Saturday, October 08, 2011

Review: "The Wise Man's Fear," by Patrick Rothfuss

Patrick Rothfuss’ debut novel, “The Name of the Wind,” was one of the better fantasy discoveries I’ve made in recent years. Four years later, he finally delivers the sequel, “The Wise Man’s Fear” ($29.95, DAW). Like many sequels, it’s somewhat lacking.

The book continues the tale of the hero (or villain, depending on your point of view, I guess) Kvothe. Now retired from the hero life and running a tavern in a small village, Kvothe’s secret has been found out by a scribe called only the Chronicler. He has convinced the former hero to share his story and this book represents the second part of it.

A whole lot of things happen in this book. Kvothe leaves the University for a time, finds a patron (in a manner of speaking), spends some time in faerie and trains with a fierce warrior race. While all of these things develop the character of Kvothe in their own way, very few of them develop the story. Where “The Name of the Wind” felt very calculated and well-planned, in “The Wise Man’s Fear,” Rothfuss seems to be flying by the seat of his pants a little.
As a result, we get some interesting tales about our hero, but the story that was begun by the current version of Kvothe fighting off some strange creatures before he sat down to tell his tale, moves forward barely, if at all.

Compounding the problem is that we don’t get to see some of the more interesting misadventures that befall Kvothe. For example, a pirate attack that sinks the ship he’s on and almost kills him is related offhandedly with no detail after the fact, while we get a full accounting of several rather mundane occurences.

There are a few interesting developments in the present part of the story toward the end of the book that leave some interesting questions, but with four years between the first and second book, when will we get the answers?

“The Wise Man’s Fear” is not a flop by any means. Rothfuss remains a talented writer, and the characters are interesting and engaging. Not once during the course of the book was I bored or disinterested, but at the end, I also didn’t feel very satisfied. The dressing was nice, but I’m left, like the lady in the old Wendy’s commercial, asking “where’s the beef?”

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