Home > Books > Wise Man’s Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle, Day 2) by Patrick Rothfuss

Wise Man’s Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle, Day 2) by Patrick Rothfuss

Well, after an unexpectedly long delay, aggravated by my need to spend several months in weight training to be able to handle another brick of a book, here we go with Wise Man’s Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle, Day 2) by Patrick Rothfuss. The story is easy to capture. As if we have not already spent long enough in the University of Magical Lore, we start off and end there. In the extended middle section, Kvothe finds it expedient to disappear from the public’s view, so he goes off to a relatively distant land where he saves the life of a powerful man, pretends he’s playing the lead in Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, leads a fractious team of mercenaries in pursuit of bandits, spends a year or so with a succubus fairy, and learns to fight (which may prove useful). As if that’s not enough, he murders nine people in cold blood and generally does enough to enhance his reputation as Kvothe the Arcane, a person of myth whose truth is woven out of fantasy.

 

There are two basic changes from the first book (ignoring the increase in length from 672 to 994 pages). The first is that the language, while remaining of high quality, has lost some of the poetry-as-prose feel that gave the first volume such a distinctive edge. This is slightly more functional with the author preferring to get the job done with more economy of style. The second is a significant increase in the complexity of the plot. You can see the basics of the story as a tale of revenge. Having watched his parents murdered and then, to some extent, recovered from the trauma, Kvothe has been on the trail of those responsible. In a way, everything that has happened to him in these two volumes has been a kind of preparation for what is likely to be a reckoning in the third and final volume (whenever that appears). Since Kvothe has been overcome by fatalism and is waiting to die, we may be tempted to assume he’s not exactly brimming with confidence. But, if we revert to my earlier thoughts about his status as an unreliable narrator, this could be a ploy to bring the Chandrian to him.

Patrick Rothfuss doing his impression of Ian Anderson just before he plays the flute

 

There are notable developments and continuing absences. As a character, we’re allowed to see Kvothe slowly losing some of his underlying naiveté, particularly in his dealings with women, and generally coming to a better understanding of how the world works. If I wanted to be dismissive, I could call this an extended coming-of-age story, but the increasing darkness of the story militates against this. In a way, the trauma he suffered as a child taints his world view. He could have become hypervigilant, trembling in fright at the thought of more supernatural violence directed his way. Instead, he becomes a magician and, despite the arrogance of youth, finally begins to understand what the learning process is all about. There are, however, some significant absences. Although we briefly catch sight of one of the Chandrian, there’s no direct progress in tracking them. His efforts to gather information indirectly do lead to a more general mystery that historical records relating to the Amyr seem to have been tampered with. Presumably we will get an explanation of why so many records should have been purged or changed in the concluding volume. Then there’s the continuing mystery of why this trilogy should be called The Kingkiller Chronicle. Under the conventional rules of fantasy, our hero joins the court and meets the King. In due course, for noble or other reasons, the killing follows. Except most of the action in this series to date has been firmly rooted in the university, its staff and students. So perhaps Ambrose will be promoted to King in the final volume. At this point, he’s the only one who obviously deserves to be killed.

 

The one bright spark is the meeting with the Cthaeh. This seems to be changing the nature of the plot from simple revenge to a more general meditation on determinism. In part, this would explain Kvothe’s current passivity. Although it’s inherently a choice to do as little as possible, the fact of few choices makes it less likely there will he bad outcomes. Yes, the world around him does appear to be in a declining state but he may not be the cause of this effect. In this, I suspect Auri’s role will become highly significant. It follows from where she lives and where another door can be found.

