long while reading The Wise Man’s Fear, the second book in Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles series with the third and final installment to follow at some point in the future. The book was enormous, and though I’m not sure how many pages it was, if a normal book is 6,000 “units” on my Kindle, this one was 21,000. That’s likely well over a thousand pages and by the end I was so exhausted from the lengthy read, I forgot to even write about it.
But it’s a memorable series and book, and it hasn’t faded from my mind in the days and weeks since. So I figured I’d talk about my thoughts as it’s a series many love, or should love, if they haven’t started it yet.
To briefly recap the also-lengthy Name of the Wind, we’re focused on Kvothe, a former master sorcerer/warrior/legendary hero who now runs a quiet inn, disguised in plain sight after an unmentioned calamity that stripped him of his powers and sense of purpose. A Chronicler stops by his place and his Fae friend Bast convinces him to tell his life’s story to separate truth from legend.
Most of the first book revolves around learning of Kvothe’s upbringing in a traveling theater troupe. Unfortunately, his parents are eventually slaughtered by the mysterious Chandrain, a group of evil beings most only regard as a fairy tale. Kvothe becomes feral, lives in the woods then on the streets, and eventually manages to work his way into the Arcanum, “wizard school” to put it more plainly. We spend most of the first book there, with Kvothe making friends and enemies and forever fixed on a singular, out-of-reach girl, Deanna.
This next book finally takes us outside the confines of the University. While I thought the first installment was good, it did tend to get bogged down when it came to the everyday life of the university, constantly obsessed with how much coin Kvothe had in his pocket. The biggest threat wasn’t the Chandrain, it was if Kvothe could find the cash to pay for tuition that semester.
Though Wise Man’s Fear does deal with some of these same issues as it opens, the Arcanum is mostly left behind as it’s advised Kvothe takes a semester or two off because of all the mayhem he’s caused at school.
The opening of the book is perhaps its weakest aspect, where Kvothe stays at length in the service of a powerful Maer, a man who hires him to win the hand of his lady love through letters and song. There’s some interesting political intrigue here and I suspect that Maer will prove relevant eventually. The entire book ends with Kvothe returning to him after a series of adventures, learning that the man is also interesting in the mysterious group the Amyr, which Kvothe is trying to track down to help his search for the Chandrain. But immediately Kvothe is cast out of his good graces for a particular offense, and that door is slammed shut. The entire section seems like something of a waste, and only a means to spark the more interesting adventures that make up the middle of the book.
The Maer tasks Kvothe with hunting down a group of bandits by leading a team of mercenaries to traipse around the forest. It’s an especially difficult task given that Kvothe is still barely 15 or 16 in the book, and it seems like this entire series is going to take place during his teenage years alone, as they cram a ton of events into a relatively short span of his life.
There’s a rather cool, rare action sequence when the bandit camp is discovered, and Kvothe calls down lightning from the sky to kill most of the camp while his mercenaries clean up the rest. It’s revealed that the leader of the bandit was somehow one of the Chandrain, but he disappears before he’s actually killed.
I often said in the first book that was weird the way Kvothe shied away from sex. He’s presented as constantly finding gorgeous girls throwing themselves at him, but never taking advantage. He may only have eyes for Deanna, but never, ever makes anything resembling a move on her as well.
But this wasn’t meant to last, it seems. After the bandit’s defeat, Kvothe stumbles upon the naked nymph Felurian, a Fae temptress who literally screws men to death in the Fae realm after they chase her there. It’s here we learn that Kvothe isn’t asexual after all. He loses his virginity to the sex demon, and fends off her attempt to kill him with powerful magic of his own. He spends an indeterminate amount of time in the Fae learning the ways of love from the creature who knows them better than any other,. After their initial scuffle, the non-stop sex-fest that’s kind of hilarious given how reserved the book had been about the subject previously, and it really surprised me.
Outside of the sex, the Fae is one of the more interesting parts of the whole book. Until now, as Kvothe acknowledges, the growing legends surrounding him have been exaggerations of relatively mundane events. Using a bit of magic to kill robbers turns into him being some sort of godly sorcerer as whispers spread. Things like that. But here, with his entry into the Fae, bedding and essentially taming Felurian, he literally did something legendary, no tall tale required.
The most important part of his journey into the Fae is his interaction with the Cthaeh, a tree spirit who tells him all manner of things to drive him mad, like how Deanna is being abused by her patron. It’s only later that he realizes the Cthaeh is supposed to be the greatest evil in existence, warping destiny into horror and tragedy. Telling a prince that a maiden loves him might spark a bloody war between their two families that kills thousands and plunges the kingdom into darkness. Whatever he told Kvothe is supposed to have now changed the course of the world forever in strange and terrible ways, as all Kvothe’s actions now are touched by the Cthaeh. As the story was constantly pursuing the Chandrain, it was an interesting switch to be introduced to this new and possibly more powerful evil, the full extent of which remains unclear .
My favorite part of the book came near the end, however, as Kvothe accompanies one of his Adem mercenaries back to his hometown. It’s a forbidden place to outsiders, generally speaking, and his mercenary friend is in trouble for teaching him the way of the “lethani,” the guiding force that allows the Adem to live their lives in the service of some greater good.
While I have my problems with Rothfuss’ pacing and structure, he is incredibly at world building, and here, society building. Ademre is a fascinating village, and as we and Kvothe slowly learn the ways of the Adem, it’s the best portion of the series I’ve read so far. The Adem are some strange combination of samurai and monks. Though they seem quiet and twitchy, they have their own way of communicating that involves few words and mostly gestures. It’s their hands that indicate emotion, not their faces, and like Rothfuss’ binding and naming magic system, it’s fascinating to learn as a reader. The same goes for their fighting style, which Kvothe is eventually taught. It’s how he begins his journey to “warrior poet” rather than just “poet.” Though I suppose “warrior bard” is the better term.
The Adem section is far and away the best in the entire series, and it’s good it’s nearly the closing note of the book. But as I said, I do wish that Rothfuss knew how to move his central plot forward a little faster. Even after 2,000 odd pages, we barely seem any closer to the Chandrain than when we started. We learn their names and their signs, but nothing else throughout the course of the book. Kvothe’s relationship with Deanna remains static. Despite his newfound sexuality they remain “just friends” and it’s becoming clear that if he ever actually pursues her, she’ll probably just run away, forever a tease. She comes off like that girl who’s your best friend and you’re secretly obsessed with. But your head is clouded with infatuation and all your friends realize she’s kind of a flighty bitch who’s just stringing you along and using you. I suspect there’s more to her character than meets the eye, and the same goes for her mystery patron, but we’re given no hints for either yet.
What’s clear is that the third book will contain some large catastrophic event that will turn Kvothe into a legend, and then subsequently into the nobody we see tending the inn and narrating this story. The book ends on a sad note when it’s revealed that Kvothe’s friend Bast tried to hire a band of thugs to rob and beat him, in the hopes that some of his former power may surface once again. Kvothe gets his ass kicked, and it becomes apparent that whatever’s broken inside him can’t be fixed yet.
There are still so, so many mysteries flying around this series, and Wise Man’s Fear barely answered any of the existing ones. Overall I did prefer it to the first book, as it was less frozen in one place and took us all over the map for a variety of thrilling and fascinating experiences. It’s a series really unlike anything I’ve ever read in the genre, and I can understand why it’s a new era classic. It may be frustrating at times, but overall it’s a fantastic read and I can’t wait for what’s assuredly going to be an explosive third book that I wouldn’t be surprised if it clocked in at 2,500 pages, the way things are going now.
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