Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book Review: The Wise Man's Fear

About a year and a half ago, I reviewed The Name of the Wind, bought The Wise Man's Fear, and went to a Patrick Rothfuss author event all in the span of two days.  You'd think with such fervor devoted to one author, I'd have read The Wise Man's Fear long before now.  Well, shit, I thought I would have too.  Okay, so this wont be the most timeliest of reviews ever, but what matters is that I did get around to reading and reviewing this monster of a novel.

And oh, what a monster it is.  A monster in terms being one of the biggest fantasy novels released in the past couple of years, and a monster in terms of sheer size and girth.

I have been known to steer clear of giant cinder-block sized books, but The Name of the Wind left me with very high expectations for its sequel.  Expectations which likely likely colored my enjoyment of this volume a bit, as I was left feeling some twines of disappointment despite this being an all-around fantastic book.

The Wise Man's Fear picks up the story more or less right where things left off on the previous volume.  It's late in the night after the shocking events at the Waystone Inn, and when morning comes, Kote and the chronicler pick up the story of Kvothe's youth at pretty much the same spot where the storytelling left off the night before.  I'd like to say that Rothfuss ramped the story up a notch or two, but instead the story lingered while depicting the ins and outs of Kvothe's life at the University.  It was hard for me to not see the parallels between Kvothe's life at the University, and Harry Potter's time at Hogwarts.  That's not really a bad thing, as Rothfuss, like Rowling, has a great skill for writing incredibly engaging stories, but this portion of the story felt a little too recycled for my tastes.

The good news is, Kvothe doesn't spend the whole book at the University.  Not by a long shot. In fact, Kvothe spends a good portion of this novel out exploring the great wide world.  That's when things get interesting.  Kvothe's character starts to develop and he begins his path towards becoming a living legend. Along the way, during his attempts to unveil some secrets about the Amyr and the Chandrian, he rises in status in a far off royal court, learns some of the martial skills of the Adem Mercenaries, and ventures into the Fae realm for an extended love affair.

I enjoyed the fact that Rothfuss took things away from the University for a big stretch of this novel, and it was cool to see Kvothe in a bunch of different situations. At the same time, it wasn't easy for me to get completely lost in the stream of events.  For my tastes, a lot of the tension has been taken out of the story by having Kvothe tell his own tale. As a reader, I don't like knowing, without a doubt, that Kvothe will survive no matter how sticky the situation he finds himself in, and there's some incredibly sticky ones to be had.

Personally, I tend to be more engaged in a story when I fret for the safety and survival of the main characters, which is why I've been enjoying the brief interludes at the Waystone Inn way more than I have the yarn that Kote has been spinnin' to the Chronicler.  There's much more tension involved, and definitely a greater premonition of doom than there is in the main portion of the book.  Yes, I am enjoying both narrative threads of The Kingkiller Chronicles,  due in large fact that Rothfuss is a fantastic story teller, but I've found that I'm more interested in what is about to go down, rather than what has gone down already.

Though there's tons going on in this second volume of The Kingkiller Chronicle, there's also very little movement in what I perceive of as being the main plot, that of Kvothe's struggle with the Chandrian and his struggle to find out more about them.  A fact that is a little frustrating given the epic length of this novel.

As I mentioned earlier, The Wise Man's Fear left me with a slight taste of disappointment.  I felt like there wasn't a lot of movement in terms of the greater, overarching struggle, the beginning third of the book felt too akin to Harry Potter, and story,  for my tastes, lacks some much needed tension.

All that said, this is still a strong novel.  As I mentioned earlier, Rothfuss is one incredibly sharp story teller.  He's so good in fact that he can almost make me forget all my nit-picks and get totally lost in this great tale.  Tension or not, there's plenty of great story here, and The Wise Man's Fear is still one of the more entertaining books on my shelves, and one of the better fantasies released in the past few years.

I'll be looking forward to the concluding third volume whenever it finds its way to publication, as I have a ton of burning questions and plot pay-offs that I can't wait to see unfold.  Sure, this volume didn't hit all the high notes for me, but I've learned that my expectations can be a dangerous thing.  Make no mistake, Rothfuss is one of my top writers in the genre, and I can't wait to see what he has in store for us next.

Grade: B+

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