Monday, March 28, 2011

The Wise Man's Fear, a Review + an Analysis

Writing a review for The Wise Man's Fear, Book Two of Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicle, is a difficult task for me.  First, the book is 994 pages in length and covers so many plot-lines that it's hard to create a manageable review.  Second, there was considerable hype leading up to the release of the book, hype that I well bought into and dabbled with.  Third is the fact that this is the middle volume of a trilogy and the story, in the long run, is still unread.  Finally, and probably most importantly, is my bias towards Rothfuss.  If not for his genre-crushing, decade favorite Name of the Wind, I may have given up on fantasy a few years ago.  Instead, the man pulled the wool from my eyes and revealed that a story is more important than magic and cliches.  That said, this review is spoiler-free for Book 2, though it will contain spoilers from Book 1.  In addition to a traditional review, there will also be a clearly marked spoiler section for the analysis of the book (for those of you truly interested in such things, as well as a way for me to clear my head).  So, onto the review.
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Review (No WMF Spoilers)
It's another day for Kvothe, his student/assistant Bast, and the acclaimed scribe Devan Lochees (aka the Chronicler) at the Waystone Inn.  All more than a little burdened from the recent death of Shep and the unusual circumstances surrounding it, Kvothe is pressing on to tell the true story of the man behind the legends.  Times are hard for Newarre and its poor farmers, but times are hard for everyone.  

Rothfuss wastes no time getting into the meat of the story.  By Chapter Three, Kvothe is recalling the familiar story that began in Name of the Wind.  In fact, if physical evidence didn't say otherwise, the transition between Book One and Book Two is flawless enough that it feels like I'm reading one book, carrying over the same tone and voice the first one did so well.

If one considers The Wise Man's Fear on its own, problems arise.  In its 994 pages a lot of stuff happens, and on the other hand, nothing happens.  The reader gets plenty of insight to the Four Corners of Civilization, from language lessons in Ademre to lessons of the court in Severen, as well as more lore and history of all manner of folks between.  There is enough world building that one would be tempted to say Rothfuss is wasting too much time with supplemental information, putting off the more important elements of the story.  And, if one considers WMF on its own apart from the trilogy as a whole, I would agree.

There is not enough action and the story is not tight enough for this book to fit the normal molds and expectations readers have.  But, just as Rothfuss is not interested in telling a normal story with normal cliches, this book rises above the normal expectations.  I cannot see how anyone can take a single volume of a story instead of the whole and weigh it and judge it, not fairly, but it happens.  For myself, taking everything I learned in NotW and adding it to WMF, I see one beautiful tale, written in prose and verse sweet enough to charm anyone interested in a good story.

And that's what Wise Man's Fear is.  Better, even, than "good."  It's complex, elegant, hilarious, devastating, tense, dark, mysterious, and many more adjectives.  It's not a book that stands on its own, but its the middle piece to a three-piece puzzle.  The story is the most important thing, and Rothfuss is spinning a wonderful yarn.

All of this is not to say that I didn't have problems with WMF.  Do I feel like there was a lot of extraneous stuff?  Maybe, but is that necessarily a bad thing?  How often do we fall in love with things (book series, tv shows, video games, etc.) and wish we had more?  We long for special features and extended scenes.  Why else would there be a Saw VI and two video games to boot?  Could plenty of this stuff have been edited out and the story still be the same?  Yes.  But did I enjoy it all?  Absolutely.

I'm willing to wade through lots of boring stuff if the story's good, and Rothfuss's extra scenes are not boring.  In the end, what I can say about Wise Man's Fear is that its long, and if you get frustrated at a story that likes to simmer and slow-boil instead of splash out on the stove, then you may be irked, but you'll be entertained, as well.  If you liked The Name of the Wind you'll like this book.  I know I did.

