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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Wise Man's Fear: The Kingkiller Chronicle Day 2 by Patrick Rothfuss

“There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.”

This review is going to seem a bit negative, but believe me it isn't. The second book in the Kingkiller Chronicle, The Wise Man's Fear, is nearly everything the first book is (which I reviewed here) - nearly, but not quite. The issue is me though, not the writing. I have become jaded at this point. There are two primary reasons for this.

The first reason is the The Name of the Wind is absolutely incredible. It is one of the finest works of epic fantasy I've ever read. Because of that, this book suffers from The Empire Strikes Back phenomenon. When the first of a series is an epic success, the next in the series is held up to that light and found wanting, no matter how well written, necessary and revealing it is. Thus it is with The Wise Man's Fear. There is not a single paragraph in this book that is not needed to understand Kvothe the Bloodless. It reveals the making of the man and the reasons for his convictions and actions. It is a thrilling romp allowing us to see the adolescent Kvothe grow into the young man he became. And by romp I mean all sorts. After all, this is the period of his life where Kvothe becomes a man. Without this 42 hour and 55 minute (!!) behemoth of a tale, I doubt very seriously anything in the third book, tentatively titled Doors of Stone, will make any sense. Just as The Return of the Jedi would make little sense if not for all the reveals contained within The Empire Strikes Back.

The second reason I am jaded is the book is so bloody long. Don't get me wrong, it's extremely good, but after about the third time something incredible happens to Kvothe the Bloodless you start feeling like you've been there and done that. I am not saying that makes The Wise Man's Fear a worse book than The Name of the Wind. I am saying it starts to become a bit predictable and the events tie directly into the afore mentioned The Empire Strikes Back phenomenon. I can now understand why publishers are loath to publish a novel much longer than 450 words. It can become exhausting anticipating the story's climax as you read, and read, and read (or listen as in my case.) It is mostly a subconscious desire for closure that drive this, but this sort of delayed gratification can become quite annoying. I believe this book could have easily been a trilogy of its own, with suitable emotional roller coasters and climaxes. Why Patrick Rothfuss didn't do this, or his publisher insist on it, is beyond me. I would have paid full price for this book split into thirds, and there is precedent for that being done. Standing in evidence is The Psalms of Isaac by Ken Scholes.

Had The Wise Man's Fear been broken into three separate novels, Patrick Rothfuss could have brought to them the same emotional impact The Name of the Wind has. Each story could have crescendoed in its own right, rather than being overtaken by the next incredible exploit. It's not the story I object to in The Wise Man's Fear. It is the story telling. Stories have a shape Kvothe would say, and this story has the shape of an overstuffed gunny sack. I do not blame the writer for this, for all parts of the story are superb. But like a talented actor needs a director to rein them in and channel them at times, writers need agents, editors and publishers to do the same thing. Someone should have convinced Patrick Rothfuss to have made this book a story of three parts. I feel that is his aim for Kvothe's entire tale, but it could be a story of three parts being told three times.

Now that I've said all that seemingly negative stuff, you absolutely need to read this trilogy if you fancy yourself a connoisseur of epic fantasy. Don't be like me and miss it for years and years until a business acquaintance recommends it. I am not kidding when I say it is the best epic fantasy I've personally read. I know others have had their issues with it, mostly in regards to the Bechdel test. But time and again I have heard the agent/editor mantra, "write what you know." If Patrick Rothfuss does that, how is he (emphasis mine) a "bad" writer or person for not including insightful story telling about a gender he is not? That said, are there feminine stereotypes in The Kingkiller Chronicles? Oh yeah, you betcha. Do they work in the self-told story about the exploits and experiences of a single man in accordance with his personality and his situation? In other words, are they true to the story? Oh yeah, you betcha. And there are plenty of male stereotypes in the book which are also true to the story. If you don't like that, it's your prerogative to skip this trilogy. No one will blame you. This book is about a male hero, told by said hero. It is mostly told first-person. You can't expect it to go on a lark to ensure there are two women in the story who talk to each other about something other than a man. Those conversations would be outside the experience of the man telling the story. I'm not saying the Bechdel test is not important. I'm saying you test for PH with he appropriate litmus.

