After coming out on March 1st, I knew it would take me a while to read all of The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. In fact, I think I read the 994-page installment on the pace I expected, short the four days I spent fighting through the section on Felurian. Now that I’ve finished, I will say, The Wise Man’s Fear is a worthy successor to The Name of the Wind, which is still one of the best fantasy books to come along in the past ten years, if not longer.
Following through on the promise of our in-story storyteller, Kvothe begins the second day of telling his life’s story once his inn has been set up for the day. While we spend little time with the framing story at first, this installment serves to increase the importance of that sequence and Kvothe’s legend. The plot might pick up slowly, but this isn’t a plot-heavy book, relying on storytelling, character, and strength of writing.
The first third of The Wise Man’s Fear is spent in The University, featuring sprinkles of Kvothe’s rivalry with Ambrose. Kvothe’s studies are key here, and his struggle to pay for his tuition. The most enjoyable parts of this section (and possibly the entire book) feature Master Elodin, the naming teacher. Elodin’s lessons are always fun–I don’t know of another teacher in all of literature who describes a student’s impatience by saying, “Stop grabbing my tits!”
The bulk of the book is actually spent in Vintas, a country Kvothe retreats to after being put on trial for attacking Ambrose at the end of The Name of the Wind. Answering a summons for a musician, Kvothe meets Maer Alveron and is tasked with writing love letters and songs. Since Kvothe is a magnet for trouble, he gets wrapped up in politics, assassination plots, and a campaign to fight off a fearsome group of bandits. He studies from the mysterious Adem as well, trying to prove he can follow the way of the Lethani.
During these excursions, Kvothe goes through many adventures that make up his legend. The least of these is the time he spends with Felurian in the Fae realm. While I am not the biggest fan of this section, there is a profound conversation that happens during this part of the story, a conversation that not only improves the story Kvothe is telling, but it also has implications for the framing sequence. There is no spectacle in Rothfuss’ writing, but there is grandeur in how he expresses his imagination through his writing. You wouldn’t think a conversation with a tree could be profound and, yet, it is.
The Adem are complex and engaging. Through the mercenary Tempi, we start to see the silent warriors have a different mindset on all things, from language, combat, anger, and sex. They have rituals to focus their minds and joy in their hearts. From barbarian eyes, it only appears they are quiet soldiers of war, when the truth is they are a culture with a Shaolin-like ideology, even though they aren’t stereotypically Asian. I give Rothfuss points in this regard, since the usual reaction is to have such a character be purely Asian. I think this change gives diversity to the setting while respecting Asian cultures by not forcing them into a stereotypical role.
Even though most of the story centers around Kvothe’s adventures, it’s his personal connections that make things shine. The outcast arcanist/moneylender Devi is often enchanting. Wil and Sim serve as the kind of friends we all have, close friends who tell us what we need to hear and help us when we need it most. While Ambrose only appears in three scenes, he is a constant presence in The University, even if he’s only seen escorting Denna from a distance.
Denna. She is still the most complex character in the series, a point only driven deeper in The Wise Man’s Fear. She continues to enjoy music and enchanting young men, using a different name with every new relationship. She is passionate and opinionated, fitting of one of the biggest driving factors in Kvothe’s tale. Their relationship grows stronger and closer, especially when they meet in Vintas. There is something great about her contribution to the overall plot, something that lets Denna charm us just as she charms Kvothe.
Overall, I was very pleased with The Wise Man’s Fear. My only problems were in the overuse of Felurian and the oversexed response Kvothe has to women after leaving Felurian. This is overshadowed by the Vintish exchange of rings, the actual battle against the bandits, the Adem, the Cthaeh, and so much more. And the Lockless Box, a double entendre that develops significance through the main story and the framing sequence.
In a few years, I’m sure we’ll find the final installment just as engaging.