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Analysis (WMF Spoilers)
This book is broken down into several different parts and plot lines.  Not all of them are resolved, and that makes things interesting.
  1. The Present, in Newarre
    1. Bast's schemes to get Kvothe back to his former self
    2. Bandits and dangerous roads keeping travelers home
    3. Demons and dark things (scrael & skin changer from NOTW)
    4. Political unrest (Kvothe hints at the true reason why the war is going on)
  2. The Frame Story, at the University
    1. Kvothe looking for information about the Amyr, Chandrian, etc.
    2. Auri and whatever her hidden information entails
    3. The locked door in the Archives
    4. Kvothe learning all his stuff, especially names
    5. Ambrose
    6. Devi, Sim, Willem, Fela, and all the other friends and acquaintances of Kvothe
    7. Kvothe looking for a patron and his music at the Eolian
  3. The Frame Story, in Severen
    1. Kvothe helping out the Maer with all his stuff
    2. Kvothe building his reputation & learning
  4. The Frame Story, in the Eld
    1. Kvothe and the gang looking for bandits
  5. The Frame Story, in the Fae
    1. Kvothe and Felurian, where he learns sex and gains a huge boost to his reputation
    2. Kvothe getting his shaed
    3. Kvothe meeting the Cthaeh and learning many things
  6. The Frame Story, in Ademre
    1. Kvothe learning of the Lethani and Adem culture
    2. Kvothe learning to fight and think
    3. Kvothe getting his sword
  7. The Frame Story, the Road to Levinshire & the false Edemah Ruh
And above and through and between all of these plots are the two major plots: finding the Chandrian and Kvothe & Denna's relationship.  These two plotlines supersede everything else, at least in my opinion, but I cannot figure out which one ranks higher than the other.  Kvothe definitely loves Denna.  To the bottom of his soul he loves her, and yet he can't bring himself to let her know the truth about things.  This is quite frustrating and sad, especially considering her blatant absence and Kvothe's lifeless eyes in the Present.  Did she die, and is Kvothe somehow responsible?  Maybe.  Who knows?  Still, it irks me that Kvothe is too afraid to open himself to this woman, and yet he'll face down the Seven.  I wonder who her patron is and what Denna's after by sticking with him.  Heck, I wonder who Denna really is.

Then we get the Chandrian.  I love how they're barely in the story at all, and yet their presence is felt.  You hear it in the children songs and the campfire stories.  Felurian's refusal to speak of them is disturbing, and Shehyn's legend that can be told only once is mouth-dropping.  They remind me somewhat of Sauron, how he's not too involved in the actual story of LOTR, and yet he's never forgotten.  The Chandrian are even less interested in Kvothe, I think, but they're definitely there.

I really enjoyed the story of Jax and his stealing of the moon.  I thought it was awesome how Felurian told a story about Iax and his thievery of the moon and how it broke apart the world.  I wondered if perhaps the Lady Lackless's box contained this "piece of the moon."  

I also loved the Cthaeh and the Sword Tree.  I guess I might have a thing for ancient, magical swords, I dunno.  The fear Bast expressed when Kvothe mentioned the Cthaeh brings plenty of dread, and who knows what truth it has?

The comedy had me rolling, especially everything involving Elodin.  ("How to Succeed in Being a Jackass.")  I was very curious about the locked door in the Archives in NOTW, and now I'm even more so.  Puppet was pretty cool, too.

The book was long, but I never grew bored.  I did roll my eyes at some of Kvothe's choices and whatnot, but he's a fifteen year old boy, so those were forgivable.  

The idea of a frame story is still interesting.  Kvothe admitting he's not above embellishment made me raise an eyebrow.  It makes me question everything.  But I find it hard to believe how much detail Kvothe can remember.  It just doesn't seem possible.  

The book was so big I can't help but feel like I'm forgetting plenty.  Let me know what you liked and didn't like.  Feel free to be as explicit as you like.  Subscribe to the comments.  I know there are at least three people who've read this and have comments, so I'm interested.

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This was a long post.  The comments may or may not have spoilers, so beware.

15 comments:

Seak (Bryce L.) said...

