Published by DAW Books on March 1st 2011
Genres: Epic, Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic
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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.
In The Wise Man's Fear, Kvothe takes his first steps on the path of the hero and learns how difficult life can be when a man becomes a legend in his own time.
Personally, I liked the first book in The Kingkiller Chronicles better. It was tightly edited, started with a hugely tragic event that would shape young Kvothe’s journey into a legend and only heightened from there. In contrast, The Wise Man’s Fear spends too much time on events that seem either completely unnecessary or like they could be in an entirely different book or novella. As a result, the ending and much of Kvothe’s life at the University, what I cared about the most, is largely and regrettably skimmed over. Though the novel is still an impressive feat, I feel that Rothfuss’s editors gave him a little too much freedom, with certain events taking up too much of the book, and then consequently, the author did not a have high enough word count to finish out the novel in an unhurried way. This was an opinion I shared when I first read this book and again when I reread it.
During both reads of this novel, I was also extremely frustrated with many of Kvothe’s actions. Throughout both books, I was forced to suffer through description of Kvothe’s maybe-maybe-not unrequited love with his beloved Denna. So I was absolutely shocked when he slept with four different women in the course of this book while still harboring feelings for her. What’s far worse, however, was that when Denna began researching the song of Lanre, the song that got his parents and his entire troupe brutally murdered by the Chandrian in the first book, Kvothe first decided to insult her on her failure to get the actual story factually correct, and then leaves town for months without warning her of the dangers of this song. Kvothe found her again months later, but once again failed to give her the warning that could very well save her life because it wasn’t “the right time.”
Kvothe was more afraid of ruining his romantic chances with Denna than he was of what could ultimately befall her at the hands of the Chandrian or her abusive and mysterious patron. I wondered how Kvothe would handle his own devastation if the worst ever did happen to her and he hadn’t tried very hard to stop it. And though I never liked Denna or for that matter, Kvothe’s continued blind and stupid infatuation with her, Rothfuss’s skillful writing made me worry for her. Denna appeared only more sympathetic when she saved a young girl’s life and laid out the only logical, but very bleak, circumstances that would befall the girl if she didn’t wise up and fast. And though I had often hoped that Kvothe would wind up with another girl—Devi, I most profoundly hoped for—I dreaded whatever would inevitably happen to Denna and the havoc that it would wreak on Kvothe’s life and behavior. After all, his life had already been irrevocably changed by the loss of his parents and troupe at a young age—and had forever set him on the path of revenge against a dark and supernatural force that he still does not understand—I hated to imagine what would happen if something happened to the love of his life.
But I really just could not believe the ceaseless extent of Kvothe’s willfully idiotic behavior. I was endlessly frustrated that a prodigy and genius like Kvothe could be so utterly stupid and convinced of his own invincibility. I groaned when Kvothe continued to antagonize his entitled and deadly classmate, Ambrose, multiple times throughout the book. Most people would assume that having to make an illegal gram in order to protect oneself from blood magic—which could very well render Kvothe dead or worse—at his hands would serve as enough of a deterrent to keep Kvothe from upsetting him or gaining his deadly attention. But no, instead Kvothe broke into Ambrose’s apartments to steal Denna’s ring back from him, and then again to rid himself of Ambrose’s blood magic spell. The true icing on the cake was when Kvothe, newly rich, disguises himself and travels halfway across the world to mail a letter he had forged to ruin Ambrose’s high class reputation—professedly from a young woman claiming Ambrose had gotten her pregnant. Kvothe really never learned to stop poking the bear; he believed himself capable of handling anything that the world throws at him—after all, he survived the Chandrian and the Cthaeh tree. Regardless, his action seemed even worse because present day Kvothe informed Chronicler that he got kicked out of the University by continually antagonizing and underestimating Ambrose—so the reader knew the whole time that it wasn’t going to end well.
