The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Digital Audiobook narrated by Nick Podehl
Published by DAW Books on March 1, 2011
Series: The Kingkiller Chronicle #2
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Fantasy, Fiction
Length: 994 pages or 42 hours, 55 minutes
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“There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.”
My name is Kvothe.I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.You may have heard of me.
So begins the tale of a hero told from his own point of view — a story unequaled in fantasy literature. Now in The Wise Man's Fear, an escalating rivalry with a powerful member of the nobility forces Kvothe to leave the University and seek his fortune abroad. Adrift, penniless, and alone, he travels to Vintas, where he quickly becomes entangled in the politics of courtly society. While attempting to curry favor with a powerful noble, Kvothe uncovers an assassination attempt, comes into conflict with a rival arcanist, and leads a group of mercenaries into the wild, in an attempt to solve the mystery of who (or what) is waylaying travelers on the King's Road.
All the while, Kvothe searches for answers, attempting to uncover the truth about the mysterious Amyr, the Chandrian, and the death of his parents. Along the way, Kvothe is put on trial by the legendary Adem mercenaries, is forced to reclaim the honor of the Edema Ruh, and travels into the Fae realm. There he meets Felurian, the faerie woman no man can resist, and who no man has ever survived ... until Kvothe.
I have a lot of feelings about this book. On one hand, I didn’t enjoy it as much as The Name of the Wind, but on the other hand, I thoroughly appreciate the world-building here. I’ve always admired Rothfuss’s magic system and the mechanics of the University, but he has gone above and beyond in The Wise Man’s Fear. But I get ahead of myself.
The Kingkiller Chronicle is a story told by the innkeeper (Kvothe, many years in the future) to the Chronicler. I love this idea. Although I don’t find the times in the present particularly interesting, I appreciate the choice Rothfuss has made here – oral tradition is reminiscent of Kvothe’s character as a bard and musician, and it’s a loving nod toward the history of storytelling, and fits well within the world. There is a little chaos in the present, but other than wondering where Bast and Kvothe met, I’m not really interested in the present events.
In the past, I love reading about Kvothe’s time at the University. While I’m not particularly fond of Kvothe as a character – he has the damnedest luck – I really like the side characters at the University. Davy and Auri are my favorites, but I’m fond of Wil and Sim and even Fella and Mona. The teachers are fantastic. I think The Wise Man’s Fear is strongest while Kvothe is at the University… which, unfortunately, is only 30% of the book. These parts stand out to me like a beacon in the darkness.
As for the rest of the story… I feel like The Wise Man’s Fear lost a lot of the balance of The Name of the Wind. It’s a typical middle book… but… I can’t help but feel it could have been more? In The Name of the Wind, Kvothe’s adventures and luck are off-balanced by his terrible sense of self-preservation and fiery temper. Here, everything seems to go Kvothe’s way. It’s the first time that it occurs to be that Kvothe, as the storyteller, is embellishing. This is backed up by Bast challenging Kvothe in the present. So now that Kvothe is an unreliable narrator, the story takes on another level. Unfortunately, this took away from the depth of the story for me – it started to feel like a man bragging rather than a complex story.
Additionally, The Wise Man’s Fear seems to spend very little time following the original plot? In The Name of the Wind, everything ties into the Chandrian. Here, we touch upon the Chandrian very little. Kvothe asks, but there are so few answers. Instead, The Wise Man’s Fear falls into the trap of epic fantasy, exploring the depths of the world, it’s variety of cultures, and going absolutely nowhere. The pacing grew exasperating, and it’s only Rothfuss’s imagination and Nick Podehl’s excellent narration, that kept me engaged.
While I’m still enchanted by Rothfuss’s writing and intend to read Doors of Stone when it comes out someday, this novel wasn’t my favorite. And yet… it held my attention. On audiobook, The Wise Man’s Fear is 42 hours long… and it flew by. So do know that while the story may have not enchanted me as much as I had hoped, the storytelling is fantastic.
Do I still recommend the Kingkiller Chronicle? Absolutely, and without end. I’m obsessed with this world. Outside of Lord of the Rings, this is my favorite example of epic fantasy. And I LOVE this genre. I think any fantasy fan should consider this series, and an epic fantasy fan doubly so. It’s brilliantly constructed and even when it goes nowhere, I love being in this world. And if you’re daunted by the size (because these are truly TOMES), fear not. The audiobooks are absolutely fantastic.
Do you enjoy epic fantasy? What are some of your favorite examples? I think they are on one end of the spectrum of the other – either incredible or boring. Tell me your favorites!