Great review, I'm really excited to read this, but I'm trying (with all my might) to keep from reading it as long as possible so my wait for book 3 won't be so long.

logankstewart said...

@Seak: Thanks! I feel your pain, but I just couldn't put it off. I instead savored each and every page...

Jonboy said...

Ok wow...so much to dissect and discuss. Where in the world to begin?

How about Denna? She's one of my absolute favorite characters and I love the way Pat keeps the reader missing her just as much as Kvothe. She breathes an air of mystery and light heartedness to the story. I still think there's much more to her than meets the eye. In fact, I think she may even be connected with the Chandrian...at least her patron may be.

You alluded to some of Kvothe's reckless "choices" in your review and I have to agree. Look...I can even forgive Felurian. She's practically a goddess and probably the most beautiful woman Kvothe had ever seen. I'm almost certain there was some magic going on there as well as she really seems to lure Kvothe. So that one...I can understand.

What I don't get are the feelings (or lack thereof) toward Denna. I agree with you 100% in that Kvothe loves her. That's why it came as a huge surprise to me that Kvothe proceeded to make more immature choices by sleeping with a number of different women before the book concluded. Like I said, Felurian is slightly forgivable, but for a boy who was too nervous to even hold Denna's hand...it comes as quite a shock to see him mature so quickly. Part of me even expected him to regret his decisions with Felurian because of his deep love for Denna. Sadly...I totally think she dies at some point.

Anyway...enough about the love. If I had to sum it up, I loved the sections of the book at the University, as well as Kvothe's time with the Maer. The whole poisoning plot line was incredible. I felt the book lagged a bit during the other scenes, especially with Felurian. I do agree the section with the Cthaeh was amazing. Bast's reaction really has me worried for Kvothe.

Ok I know that's a lot to comment on, but wow...I've just been itching for you to finish because you're the only person I discuss these with, lol.

A few more questions I'm hoping you can clear up. What was up with Bast at the end? It seems he definitely paid those men to attack Kvothe, but is it just me or did he kill them at the end? If he paid them...then why kill them?

Also, how do you think the next book will play out? Will Bast ever get Kvothe to snap out of it and if he does...will we, as a reader, even get to see any of it? It definitely doesn't seem like everything is going to end happy so I guess I could even see Kvothe dying. Rothfuss definitely isn't writing a traditional fantasy where everything comes together nicely at the end and Kvothe saves the day. I don't think I'd even want that, but if Kvothe ever comes out of his depression then I would definitely want to see what happens next. It would be kinda cool if he ended with something along the lines of "It was the sound of a man who was ready to live" once Kvothe finally wakes from his trance. Anyway...if you managed to read through all this, let me know what you think.

logankstewart said...

@Jonathan: I agree completely. I think Denna is somehow connected to the Chandrian, either directly or through her patron. Heck, her patron could even be one of the Seven, and I think this is likely. I also think Denna dies, but I'm hoping otherwise.

Kvothe's maturity skyrocketed. I guess living in the Fae for who knows how long helped age him, but still, it seemed like a too-quick transition. (Especially with his sexing it up with the ladies.)

As for Bast, I read it like he killed the guys, too. He is of the Fae and prone to rash decisions, and killing them seems completely in character for him. I like how much Bast cares about getting Kvothe to return to his former self, but it makes me wonder why Bast cares so much. Is he Kvothe's son from Felurian? (Surely not, but hey, who knows?) Is he an ambassador of the Fae or something? I hope we get to find out how the two meet in Book 3.

I see the next book dealing with the secrets of the University, especially the locked door, and I suspect this is somehow related to the Amyr. I also see Kvothe aging quite a bit, at least 5-7 years, if not more. I don't know if I see the man dying by the end, but maybe. I know Pat has more stories set in the same world, but I don't know if they relate to Kvothe or not. I also see the frame story catching up with the present, maybe bringing war or the Chandrian or something to Newarre. And surely we'll get to see some sort of resolution with the Chandrian & Amyr, though I expect there to be plenty of unanswered questions, too. Oh, Kvothe's gotta get kicked out of the University, so we'll see that happen, and he's gotta kill a king. Seems like I remember something from NOTW about a woman falling from a tower and dying. Maybe that's Denna...

