Book Review: The Wise Man’s Fear

Wise Man's FearThe Wise Man’s Fear is the second book in the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss.

I gave the first book in the series, the Name of the Wind, 4 stars.  The prose was amongst the most beautiful I have come across.  I found the main character, Kvothe, interesting.  The world building was terrific.

The series follows the life story of Kvothe as he relates it to a scribe known as the Chronicler.  A renowned hero, he has mysteriously disappeared, now living as an innkeeper when the Chronicler tracks him down.  Whether or not he has lost his fantastical abilities since going into hiding is ambiguous.

In many ways Wise Man’s Fear continues where Name of the Wind left off.  Indeed, certainly for the first half of the book if anything I found the writing even more gorgeous than the first instalment.  And my interest in the younger Kvothe as he seeks to overcome his many challenges and grow into the power he possesses is engrossing.  As with the first book in the series, if you like epic fantasy with a lot of long descriptions, and if you like your stories to be as much about the development of the characters as the action, then it’s fantastic.

The minor criticisms I had for the first book remained: there are stories told within stories within stories, and I find that a distracting way to give the reader information.  And some of the bad guys remain somewhat two-dimensional.  But they are small things in what is otherwise quite brilliant writing.

Unfortunately, for me (and I know I’m in the minority here) the second half of the book lost its way a bit.

It was all going so well until our protagonist headed into the forest.  Whether you read Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter it seems to be a necessity that there is a lengthy section wandering around the forest.  And just as I found the woodland meandering in those terrific series tedious, so too this section in Wise Man’s Fear seemed to drag.  It almost appeared to me that as the author was writing the section in the woods he decided it needed to be longer, so padded it out.  Now there will be those, I’m sure, who disagree and find great meaning in everything that happens in that part of the book, but for me it really didn’t work.

But my main gripe with the second half of the book began with an encounter Kvothe has with a female faery who can only really be described as a lethal nymphomaniac.  Without giving away spoilers, there are certainly things that happen within this section of the book that are crucial to understanding Kvothe’s story.  But it goes on for something like 70 pages, and there are references to their intimate antics seemingly on most of them.  It’s not especially explicit, but for me it was gratuitous.  And once he finally leaves the infamous faery behind, he has another 3 sexual encounters which all include some degree of description.  It seemed to me – and again this is just how it read to me – that there was almost an obsession with sex in the second half of the book, which was incongruous with the first book and a half.  Whether or not it is essential to the story it could have been told in a less gratuitous way.  If you’re into that sort of thing then fine, but it didn’t work for me.

So despite the truly remarkable prose that glittered this book – in particular the first half – in the end I was somewhat disappointed when I finished reading the Wise Man’s Fear, and indeed may not bother with the final instalment as and when it is released.  Certainly I’ll carefully read a range of reviews before buying.  (That said, Wise Man’s Fear was published in 2011, and as of the date of this review there is still no news on the third book in the series, so it would appear that it’s not coming any time soon.)

Between the engrossing first half of the book, and the largely forgettable second half, my rating is:

3 Stars

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