The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
I spent most of my review of the first book, The Name of the Wind, marveling over the way Rothfuss adapted the classic hero’s journey structure in both his frame and main narrative. Perhaps because this is the second in a trilogy, typically the lull, but the hero’s journey stucture didn’t seem so apparent to me in this book. Kvothe seems to be spending a lot of time in the trials and learning phase of his quest: an entire 994-page novel. I assume that when the third book comes out, we’ll see more familiar events from the hero’s journey in both the past and the present.
The biggest flaw is that Kvothe seems to be becoming unbeatable, which diffuses tension and suspense. It’s hard to care if he wins when losing seems impossible. With his invincibility comes grating arrogance. Pride comes before a fall, I hope, but in the meantime it’s just annoying. A humiliating defeat in the present-time frame narrative shows that some loss of power or ability is coming, and I look forward to learning what brings Kvothe so low. I hope it will give me that cathartic tragic feeling, then a surge of energy when he makes his comeback.
I was troubled by a lack of consistency. The timeline seemed screwy, for one thing. It would seem to me that a long time must have passed, but then Kvothe would state that all of those events took place in a startlingly short amount of time. I was surprised the Kvothe refused to speak on or skipped over events that would have made a nice adventurous episode, like when he was put on trial for his life, or lost at sea. There seemed to be no reason why these events didn’t get narrated when so many others did.
Denna, Kvothe’s main love interest, is problematic. She may have a history of prostitution. She is abused by a mysterious patron. She runs away from Kvothe and from intimacy frequently, and Rothfuss seems to romanticize her unavailability. Kvothe keeps wanting to save her, and since the reader is led to suspect that her patron may be the leader of the villainous Chandrian, he’s probably right. However, she has an independent streak which it seems will probably be her downfall.
There are a lot of gender issues in this book. As I started writing and responding to these problems, the post got kind of out of hand. So I decided to split up my review, which is more general, and my specific discussion of the way the Kingkiller books deal with gender into three posts. Tomorrow I’ll post the first of two feminist diatribes. Watch out, web.
Female readers pretty much have to learn to like books written from a male perspective if they want to like books at all. I have learned the lesson of alienating myself from my gender well, so despite these issues, I enjoyed listening to the book and plan to read the next installment. The prose is strong, the plot engaging and episodic, the world interesting and imaginative. I like fantasy, and these two books, especially the first, have set up the next one to be epic. I just hope Rothfuss takes his time while writing it and thinks through everything he says about women. I’m not so sure he did this time.