Your ending would be great, though. "The sound of a man ready to live" could definitely set up the world for more books featuring Kvothe.

Speculation is fun. The current working title for Book 3 is The Doors of Stone. Sounds great.

I'd love to hear your speculations.

Jonboy said...

You're totally right about getting kicked out of the University and killing a King. I almost forgot about all that.

As far as the Chandrian go, it's interesting because Bast indicates that all Seven are still alive and Kvothe doesn't really dispute that (but he doesn't really agree either). I definitely think we have to get some resolution there, which would imply one of two things: 1) We will see Kvothe go after one of them in the present day OR 2) He hasn't revealed everything to Bast yet and he's already met up/killed/dealt with one of them. I say one of them because even though the book is sure to be another 1000 pages or so, I can't see him killing seven incredibly powerful beings of lore in just one book. We'll see Cinder again, but I'm not so sure about the others.

One scene we both forgot to mention is the section of the book where Kvothe saves two girls from the "fake" Edema Ruh. That was such a terrible scene...and I don't mean terrible writing, but just terrible all the way around. The writing here was really strong and tore at my heart. You knew what Kvothe had to do, but it didn't make it any easier to see him do it.

I could discuss this all day, haha. Let me know if you make any more trips to Lexington and we could catch up.

logankstewart said...

Yeah, the false Edema Ruh stuff was tough. Kvothe's remorse was "heart tearing" indeed, and the things he did... Definitely not easy.

Take care, friend!

Carl V. said...

Someday I'll get to read this. :) This post, that is.

Paula Titus said...

I must read some books of Rothfuss soon! This one sounds especially interesting. Great review:)

David Wagner said...

I assumed Bast had paid the soldiers to rob Kvothe, to force him out of his shell and back into being Kvothe of old. I don't think he imagined that the thugs would get the better of Kvothe. So he hunted them down and (I believe) killed them at that campfire - probably for having the nerve to succeed at what he'd hired them for!

The first pages of the Felurian encounter were amazing, I thought. Then it bottomed out and dragged on way too long. And while I liked seeing Kvothe learn to fight, that stretch with the Ademre went on way too long as well. And call me old fashioned, or whatever, but I thought the way he went to great lengths to minimize men in that culture was grating. Hey, I'm all for empowering women and equality and all that crap, but when it swings way over into women are infinitely superior to men, in general, I find that retarded.

I loved what happened with the climax of the hunt for the bandits. That was terrific.

And, yeah, I agree it was odd that Kvothe became a playa. It was cool that he lost his virginity to a goddess (of sorts), but having him get all scronk-happy afterwards just sort of diminished the character somewhat in my eyes.

And, I'm sorry, but I think the Kvothe-Denna angle is getting really forced and hollow. I thought their interractions in the first book were terrific - the heart of the story, really. But in this book, it seems tired and forced.

Jonboy said...

Nice comments David. I think we see eye to eye on almost everything. You hit on several of my main gripes, as well as some of the bits I enjoyed the most (climax of the bandit hunt).

I found myself chuckling aloud at the Ademre beliefs on how children are born. I mean...really?

As far as Kvothe and Denna, I still find myself enjoying those sections; however, I agree it's starting to get a bit stale.

logankstewart said...

@Carl: Ha! I'd rather you read the book... ;)

@Paula: Aye, I'll be blunt: read The Name of the Wind ASAP and you won't regret it.

@Dave: Agreed with Bast. I enjoyed the Fae stuff, especially the crafting of the shaed and Kvothe's encounter with the tree. The Ademre stuff did go on a for long while and seemed somewhat repetitive, but there was enough there to keep me intrigued by the culture. Again, the tree was sweet, and I thought the language was fascinating. I didn't really get the vibe that women were superior to men, but I took that statement as a boast from a woman, proud in herself and her sex. No different than men & women in this world. As for Kvothe & Denna, it's frustrating but endearing, and it keeps me glued because of the present day Kvothe's deep depression, which surely is related to Denna.

