Sunday, April 03, 2011
How many authors can write an intricate, carefully paced --almost slow-- story and keep it interesting for almost 2000 pages?
I'm betting not many.
But that's exactly what Patrick Rothfuss has accomplished with his Kingkiller Chronicles. Though I really enjoyed The Name of the Wind when it came out in 2009, I will admit that the prospect of re-reading the almost-700 pages of the first book before then tackling the 1000+ pages of The Wise Man's Fear was a bit daunting. But I did choose to tackle both books because I knew Rothfuss' storytelling skills would very likely make me forget length of the story as I got caught up in the breadth of it. And I was right.
"The Wise Man's Fear" picks up the story of Kvothe. A flame-haired man who has earned the reputation of a legend and the names that go with it: (Kvothe the Arcane; Kvothe the Bloodless...) Kvothe is nonetheless a broken man. We don't know what has brought Kvothe to be the innkeeper of the Waystone Inn other than the need to escape his past; with his newly chosen name of "Kote" meant to disguise his identity.
Like "The Name of the Wind," "The Wise Man's Fear" is a story told in two parts as the elder Kvothe narrates the story of his younger self. While "The Name of the Wind" is primarily set at the University, "The Wise Man's Fear" takes Kvothe on the road.
Much of Kvothe's story at the University in "The Name of the Wind" is defined by his lowly status and inability to get along with a powerful noble. Things come to a sufficient head in "The Wise Man's Fear" to force Kvothe to seek patronage abroad in the city of Vintas. Taking a position in the household of an incredibly wealthy, and powerful man, Kvothe learns what it's like to live among the nobility and the strange machinations of that world.
Kvothe ingratiates himself to his new patron by first saving his life-- and then wooing his bride. But life among the nobility is never simple and it isn't long before Kvothe is sent off to the far corner of the kingdom in search of bandits who are stealing tax money from the crown. And it's on this adventure that the legend of Kvothe really begins to take shape as he encounters the legendary fae woman known as Felurian and studies the art of fighting with the mysterious Adem. Kvothe chases-- and catches-- the name of the wind a few times on his journey and continues his search for answers about the godlike Chandrian in his never-ending effort to avenge the murder of his family.
"The Wise Man's Fear" is an amazing book on many levels. The quality of the writing and storytelling is top notch. Rarely have I seen a writer so fearlessly take the time to tell a story and do it so well. "The Wise Man's Fear" doesn't cover that much ground as far as time is concerned-- only a year in Kvothe's life (though his time in the world of the fae is somewhat vague).
"The Wise Man's Fear," despite the short timeline, is a coming-of-age tale in many ways. Kvothe goes from being a brilliant, impulsive student to a slightly more restrained man of varied experience. He has his sexual awakening and that moves the story quite a bit as Kvothe makes the leap from adolescence to adulthood in a very real sense. Kvothe's sexuality is a major theme in "The Wise Man's Fear" and almost a character in itself because of the tension it introduces between Kvothe and some of the other characters. But Rothfuss does a good job of keeping it from taking over the narrative. Kvothe doesn't just mature sexually though. His travels broaden his understanding of the lessons his teachers were trying to impress upon him at the university and in a very real sense "The Wise Man's Fear" illustrates that there's only so much that can be learned from a book.
I won't say the Rothfuss completely overcomes the tendency of a long book to drag though. There were times in almost each sequence that I wished the story had been trimmed a bit. Truthfully-- I'm torn because I really respect Rothfuss' ability as a writer. He has a gift for sure. I can honestly say that after reading almost 2000 pages of this story, I would have gladly picked up the third installment if it had been available and would no doubt be happily reading it right now. At the same time I felt like "The Wise Man's Fear" was still, for all its length, setting the stage for the real story. It's hard to explain-- a lot happens to establish Kvothe's character, but not a lot happens that advances the overall story. I ended up a lot more intrigued by Kvothe's character but not really much more enlightened about what brought Kvothe to where he is in the present timeline. And I can't fathom that Rothfuss is going to finish the whole story in just one more book-- even if it's longer than this one.
There's no way I can't recommend "The Wise Man's Fear." It has so much depth. Even though Kvothe tells us that what he does isn't magic, it is magical. It might not cover a lifetime of Kvothe's story (yet) but it somehow manages to be an epic tale. It has a lyricism and beauty that I always look for when I read fantasy. It's a rare book because it has a genuine personality. I can say it has flaws-- but I can also say that I truly loved it.
4 1/2 out of 5 stars.