The Name of the Wind
was one of the best fantasy novels I've read in the past several years, so it was inevitable that the second book in Patrick Rothfuss's debut trilogy would have a hard time living up to expectations. Although I really liked it, I felt like rather than building on the awesomeness of book one, Rothfuss kind of let his momentum carry him through the second book. It would have been better had they been released as one volume, except of course it would have been the phonebook-sized.
In The Wise Man's Fear
, Kvothe continues to struggle to pay his tuition at the University, continues to engage in pointless juvenile rivalry with Ambrose, continues to have an on-again, off-again not-really-a-relationship with Denna, and continues his search for the secrets of the Chandrian. In the meta-story, it's day two of Kvothe's narration to Chronicler and Bast, and all that really happens is we get more dire portents and hints that the world is becoming a darker, scarier place, and that Kvothe is not the man he once was, if he ever really was that man.
I enjoyed The Wise Man's Fear
, every hour of it. It was all great storytelling, and while there were chunks of the book that could have been edited out, nothing was a waste or uninteresting. That said, Rothfuss has been credited with bringing something new and awesome to the table in the fantasy genre, largely with his inversion of expectations and his skillful use of all the fantasy tropes we know and love, treating them affectionately and knowingly while making something new with them. But the second book of the trilogy doesn't really do anything new, and in some ways falls back into the cliches I thought Rothfuss was subverting. For example, Kvothe is like the ultimate Mary Sue of high fantasy literature, except in book one, we found out that a lot of his supposed legendary feats were made up or exaggerated. In book two, he actually does
a lot of the things he's credited with, so it's less a story of a man being trapped by the legend he created and more a story of a man actually becoming the legend -- which we've seen many times before. Sure, he's still very human and vulnerable, but he gets away with an awful lot and he learns all kinds of skills with just a few weeks practice and makes friends with everyone he meets, who all teach him their secrets (except the people who irrationally hate him just because he needs some antagonists).
The worst part of The Wise Man's Fear
is when Kvothe wallows in the worst aspects of Mary Sue-ism: the land of teenage wish-fulfillment. He starts the book as a virgin, but by the end he's added advanced sexyjutsu to his list of super-special skills that he does better than anyone else, starting with his encounter with a fairy seductress sex'n'death goddess. It's not enough for Kvothe to get laid by a superhot immortal fairy woman, it's not enough that he's the only one in history to walk away from her afterwards, it's not enough that she doesn't toss him back into the water like the underage virgin he is (yeah, an older woman who can have pretty much any man in the world she wants is totally going to fall for a teenage boy), no... she also gives him a magic cloak and sends him off to sex all the other ladies in the world so everyone will know that her
milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.
I liked the chapters where Kvothe is in the fey realm -- they were magical and mysterious and had a perfect fairy tale quality to them, and Felurian was hot and sexy and creepy and scary all at the same time -- just as I liked Kvothe's time among the Adem learning badass martial arts skills -- but Kvothe getting laid by pretty much any woman he shows an interest in felt like straight-up fanboy pandering, as did his becoming the equivalent of a black belt after a couple months of study.The Wise Man's Fear
is a huge book, but it only covers Kvothe's life from age 15 to 16. So I'm not sure what Rothfuss is going to do for the finale. I'm hoping he actually ends the series in book three -- this story really needs a decisive, genre-rattling ending, not to become yet another interminable multi-book series coasting on fanboy adulation like every other fantasy series out there.
All my griping aside, this book was still entertaining as hell and I am looking forward to book three, but whereas The Name of the Wind
was a glowing 5-star book (and I always think hard before I give a book 5 stars), The Wise Man's Fear
is more like 4.5 stars -- still a damn fine book, but it did not blow me away like the first one. I've got enough faith to hope this was just the dreaded "sophomore slump" a lot of authors suffer in the middle of their trilogies and that Rothfuss is going to bring it in book three. C'mon, dude, don't let me down!