@Jonathan: I can understand completely the Ademre's beliefs about childbirth. Think of all the cultures in our world's history that worshiped fertility goddesses (Asharoth or something like that), or cultures that think it's the man's seed that carries a baby within and nothing to do with a woman. There are numerous peoples of the past with false ideas of how babies are made. Heck, children think a stork delivers them. This simplistic view is funny because the Adem pride themselves on being "civilized", yet this is quite far from civilization. Thus, this didn't bother me, and I thought it was funny.

I'm with you, too, though. I'm ready for something to happen between Kvothe & Denna, more than just a simple offense. It's definitely starting to "stale."

Anonymous said...

Okay. I've never made a comment before on pretty well anything. But I am such a fan of Patrick Rothfuss that I need to get some of my own thoughts out. I had some ideas that no one else has put out there yet, and I also reply to some of everyone's posts as well, so tell me what you think. This is going to be a bit long, so bear with me...

1) Bast. He definitely killed the King's men. The verses he kept singing were like Fae versions of "eenie, meenie, minie, moe." They helped him choose which wine to try when looking for Elderberry, which weapon to use to kill the King's men, and then which of them to kill first. He also definitely got the men to attack Kvothe, just as he got Chronicler to come. Bast mentions to Chronicler that if he only knew who he was, he would be afraid or have respect or whatever, so Bast is very important in the Fae, probably with many stories about him. I think the whole "moonless night" thing that Felurian talked about will factor in to how Kvothe met Bast.

2. Nothing happening in Book 2. While I agree that there doesn’t seem to be much going on, there is a lot of back-story. The three books of the Kingkiller Chronicles is just Kvothe’s back-story, catching us up to the present. In book 2 we learn where he learned to fight, how he came into a bit more money than he previously had in his past, meeting up with Felurian, seeing Cinder again, and many other seemingly minor meetings that will come into play in the third book. He hints at why the war is going on, the real reason. He kills the king (thus Kingkiller Chronicle), which is also a major part of why he has to go into hiding.

3) Here’s a crazy thought…Elodin is an Amyr. Here’s my thinking: He is a namer. He comes and goes as he pleases, including leaving the University for months at a time. He seems to know a lot about everything, and I suspect he isn’t as crazy as others think him to be. He just sees the world as a namer sees it. For example, he really was trying to teach his class how to be namers, even though all his efforts seemed to be useless crazy talk. Kvothe finally realizes it later on that Elodin was just trying to get him to think differently. Also, I think the door in the Archives holds the secrets of the Amyr and Chandrian. Where better to put all those stolen books besides in a locked door surrounded by the worlds best sympathists, namers, etc. Elodin is there to guard the door.

4) The wife of the Maer, Lackless, whatever her name is, is going to be important. Kvothe says that he recognizes her when he first meets her. I think she is tied to either Denna or Auri, like a sister or aunt or something.

5) Auri. She went crazy because of something she knows about the Chandrian or possibly the Amyr.

Anonymous said...

6) Here’s a big one. Denna’s patron. Ready for it….Bredon, the noble from Severen. Here’s my thinking: The Cthaeh mentioned that Denna was beaten by her patron, and that he used his cane. Bredon’s cane is mentioned numerous times, for example, that it had a wolf’s head, etc. Besides, why mention some noble for no other reason other than to teach Kvothe court politics. I also think that he is one of the Chandrian. I think this because the Cthaeh talks to Kvothe about two things: The Chandrian and Denna. It does this to make Kvothe’s life miserable and end badly. So, the Cthaeh wants Kvothe to chase after the Chandrian and Denna’s patron. How could chasing Denna’s patron be the worst thing he could do, to end his life miserably and cause a huge negative impact on the world, other than Denna’s patron being a Chandrian. He was there when the Chandrian attacked the wedding party and then mysteriously disappeared. Also, the Chandrian are supposed to do terrible things just for the sake of it. The Cthaeh mentioned that Denna’s patron beat her as a game, just to see how far he could go, and that things would get worse. If Cinder was in plain sight with the bandits, why not another Chandrian? Bredon also plays a game with Kvothe about setting traps and escaping them, and about walking into traps, knowing they are traps, then turning the tables. I think Bredon is playing with Kvothe and that this trap setting game is a foreshadow of things to come. SO…Bredon is Denna’s patron and one of the Seven. Possibly Stercus, who is in thrall of iron, whatever that means.

