Jul 1, 2011

Book Review–The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

The Wise Man's Fear UK The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss is his second novel and sequel to The Name of the Wind, released in 2007.  A third book, The Doors of Stone (working title) is projected to finish off the series.
I haven't read The Name of the Wind but The Wise Man’s Fear's execution does not necessitate any reading of the first book to enjoy it as a single work. After having read it though, I certainly want to get a copy of the first book and the last when it’s released.

The Story
The Wise Man’s Fear is a continuation of the story of Kvothe a warrior, musician and wizard.  It’s autobiographical, a tale told mostly in the first person by Kvothe- a recording of his adventures as he saw them, not as the legendary figure he is known as.  It is then a series of adventures, strung together by Kvothe’s participation in them. It reveals a complex and varied fantasy world with enormous depth.  There are various side adventures that help build the character of Kvothe in the reader’s mind and there’s a grand story of mythic proportions that simmers just below the surface of the narrative.  Who are the Amyr ?  Who are the mystical Chandrian? We are presented with two Kvothes, the one in the present who is less than impressive, that seems to have lost some of the power and prowess described in his own retelling of the Kvothe of song and legend.

A note on structure
The story is split into two time frames, the present is presented in the third person, where Kvothe is telling a story of his deeds to a character called The Chronicler.   These short snippets(5 to 10 pages each) of third person narrative are dispersed throughout novel breaking up the main text, which is Kvothe telling his story in the first person.
This structure works well, at close to a 1000 words, even Rothfuss' talented use of first person point of view needs a change in pace and perspective to keep the work fresh.

Harry Potter Goes to College
One of the first thoughts that occurred when reading The Wise Man’s Fear, especially the early part of the novel, was that it had a “Harry Potter goes to College”  feel to it.  By which I mean, it captures a wizardly university atmosphere in the same way the the Harry Potter books evoked the atmosphere of English boarding schools. It’s no surprise  to note that Orson Scott Card has likened it to a darker, adult Harry Potter. For older readers of fantasy, I am reminded of elements of the Earthsea novels by LeGuin.

A literary Magpie
Rothfuss has described himself as a literary Magpie and while the book is original in craft and execution their are references or subtle hat tips to predecessors, for example a quaint love poem spoken by one of the characters uses a (Anglo Saxon I think) poetic form employed by Tolkien.  Though The Wise Man’s Fear samples from the genre its not merely a reimagining or a repackaging.  I think that Rothfuss is actually doing something quite subversive.  There are two tales told; one is what’s occurring in the present the other the heroic backstory to Kvothe. By the end of the book I am not sure if I quite believe the image that Kvothe has put forward in his tale to the Chronicler.  The parts of the book set in the present show Kvothe as less than impressive -compared to his image at least.  This is not your ordinary heroic fantasy, there’s elements of course in Kvothe’s retelling, but I get the feeling that Rothfuss is heading in a different direction- a more honest deconstruction of the hero perhaps.

Final thoughts
Briefly – Buy it and the The Name of the Wind as well.
This book read like it was half the size, a testament to Rothfuss skill in presenting 900 or so pages of first person narrative. Though we know as readers that Kvothe can’t die (at least until the end of the series) Rothfuss manages to constantly have important things at stake, whether it’s people that are close to Kvothe, or his possessions.  Rothfuss has crafted a character who’s life and aspirations are important to the reader – I felt pangs of anxiety when his loot was ‘stolen’ or when he was helpless to render assistance to Denna.
I am in awe of Rothfuss ability to render the playing of a musical instrument as an action scene.  The bard, often a staple of fantasy, rarely gets in the spotlight for his raison d'être – Rothfuss puts it front and centre.
It’s a rare, original fantasy of epic proportions.

Publisher: Gollanz
ISBN 9780575081420
RRP $32.99
Format Paperback
Australian Release March 2011
Page length 994

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This book is a review copy provided at no cost to myself by Hachette publishing.


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