The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“Kvothe nodded. ‘Teccam said the same thing: no man is brave that has never walked a hundred miles. If you want to know the truth of who you are, walk until not a person knows your name. Travel is the great leveler, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, crueler than mirror-glass. A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet introspection.'”
Okay, I have to admit this: as good as it was, it will not be a favorite for me. Let’s start with a summary before we get into the details.
The book opens up to literally where The Name of the Wind left off. It is the morning after Chronicler first arrived at the Waystone Inn, and after some opening exposition with a visitor in the bar, we get right back into Kvothe’s story.
It opens at the University, where Kvothe is dealing with admissions at the start of the new term. When his old rival Ambrose poisons him with a plum-like drug, Kvothe has to ditch his original admissions slot until the drug is out of his system. It is during this time that we really start to see the trauma of losing his family really start to affect him. It is brief, but worthy of note, as shortly afterward he runs into the little girl who knew of the Chandrian in the last book. She gives him information about the characters that make up the Chandrian, which helps him to do research on them at the University. When he is brought to trial for calling the name of the wind against Ambrose’s hired thugs in the previous book, Elxa Dal, one of the masters, urges him to take time off from his studies until the incident blows over.
Following the master’s advice, Kvothe goes to work for a nobleman in the hopes of gaining a patron for his music. When his superior, Maer Alveron, asks him to lead an expedition to find a group of bandits that stole tax money from him, Kvothe learns a new language from one of his comrades, Tempi, and defeats the bandits by calling the name of the wind once again. He also meets the faerie Felurian on this trip, and is given a cloak of protection from her. After promising to return, he goes with Tempi to his city, Adem, in hopes of learning the language Ademic in full. It is here that he is given his own sword and he learns to fight. On his way back to the Maer’s estate, he saves two innocent young women from a group masquerading as a faction of his old troupe, Edema Ruh, killing the entire group and returning the girls home. When he returns to the Maer, he is given clearance to go back to the university with a letter of credit from the noble.
Rothfuss sets up an interlude right after Kvothe leaves the girls to their families, and during this Bast leaves to attend a funeral for a departed community member. While Kvothe is preparing dinner for Chronicler, two thugs come in and try to rob the inn. Kvothe puts up a fight, but he doesn’t come away unscathed. Bast returns and immediately tends to him, demanding the rest of the story.
Finally, back at the university, Kvothe’s heroic deeds start to circulate around the school, and he ends the story in better shape than ever before, with the stories of his actions giving his reputation more notoriety. The story over, Kvothe and Chronicler turn in for the night, and Bast tells Chronicler that he has something important to do. Bast goes out and meets up with two men that had attacked Kvothe in the bar earlier, revealing that he is working with them. Bast recites an incantation over their fire, and the story ends, once again, on a cliffhanger.
*Sigh.* Rothfuss sure knows how to make you hungry for more….
So, this was good, although it didn’t blow me away like the first book had. This doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, but that it paled a little in comparison to its predecessor. And I can’t say that I’m surprised by that. I’ve often found that when you absolutely adore the first book of a series, the second book, more often than not, will not give you the exact same experience. This is because of a number of things, from the time the second book is written compared to the first (in this case the prequel being written in 2007 and this book being written in 2011), to the author trying to set up their story properly, and to the book ending without giving away all the answers. Rothfuss’ work definitely falls into the first two reasons for it not being as good as the first.
All that said, I really did enjoy the story the book told, although it took me longer than usual to finish. I like how Rothfuss continued to build the legendary heroic figure Kvothe would become, how we continue to see that. I really enjoyed seeing him struggle with the tragedy of losing his parents in the previous book, despite it only taking up one chapter. I like how Rothfuss gives Kvothe the time to actually learn a bit more about the Chandrian as well.
“I unrolled the paper further. There was a second man, or rather the shape of a man in a great hooded robe. Inside the cowl of the robe was nothing but blackness. Over his head were three moons, a full moon, a half moon, and one that was just a crescent. Next to him were two candles. One was yellow with a bright orange flame. The other candle sat underneath his outstretched hand; it was grey with a black flame, and the space around it was smudged and darkened.