7) Denna’s storyline getting old. I agree. I have no idea what she expects of him. He talks about his love for her and she wants nothing to do with it. Does she just want to be friends, string him along, or does she just want a physical relationship with no ties? I don’t think she dies but I think there is a huge falling out and that sends him to become a depressed innkeeper. What else could crush his spirit enough to send him to be a depressed innkeeper besides a huge falling out with Denna. I think after the story catches up with the present, one of the story arcs will be him searching for her, as well as for the Chandrian again.

Anonymous said...

8) Lackless box: I really liked the idea that it holds a piece of the moon. Maybe this is the key to the war or to ending the shadow things movement into the mortal world. Or maybe bringing the Fae and mortal world’s back together or something like that.

9) Kvothe not above embellishment: in his other stories, his reputation building stories this is true but I think he is telling this story as close to the truth as he can, so Chronicler can give an accurate accounting of his life.

10) Why is Kvothe so useless? Rothfuss is building it up that Kvothe is useless now. Couldn’t do sympathy with the skin walker, couldn’t use his fighting ability with the king’s men. Just when we think he is just going to lay down and die, he will make the decision to continue on. Something is happening that dark things are gathering, such as the scrael and skinwalker, and kvothe will have to stop them. We see hints of it as he is doing the Ketan at the end of book 2. I don’t think there will be any resolution on the Chandrian in book 3 as Kvothe is utterly depressed in the present. If he were to have done something to them he would at least have that. It seems like right now, in the inn, he has absolutely nothing. Book 3 has to catch us up to the present. I highly doubt book 3 will go past the third day with Chronicler and have him do something heroic in the present, but I think it will set it up for future heroics in future books. Doors of stone for book 3 is the doors in the archives of the university, as they hold a great secret for Kvothe, such as the truth about the Amyr. Stories of the Chandrian are also probably in there too.

11) Another thing that has to come up is the things the Chandrian fear. Haliax mentions in book 1 that he protects the others from the Amyr, the Sithe, and I don’t remember who else. But we need to get more info on these groups. Also, who is Skarpi. I think he may be another Amyr, but who knows.

Anyways that’s it for now. Give me some feedback!!

logankstewart said...

@Anon: Holy Crap, you win the longest comment ever award. Let's address.

1) Absolutely dead men, but I'm unsure about Bast being anything important in the Fae. He's too... I dunno. But I can't see that.

3) I like this idea, and I think it might just be possible. In fact, I'd venture to say that a few of the masters could be Amyr. Either way, Elodin would make a perfect one.

4) Lady Lackless, I think, is Kvothe's aunt. There's a great thread over on Goodreads (here) that discusses this very thing. In short, I pretty much agree with it all.

5) Maybe, or maybe she just cracked from too much info at the University. Irrelevant, most likely, since Pat didn't even have her in his first draft of NOTW.

6) Bredon would make perfect sense as her patron, but I don't know if I think he's a Chandrian. He may be connected, or he very well may be, but it just seems like Kvothe would've caught on after all the time they spent together.

Yeah, I can't decide how much I think will be left open after Book 3 ends. Obviously there'll be plenty of loose ends, but hopefully a lot of resolution, too. I'm not sure how I'd feel about it if the series didn't have some sort of closure. A present-day Kvothe would be sweet, but kind of disappointing, too, I think.

Thanks for the great feedback and the excellent comments! Way to go, Anony!