I was also in complete anguish when Kvothe ruined his chances for a patronage with the Maer, which would allow him to research not only the Chandrian, but also the secretive organization—which was actively erased from history—known as the Amyr. Upon returning to the Maer’s house in Severn, and learning that the Maer actually shares his interest on the Amyr, Kvothe was let in on one of the many secrets of the new wife of the Maer—who comes from the ancient Lackless a lockless box that will not open, but isn’t sealed with a key. But before Kvothe learned about how this box relates to the Amyr, why it won’t open, how it is closed without a lock—he, of course— sabotaged his chances by revealing his previously private Edema Ruh ethnicity to the extremely bigoted wife of the Maer, who immediately and effectively cast him out. This was after months of service to the Maer, saving his life from a servant who was poisoning him, and the months’ long quest and resulting eradication of the bandits who were stealing his tax dollars.
Naturally Kvothe was very disappointed, but not nearly as much as I was. I wanted to scream. Why had I suffered through all the seemingly unconnected side stories—the months of service to the Maer, the bandit excursion, the time in the world of the Fae with the Felurian, the training with the Adem—only for Kvothe to ruin the same hopes he had since the first book in a fit of stubborn pride? My only consolation prize was Kvothe’s rushed return to the University, where he resumed his Naming studies with the eccentric-is-too-mild-of-a-word Elodin.
But I consoled myself by rationalizing that if it weren’t for this often repeated stupidity of Kvothe, he would seem utterly too perfect. He is a natural at almost everything he picks up—the arcane, medical, languages, music, sygaldry, etc. In fact, it was almost annoying how great and special he is at everything and how his every move automatically becomes a legend. After a certain point, it really was becoming unrelatable. Present day Kvothe, who tells the story of his youth, and is utterly without magic and completely despondent, was the only other thing that thankfully dispels his mastery of literally everything. Especially because young Kvothe’s failure to pick up mathematics and chemistry at the University was only brushed upon and doesn’t really resonate, as it was in the supremely rushed ending of the book—which tried to cram an entire year of Kvothe’s study into a mere 50 pages or so. This was laughable compared to the hundreds of pages spent on hunting down bandits and training with the Adem. I would have gladly traded the entirety of Kvothe’s time spent on these pursuits to read more about his studies at the University.
I absolutely hated the parts of the book that involved the Adem and the bandits; I found them boring and felt like they would never end. The adventure with the bandits was only interesting after the actual events occurred, and Kvothe learned View Spoiler »that the leader, was actually Cinder, a particularly horrid member of the Chandrian, for whom he’s been hunting for years. « Hide Spoiler And during Kvothe’s extensive training with the Adem, I felt like I would die from boredom if I heard the words “threshing wheat,” “sleeping bear,” or something inanely similar, to describe a training move one more time. Perhaps if the reader was a fan of action or of fighting books, one might like this part of the book. But in my opinion, these parts of the book would have fit better in a separate novella. As long as these parts of the book were, they would have easily filled a novella; and for as much as they failed to move the overall plot of the story forward, they could have easily been disconnected from the novel at large. Then, a simple time-skip and a reference to the events of the novella could have been placed in the novel, the publishers could have sold an actual whole other book, and everyone would’ve been happy—me especially, at only having to read those parts once and to never pick up the novella containing the bandits and the Adem again.
Though I despised these parts of the book and found them personally boring, they stilled showed off Rothfuss’s craft at world building. The Adem had a rich cultural heritage and lifestyle, combined with their religious belief in the Lethani. And though these parts of the book weren’t for me, the novel as a whole was beautifully written, filled with amazing characters, and a completely absorbing world and its mysteries, along with a wonderful sense of humor. If it weren’t for all of that and the fact that even these slower parts of the book were better than a lot of entire series I have read, I would’ve given this book a lower rating.
Despite all of its negatives and slower pacing, I still recommend this series to anyone and everyone looking into getting into fantasy novels or just into the hobby of reading! My boyfriend, who has never been much of a reader, devoured these books and passionately discussed them with me on multiple occasions. And we’re both dying for the next book in this series, weeks after reading the first two books, and trying to piece together the mysteries of the Chandrian and the Amyr, the lockless box, and what happened to leave present day Kvothe devoid of magic and disguised as an innkeeper in the middle of nowhere.