The Wise Man’s Fear

by: Patrick Rothfuss

This is the second installment in the Kingkiller Chronicles, a fantasy trilogy. It’s got magic, a great main character, Kvothe, and a sense of epic adventure that permeates both stories told.  This is a direct continuation of the first book, so it’s still covering the story of present-day Kvothe in third person and Kvothe’s life story in the first person. I enjoyed it nearly as much as the first, barring two major problems.

The first problem (which I have previously ranted about) is Denna, the love interest of the main character.  Her character development lacks.  Just lacks, in general.  Like I already said, if I were to tell you she was a beautiful, mysterious women – this book adds “in trouble” to that list – the character that popped up in your head, probably something like the more intelligent Bond girls, would exactly match Denna’s character.  And I have the sneaking suspicion that Rothfuss is setting her up for some grand romantic rescuing by Kvothe.  This annoys me to no end.  That being said, one rant on my feelings is more than enough.

The second caveat is how fast the events in this book happen.  Not so much the pacing of the writing, which I think is excellent, but the sheer amount of stuff that Kvothe goes through in this book and the latter third of the last.  Whenever I stop in my reading and put the timeline together, my head whirls a little.  The book covers about a year of nonstop adventure but is over 400 pages of well-paced writing.  You may be thinking: J.K. Rowling did that! However, Rowling built her books around one main adventure climaxing at the end of the year and allowed her characters to show the wear and tear of their lifestyles.  In Rothfuss’ work, it’s multiple, completely separate events in a timeframe that exhausts me just to think about.  And Kvothe never seems to really respond to the stress of consistently having one’s life in turmoil. Don’t get me wrong – he’s had the occasional drastic response to short-term stress.  But the long-term stress of his life has yet to be addressed.  I can only assume it will factor in during the third book.  (Writing this, I come to the realization that perhaps the reason the present-day Kvothe is so different from the Kvothe in the past is because of this continuous stress.  Ah! In that light, it begins to make more sense.)

In this book, I liked all the things I liked in the first book – plot, world buildings, characters, use of magic, ect.  Some of the characters I liked in the first book barely show up in the second, but to compensate some really interesting new characters were added.  I especially liked some of the fairies that were introduced.  My favorite was an evil one whose power of words was most intriguing.  The only thing I enjoyed more about this book than the first is that Kvothe starts having some big growth and realization moments and it’s the first time the reader becomes aware of his character maturing into adulthood.  Markedly, he begins to appreciate the need for tact, if not to embrace it. The first book featured more present-day Kvothe lamenting past-Kvothe’s naivety than past-Kvothe growing up. This book was at least an equal balance of the two.

 I am of the firm opinion that the second book in a trilogy is always the worst, yet I would hesitate to claim I noticed a marked decline in quality.  The first book was, I think, a tad bit better, but the second book didn’t feel like a placeholder as so many second books do. (The Two Towers, anybody?) It was a story, in and of itself, rather than a way to transition the character in book 1 to the character in book 3. 

I am going to recommend reading this trilogy in order – though either book could be a stand alone, there are little connections and references to the first book that are nice to pick up and help the reader develop a clearer understanding of the Kvothe’s world.  If you liked the first one, definitely pick up the second one and give it a chance.  If you like epic fantasy, magical adventures, and strong, intelligent main characters, than this is definitely a book for you – though read The Name of the Wind first if you can! If you’re not into fantasy trilogies or if you’re driven crazy by stereotypical female characters, you may want to give this one a pass.


Female Love Interest

I’m currently reading The Wise Man’s Fear, Patrick Rothfuss’ sequel to The Name of the Wind.  I’m about halfway through it and I’m really enjoying it – I’ll write a review when I’m done – but first, a quick rant.  (Avast, mateys! Mild spoilers abound!)

Denna, the main character’s love interest, is driving me crazy.   She is mysterious and beautiful.  And mysterious and beautiful.  And  – oh look, she picked up a hobby relevant to the main character and did a stupidly generous thing for Kvothe, the main character and has a moment of deep insecurity in the second book, in addition to continuing to be mysterious and beautiful.   (A moment, mind you.  Not a developed theme or anything.  Just a completely predictable “beautiful-girl-who-seems-to-have-it-all-together-is-actually-vastly-insecure” moment.)