‘That’s supposed to be shadow, I think,’ Nina said, pointing to the area under his hand. ‘It was more obvious on the pot. I had to use charcoal for that. I couldn’t get it right with paint.’
I nodded again. This was Haliax. The leader of the Chandrian. When I’d seen him he had been surrounded by an unnatural shadow. The fires around him had been strangely dimmed, and the cowl of his cloak had been black as the bottom of a well.”
Where I think the story suffered a bit, however, was that I don’t feel like the title tied into the actual story to be as impactful as it was in the first book. I think that’s my main issue with it, that while we see Kvothe grow, learn, and change, it didn’t feel like his mission in this book was as clear as the first book. I don’t know if that’s to be expected because of the “life story” format this novel has taken, but it bothered me a little bit. I hope Rothfuss is working to improve upon that, because I can see how that weakness can be turned into a strength. It’s clear to me that he is building up to something – he just needed a more solid baseline to work off of. Giving Kvothe another impactful goal for the duration of the story (i.e. maybe he searches for a magical artifact hidden somewhere) would help to give the story more of a focus. But, as I said, I can see that he is setting something up here, and I can’t entirely fault him for that. On top of it, Kvothe at this point has already learned the name of the wind, and I don’t know what other big goal (besides finding the Chandrian) could possibly be set up here, given the story’s structure.
Moving on, I do want to cover some of the story’s characters, starting with Auri.
One of the most impactful moments of the story, for me, involves her. Kvothe was mourning the loss of his parents and she was there to help him through it. I have to admit that the moment was so touching that I actually did cry a little during the scene, because Kvothe’s grief was not only palpable, but Auri helping him through it was one of the nicest things I think anyone has done for him. While I do imagine Auri as a little girl, it was nice to see her be there for Kvothe, because it shows me that they really care for one another. I had to put the book down for a little while to let my emotions out before I was able to pick it back up again. Very beautiful moment.
I think I should talk about Denna next. She and Kvothe had a pretty bad argument in this book, because she wrote a song that painted Lanre (the man who orchestrated the attack on Kvothe’s troupe and family) as a tragic hero. Rothfuss makes this argument create something of a wedge between them, so that even after they make up, Kvothe still feels awkward around her. This is something that I don’t really want to comment on until I know where he’s going to take it next, but I will say this about Denna: she is worth more than she believes herself to be. I hate that we have to learn the truth about her patron which, while I had my suspicions that he was abusive, still absolutely breaks my heart for her. I’m kind of glad we didn’t see her too often in the story – I think I would have started screaming at the book, telling her to get a new patron!
Now, I want to talk about Tempi, one of the people Kvothe meets when he goes on that chase for the bandits that stole Alveron’s money. I really liked Tempi, once we got to know him. He and Kvothe had a really unique friendship that I enjoyed seeing. I liked how he tried to teach Kvothe the Ademic language and culture, even if he did get in trouble for doing so. I liked that Kvothe also taught him some of the Aturan language, even though the language barrier made doing so somewhat difficult. And I have to admit, once Kvothe got to Adem, I didn’t think he’d be allowed to see Tempi again, but I liked seeing Tempi give his friend advice before he was about to fight someone to prove that he could be part of Ademic society. Tempi hadn’t known Kvothe all that long, yet he was still genuinely worried for his safety.
“Tempi caught my eye first and held it the longest, as he was the first Adem mercenary I’d ever met. Far from being the imposing, hard-eyed killer I’d expected, Tempi was rather nondescript, neither particularly tall nor heavily built. He was fair-skinned with light hair and pale grey eyes. His expression was blank as fresh paper. Strangely blank. Studiously blank.”
