“There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.”
My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me.
The Wise Man’s fear was the highly anticipated second novel in the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss, and it only added more froth to the foaming mouths of fans who are awaiting the third and final book.
I counted myself fortunate upon finishing the book the first time, since I had just discovered Rothfuss, and didn’t have to wait for it like other people. Now it’s been two years and I read it again while waiting for the third. Niw I know how it feels. Although I didn’t pick up Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series until circa 1999 and it only ended last year after the author’s demise, that’s another story. My husband once told me that George R.R. Martin had passed away right while I was in the middle of the series, and I was NOT AMUSED.
Okay I am now going to embark upon what some might call a real review, instead of just my feelings on it, thus it contains spoilers if you haven’t read it yet. Shrug.
Where was I? Oh yes. About 400 pages in, Kvothe is still in the University and we still do not know anything more about the mysterious Chandrian who killed his troupe when he was a boy. Kvothe still barely makes tuition fees each semester, and he still isn’t allowed into the Archives to search the books. Kvothe is very smooth with his compliments, and is more musically talented than Beethoven, but he still can’t tell when a girl likes him and he spends much of his time looking for the ever-elusive Denna. I could really rant about the somewhat annoying relationship between these two, but I’ll save you the headache. We learn he has only been in the University a year now. Some people at this point might object to a reading over a thousand pages including the first book at this point, and still the story hasn’t evolved we’ve only been watching Kvothe grow and coming along on his rooftop moon-lit wanderings. I shouldn’t nitpick on those though, because perhaps the best sub-story in this whole thing is Kvothe’s gentle friendship with a slip of a girl who is half-feral named Auri who meets him on the roofs to hear his music.
It’s almost as if the author realizes at this point that he has to get a move on, and abruptly the story changes. The next six hundred pages involve a completely different setting and characters. Kvothe is strongly advised to take a year off of learning, there’s too much heat for this fire especially after burning down his arch-rival Ambrose’s rooms recently. So he sails away from the University to finally start these adventures we as readers have been waiting for presumably since you read the back of the first book. Unfortunately the reader is kept in limbo with no idea whatsoever where the plot is moving to, what point in the telling we are at, and why exactly we are privy to the description of nearly each of Kvothe’s mostly uneventful days.
This wasn’t as much fun as being immersed in the dangerous, funny and youthful exploits of college life; and at one of the small pauses where we flash forward to future Kvothe as an innkeeper still hardly seeming close to whatever eventual goal he has, that you start to suspect that Kvothe really really likes to hear himself talk. Remember at the beginning of the first book when Chronicler has important business to do but Kvothe positively insists it will take three days to tell his story? Yeah Kvothe has been talking twenty-four hours a day in that case, hopefully with a barrel of water handy to keep his voice from failing like a normal person. Of course we know Kvothe is anything but.
Okay what really happens in the last half: Kvothe is apprenticed to a powerful man named Alveron who is richer than the king. He saves this man’s life and scores him a wife, earning total gratitude and a random mission to the middle of the forest to take care of bandits.
The bandits take a very long time to find, in the meantime we are treated to campfire stories, and Kvothe learns to be a woodsman and also takes an interest in one of his companions who is a mercenary from a mysterious and strange people called the Adem. The Adem are prohibited from teaching any outsiders their secret customs, but Kvothe’s annoying pestering pays off and he begins to learn. When the bandits are finally tracked down, Kvothe really outdoes himself and scares the crap out of all his fellows by blowing the whole place up with lightning. The really exciting part though is that for no reason whatsoever, the bandit leader is one of the Chandrian. The crazy mythic killers this whole story is wrapped around, palling around in the woods raiding caravans.
Next up, the mythical temptress Felurian. Naked goddess on a rock in the moonlight, that’s sure a new one! Oh wait I remember she was mentioned on the back of the first book, okay interest piqued. Oh jeezzz. Nearly all the next hundred pages read like a twelve-year old boy’s fantasy. Kvothe is a virgin. Nothing explicit, but they make love on and on and on in the twilight of the Fae. It felt like much longer than that. Felurian hates for any mortal man to be the first to leave, so she normally loves them to death. Kvothe escapes this dastardly fate with a promise to return and a sweet cape made from shadows. And there was literally no point to that section for me.
Last of all Kvothe travels far and away to the harsh land of the Adem to learn their ways. This is very tough since they don’t want to accept him, but Kvothe has a big mouth and an unending supply of witticisms and so he graduates from this school of thought. It reminded me very very much of Rand going to the Aiel in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Very much. So, really the book drops off right there as Kvothe gets back to the University swollen with new life experience, and more darkness tucked under his belt. By my lazy calculations he is about sixteen years old now. His partially self-crafted legend is growing, and how in the world is this ever going to conclude in one more book?
I know I didn’t make it sound very exciting, but it was very readable (twice!) and the most solid believable fantasy imaginable. Rooted in a world like ours with a mythical past, it’s easy to imagine yourself walking and talking with these characters. This is not rushed fiction, it’s carefully and methodically built fiction. That’s why even if I feel this book wandered, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it and I trust the author to give us a fantastic ending sometime soon. I hope.