Arg! Seriously, Rothfuss? Seriously?! You have this intelligent, headstrong, complex daring main character who is having these fantastic moments of character development and all you can think of for a girl worthy of his love is – mysterious and beautiful? There’s not exactly a windfall of well-developed female characters in these (massive) novels, but, hell, any of the others would make a better love interest than Denna.  I feel I could easily replace her with whatever stereotype springs to mind when I say “mysterious, beautiful” lady and it would not detract from either the story or the love plot at all.

I can’t even give her credit for street smarts because 1) extremely stupid moment of generosity mentioned above.  Look, all I’m saying is if you’re constantly depending on others’ good will to support yourself, you often find yourself in straits, and you come into a huge windfall of money, don’t spend it all on a boy. And 2) she is being incredibly naive and gullible as it pertains to other mysterious people.

This is the only part of the book I sincerely dislike. But, oh, how much I dislike it! Please, people, if you’re going to make your books all about one character who’s amazing and super-intelligent and brave, ect., ect., can you take some time to write a love interest that seems realistically intriguing and engaging as a person?  Beauty and mystery are no basis for a relationship.



The Name of the Wind

by: Patrick Rothfuss

This is a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while and finally got around to this past week.  And it’s so very excellent. If you like any type of high or epic fantasy, I would highly recommend this book.

It’s set up as a story within a story.  The outer story is very slow and takes up minimal space in the book, but the reader can feel that it is headed somewhere important. (This book is the first installment of the Kingkiller trilogy.) The inner story, told by the main character, Kvothe, is his life story. Kvothe, however, is still a young man and I would bet that he is the main character in the outer story as we get to the third book – which is, I imagine where the inner story will take back stage to the outer story.

The story is set in a fantasy world, based loosely on various European cultures of the 1600s or so. There’s magic, of course, which a select few can wield.  There’s dangerous creatures and daring adventures and even a journey or two.  It has everything a good fantasy needs.

The pacing in the book is excellent. The first few pages were a bit difficult to get through, but after that it was nearly perfect.  I was completely absorbed in the story and nothing flew by so fast I couldn’t understand it, but neither did I find myself skimming over bits to get to the next good part.

I really liked the main character.  He was intelligent and flawed; since he is telling his own story, there is reflection on his youthful arrogance or stupidity.  Kvothe is both likable and charismatic; even if I didn’t particularly like him at certain points in the book, I was still invested in what happened next.

Rothfuss excels at world building.  Since we follow Kvothe from a little boy, the reader is present as he learns about magic and the rules of his world.  Often, we’re given information as Kvothe uses it to puzzle something out – Jim Butcher uses a similar technique in his Harry Dresden series, though Rothfuss has a much greater mastery over it. (Sorry Jim! I still love your work!)  There is nary one instance that felt like info dumping.

I didn’t like Kvothe’s love interest, but I did appreciate how Rothfuss used her as a gentle remainder of challenges specific to being a women, especially in the cultures/time periods he’s pulling from.  A lot of authors will build their characters into worlds with significantly different gender roles but not specifically acknowledge the problems that presents their (female) characters; it’s really nice when an author takes a few sentences and does acknowledge them.

Also, I just liked the writing in general.  It was clean and engaging as a whole; the writing itself was easy to follow, though the plotline and content added a welcome complexity to the overall story. Rothfuss is one of, if not the, best fantasy writer I’ve read in a long, long time.

My only critique would be that the inner story is so focused on Kvothe – it is from his perspective, after all – the some of the side characters are not as well developed as I would like.  Several of the characters that he spends a great deal of time with aren’t as well fleshed-out as they should be.  The reader doesn’t get any sense of them beyond their role in their life and maybe one or two defining characteristics.  A bit frustrating, though they still read as believable people. 

This book is really excellent. If you like high or epic fantasy, if you crave Tolkien-esque adventures, or if you’re looking to try out a classic fantasy adventure, this is definitely the book for you.   If you only read the best-of-the-best in any genre, this book is for you.  If you avoid fantasy at all costs, then this, sadly, isn’t the book for you.