Before I start to cover some other people from Tempi’s village, I have to mention someone Kvothe met after they had all defeated the bandits. He leaves the group at one point because they see a faerie named Felurian, who puts him under a spell. Felurian is sort of a storybook character in this world, but Kvothe actually meeting her and eventually leaving (because the book tells us outright that that’s close to impossible, given her influence over the men she meets) was pretty amazing, and he didn’t leave her on a bad note, either. He actually managed to feel sympathy for this faerie, despite her luring and capturing him. Case and point: he is eventually given an opportunity to kill her (after calling the name of the wind once again) and he can’t do it – he can’t kill her, because he can understand why she is the way she is, and he can’t fault her for acting according to her nature. After he lets her free, he spends some time with her, with her teaching him about sensual love and Kvothe playing music for her and entertaining her. I really like that, after he meets a being in the forest that tells him about what is happening to Denna and also reminds him of what happened to his parents and who killed them, she lets him have a cry and comforts him, rather than scolding him for getting involved with the creature.
Now I should talk a bit about a character in Adem – Kvothe’s teacher Vashet. I have to admit, I liked her. In the beginning when she meets Kvothe, she is rude to him to see if he’ll run off, rather than stay and learn under her. When he confronts her and tells her that it’ll take more to drive him away, I was in awe. From there, it was great to see her genuinely try to teach him, even if he didn’t do so well with some of the things she was teaching him. I thought it was funny that he asked to fight someone of his skill and Vashet brought in a ten year old – who proceeded to kick his ass more than once! And even then, the little girl was always nice to him, and we do see him improve while fighting with her, eventually going on to actually win one of their bouts.
I also have to admit that I liked how the Ademic people in general were not shy about sex or states of undress. The best example I think I have of this is (I’ll do my best to be as subtle as I can here) when Vashet and Kvothe are working, and he reacts while looking at her because she’s beautiful. She then asks him – with no shame at all, I might add – if she can help him alleviate that amorous feeling. I think you can guess what happened next.
Once Kvothe is on his way back to the Maer’s estate, he runs into that troupe I mentioned. I have to admit, he caught on to what they were up to very quickly, but given the situation he was in, it wasn’t that surprising. I liked how, as soon as the kidnapped girls were brought out, he knew immediately what his Edema Ruh roots required him to do. Seeing Kvothe kill the entire group with his sword, while gruesome and terrifying, was also somewhat satisfying once we know who the group members really are. I especially liked how Rothfuss didn’t have Kvothe just shrug off his actions. Even though they were bad people, Kvothe is haunted by his actions of killing everyone in the “troupe.” He has repeated nightmares on his way back to Maer Alveron’s estate, which is an essential touch to creating a dark and somewhat tragic scenario.
“But even when I forced thoughts of Alleg from my mind, I had other demons to fight. I remembered bits and pieces of that night, the things the false troupers had said as I cut them down. The sounds my sword had made as it dug into them. The smell of their skin as I had branded them. I had killed two women. What would Vashet think of my actions? What would anyone think?”
Now, I want to put in a word about Maer Alveron. I actually kind of like his relationship with Kvothe, given that he saved his life. After that, the Maer was really good to him, treating him as a trusted assistant. I thought it was nice of him to give Kvothe a letter of credit for the university, and offer to pay his tuition. Although, after all Kvothe did for him, I was happy to see Alveron treat him well.
Finally, I want to talk about Bast again. At the end of the story, as I said, it was revealed that the two thugs that robbed Kvothe were working with him. And just the same as last time, I really can’t wait to see where the story goes next! Rothfuss has admitted that The Kingkiller Chronicles are a prologue to a much bigger story he’s setting up, and I can’t help but wonder how Bast will play into it. How will his actions impact Kvothe? What is he up to? I found that with the end of this book, I no longer trust him. That said, I’ll wait to see where the story takes us before forming any further judgements on the matter. But, all that said, I did enjoy the outer frame of the story just as much as I did in the prequel.
“The innkeeper nodded. ‘Right. So if you were Kvothe, and terrible clever, as you say, and suddenly your head is worth a thousand royals and a duchy to whoever cut it off, what would you do?’
The smith’s prentice shook his head and shrugged, plainly at a loss.
‘Well, if I were Kvothe,’ the innkeeper said, ‘I’d fake my death, change my name, and find some little town in the middle of nowhere. Then I’d open an inn and do my best to disappear.’ He looked at the young man. ‘That’s what I’d do.'”
All in all, while it will not come close to the impact The Name of the Wind had on me, it was a pretty good sequel for the series. I’m excited to see how Rothfuss continues the story.
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