But back to length. I do like the length of this book for one unrelated reason. It allowed me to attain something I never thought I would. I got the Mount Everest badge from What’s that you ask? (Yes, I’m leading you into this and hijacking my own review.) Audible, my source for pleasure “reading,” has joined the badge craze. Yes, it’s silly, but I can’t help but feel a small sense of accomplishment when I get a new badge. The Mount Everest badge is awarded for completing any title that is longer than 30 hours. To the right you can see the badges I’ve earned to date.

They are,

  • 7-Day Stretch – Complete at least 5 books in a single week (not sure when or how.)
  • The Closer – Listened to at least 5 complete books start-to-finish.
  • Mount Everest – see above.
  • Night Owl – Listen to a book for at least 8 hours at night.
  • Weekend Warrior – Listen for at least 24 hours total on a weekend.
  • Marathoner – Listen for at least 8 hours straight.
  • High Noon – Listen for at least 3 hours during lunchtime.
  • Daily Dipper – Listen to books for at least 7 days straight!

I’m oddly proud of some of those. I’ve seven more I can earn. I’m not exactly sure what I need to do to attain them. The criteria are set as riddles, like, “The Stack – If books you compile, then after a while, unto you The Stack we shall render.” That’s sort of geeky cool to me, but I have no idea what it means. I have to buy more books?

And lastly, just to let you know, I started listening to Armada by Earnest Cline right after I finished The Wise Man’s Fear. It’s narrated by Wil Wheaton. It’s a more normal length story at about 12 hours. I’m two hours in. I’ll let you know how it goes in a few weeks.

I hope you found this review of The Wise Man’s Fear interesting. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments. Cheers!


  1. It may be split at some point. Neil Stephenson's Baroque Cycle was originally 3 novels when I bought them, it's 8 now.

    My problem with it was the entire Felurian storyline. It was too.. it felt like an author surrogate wish fulfilment insert. Even the resolution of the central storyline to that tale is sort of the thing an adolescent guy dreams about. In a series that's been wildly inventive in how it inverts cliches, that bit didn't.

    The best trick the series pulls though is because we ultimately know where Kvothe ends up Rothfuss can write a character that's gifted to a ridiculous degree and we don't care. No matter how big the character gets, something's going to go horribly wrong for Kvothe find himself where he is now.

    Long side note. The Bechdel Test is a flawed standard people try to shoehorn in where it doesn't work. Game of Thrones is the elephant in the room but The Kingkiller Chronicle applies as well. They're both based on feudal Europe, Rothfuss' is more modern in it's social advancement, just not that much. The Bechdel Test has no place in feudal Europe, it breaks down in such a male centric society. It's part of a larger problem with genre fiction, if you want to see it that way. No one can create a fully internally consistent world from scratch, it's just too big. So the best authors crib liberally from different eras and areas of history then spin it slightly, they don't have to remember all the rules for an entire setting, just the slant they added. It's very hard to create a setting under that method which passes the Bechdel Test because so much of our past was absolutely horrible to women. Doesn't matter if it's fantasy or science fiction, the better realized the world, the more marginalized women are out of near necessity. There are of course exceptions, but they're the exceptions.

  2. You know when you think of it as 3 books it does make more sense. I'm on page 3200 of 3888 (on small phone screen lol) and was wondering if it was a really long book or just a function of my small screen equaling many small pages. Still yes so many good story beats within this book. The whole Adem section is a slog though (starting way back when he left the estate to capture the thieves in the forest), and sometimes I feel the author is almost trying to pull an L.Ron Hubbard with the depths of detail he goes into their religion/society. Like you said - it's probably a need-to-know to get Kvothes background for the rest of the story, but holy hell I'm beyond ready to get back to an actual plot line.


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