Saturday, January 3, 2015

Wise Man's Fear review


    The sequel to The Name of the Wind is a huge, containing almost a thousand pages of world-building and story. The Name of the Wind was a sleeper hit, winning the favor of countless readers and adding a new modern classic to the genre. So what does the sequel bring to the setting?

    A lot more sex and violence!

    I kid.

    Sort-of.

    There is a great deal more sex and violence this time around but I find them appropriate additions given this series is, essentially, about Kvothe's coming-of-age. I also think readers can be unduly harsh on the former while ignoring the latter. Patrick Rothfuss, himself, has commented his readers often sent him letters criticizing the addition of a sexual element to Kvothe's journey but rarely mentioned he also made his hero a killer.

    Which says a lot about our culture today, let alone fantasy, doesn't it?

    The premise is Kvothe the legendary swordsman, musician, and wizard is still relating his life-story from his hiding place in the middle of nowhere. When last we left Kvothe's journey, he was still a fifteen year old boy finishing his first term at the Arcanum. Wise Man's Fear takes us from there to Kvothe turning eighteen.

    We'll follow him through another term at the Arcanum, a visit to a decadent court ruled by the world's richest man, watch him become a leader of mercenaries, see him enslaved by a beautiful fairy-queen, and then have him study at the setting's version of a Shaolin Temple. During this time, Kvothe will fall in love (or at least lust) as well as take his first human lives.

    Patrick Rothfuss' descriptions are vivid and rich with each section of his world jumping off the page. I'm especially fond of the section set amongst the Adem. A matrichal society with warrior ethos and decidedly libertine attitudes about sex, the Adem might first seem to be a male fantasy come to life but I enjoyed the translation of many Daoist concepts to "fantasy-speak." Watching Kvothe grow in his perspective on the world is fascinating to watch.

    The book also moves us along the central story of Kvothe's journey. We know Kvothe will become a legendary hero by the framing narrative but we also know he'll trigger a catastrophic series of events as well as end up killing a king. Here, Kvothe meets his first fairies and learns a great deal about his enemies in the Chandarian. He's also informed by a malevolent oracle his quest will result in nothing but ruin.

    He decides to proceed anyway.

    We also see Kvothe bloody his hands both as a warrior and as an executioner. Kvothe discovers he has a capacity to inflict devastating damage using his magic in a martial manner and, more so, has the willingness to do so. Another fantasy author would have just glided over the fact his hero is a killer but Patrick Rothfuss takes time to show how this change in Kvothe is both horrifying as well as hardening.

    As for the sex element, I actually thought it was quite tame. Kvothe has sex with five women over the course of the story and allusions to other romantic encounters but each of the five is a well-developed character.

    The sex, itself, is about as risque as something in a James Bond film. It's more implied than shown with the occasional flowery term which you can decipher if you know anything about sex. Sadly, despite meeting numerous very interesting female characters, Kvothe is still hung up on Denna--who I find the most boring girl in the series.

    The supporting cast in the book is great with such memorable characters as the Maehr, the Lackless family, returning favorites like Bast as well as Chronicler, and many others I could name. Patrick Rothfuss' characters may or may not be believable but they are authentic and that's much better, in my humble opinion.

    In conclusion, this is a great story. I think all readers who picked up the Name of the Wind will enjoy the sequel even better. I do warn them, however, that this is a pretty big book. It took me a week and a half to read it and I usually go through stories like rolls at dinner.

10/10

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