John C Adams Reviews 'The Wise Man's Fear'
The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, Gollancz, 2011
'The Wise Man's Fear' is described as 'The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day Two'. This intrigued me, as I hadn't read the first book in the series. However, as this exceptionally lengthy sword-and-sorcery fantasy novel unfolded the mystery still remained about what 'day two' actually was, given that the action takes place over many months.
When 'The Wise Man's Fear' opens, Kvothe is working as innkeeper under an assumed name. A chronicler appears at the inn, and this is the vehicle for the hero to tell the tale of his previously exciting and dangerous life. This occurs after a brief summary to give us an idea of what Kvothe is famous for and why he is regarded as such a dark figure. The regaling of that narrative, which quickly becomes immersive, is interspersed with brief returns to the cosy inn where Kvothe is sitting with the chronicler and his customers. This element had a strong postmodern feel to it, which was supported by Kvothe's talent as a lute player and storyteller in the immersive side of the book. The characters there frequently tell sagas, analyse them and comment on their literary conventions. I loved this side to the 'The Wise Man's Fear', and it worked because in their way sagas are very self-aware of their fictional status.
Kvothe's tale as told to the chronicler moves at a very leisurely pace and with immense attention to everyday detail. This made what was essentially an action story feel very leisurely, and the worldbuilding was vivid courtesy of the realism of the writing. I liked this about 'The Wise Man's Fear', and it was one of the best-written fantasy novels I have read. Kvothe is a penniless university student trying to study sorcery, he moves from scrape to scrape and then leaves the university when a feud with a tutor makes the place too hot for him. From then on he drifts rather from place to place and mishap to mishap. In keeping with the realism of the novel, the plot unfolded via a natural series of broadly linked events but without the strong overarching sense of narrative drive and focus common in fantasy novels. This was very much a person telling their life story in a relaxed way via a series of interesting occurrences. I enjoyed how realistic it was.
To say that Kvothe was a likeable character is something of an understatement. He had a sympathetic backstory because his parents were killed when he was a boy. After that he managed to scrape his way into university to study sorcery and learned to play the lute so well that his performances are mesmerising for his audience. He possessed a naturally kind streak, and was very protective of those more vulnerable than himself. He remained optimistic, in good humour and self-deprecating throughout. Life was tough, to be sure, but he was resilient and never lost his wry ability to recognise that quite a bit of what befell him was his own fault. The story, long though it was, was told via the first person, truly making it Kvothe's tale. I've never read a fantasy novel quite like it, but it was truly excellent writing and I can't wait to read more of Rothfuss's unique work.
More on Wednesday, in the meantime the comments section is open.
Many thanks to Tim Rebkavets, Linus Sandvide and Marko Blazevic for providing the images for this blogpost via Unsplash.