 

My final thoughts revolve around an increasing thematic repetitiveness. Let’s assume for a moment that the way in which you do magic in this world is by achieving a kind of mental state in which the two parts of the mind grow closer together. For these purposes, we can dispense with clever Freudian notions of the trinity, id, ego and super-ego, and merely focus on the idea of mental life as depending on the conscious and unconscious. If I asked you which individual muscles you use to move your body, you could not begin to tell me. But if you decided to stand up, the conscious decision would be executed by all those unknown muscles. It’s the body moving in response to your generalised wishes. So when it comes to magic, you need to learn which muscles to move to achieve the desired magical effects. A baby learns how to walk, i.e. forges the autonomic link between mind and body. Similarly, a magician has to learn which mental processes affect the world around him or her. This is not something that can be taught. That’s why Elodin appears frustrating in not simply “telling” his students what to do. People with ability have to learn how to do it when no-one can actually tell them what “it” is. Describing it as a naming process is as meaningless as saying you have to have a heightened form of awareness in which you see beyond superficial reality, capture the ideas about what your senses detect, and develop means of interacting with the newly perceived reality to change its state in some practical way. So a baby may learn to crawl across a flat surface, but will require completely different sets of perceptual and autonomic controls to walk down a flight of steps without falling.

 

So Kvothe has to begin developing the strength of his Alar, while trying to wake his sleeping mind, while naming things, while understanding the nature of danger with Felurian, while expressing the Lethani as a Ketan and entering the Spinning Leaf. All these are separately described, but they are inevitably the same mental process using different words and in different contexts. Hence, it’s repetitive.

 

Frankly, I think Patrick Rothfus is demonstrating a significant ego to the detriment of his ability to deliver a simple story in the most elegant possible way. Someone somewhere in the publishing house should have taken an axe to large chunks of this text and cut it down to something more manageable. Alternatively, it should have been sold as two separate volumes. This is a ludicrous length, bedevilled by thematic repetitions and burdened by the emotional struggles of a callow youth. That said, I did read Wise Man’s Fear to the end. In other words there’s just enough about the language used and the development of the plot to keep me interested but, for me, the gloss has rubbed off this young author’s reputation and he’s going to drop into obscurity if he continues to churn out overwritten content like this. Nevertheless, this book was shortlisted for the 2012 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel.

 

For my review of the first volume, see: The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, Day 1) by Patrick Rothfuss.

 

For the record, Wise Man’s Fear won the 2012 Legend Award for Best Novel.

 

  1. May 31, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    The first book was a delight to me. The second shows something like pressure from the money people? Still enjoyable, but something is fading. Hopefully it is a pause in what I hope will continue on to be a delightful group of stories. It is always difficult to write new life into a story thread which starts at the end and hints at the middle. Thank you for the post. I see some other posts here well worth a look but I am short on time atm so will follow and be back.

    • May 31, 2012 at 9:26 pm

      Welcome to this blog. It’s always good to have fresh blood joining in. I think the problem with Patrick Rothfuss and this series is not uncommon. He’s obsessive. According to his blog, he’s been writing this series for more than ten years. It began while he was at university and, such is his drive to achieve perfection, that he cannot bear to let go. Every author must be fiercely proud of the prose he writes and work intensively until there’s enough satisfaction in the text to let others see it. Mr Rothfuss writes, rewrites and then adds a little clarification, is unhappy this addition is not quite write and so rewrites the whole section. When he comes back to it, he still has the sense it could be better and so writes some more.

      The problem is he has people around him who indulge this obsessive behaviour. Instead of telling him he must let it go, those who advise him act like midwives surrounding a woman whose water has broken. They advise patience. They say it will be easier to give birth in a further two or three months. All she has to do is work some more on her breathing exercises and get into better physical shape. Needless to say, the results of this advice are unhappiness over the entire experience for all concerned. So I fear the final volume will be worse. The gestation period has been going on for too long. This final baby should have been born years ago.

      • May 31, 2012 at 10:50 pm

        Self editing – I have read that “you can polish till there is no shoe left” and “words, like wine, have to be allowed to breathe”. Looking at those lines, I was prompted to remember the lines “even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed”. Sometimes not editing works in a way that conveys the message in a better way. Thank you for the welcome.

      • June 1, 2012 at 12:25 am

        “Sometimes not editing works in a way that conveys the message in a better way.”

        I couldn’t agree more. Writing is a little like performing on stage. An actor must rehearse intensively so each performance can look effortless and spontaneous. A writer must have the confidence to recognise when the words on a page have been rehearsed enough. Anything more and the performance grows stale.

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