Patrick Rothfuss – The Wise Man’s Fear

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss is the first book I’ve read that is published in 2011 and as such the first one on my Wanted List for this year that I have obtained. The Wise Man’s Fear is the (for many) long-awaited sequel to The Name Of The Wind. I enjoyed that book quite a bit although I thought the praise it got everywhere was overrated.
The Wise Man’s Fear is built up similarly as The Name Of The Wind: in a certain present day the protagonist tells his story to a chronicler. During the storytelling the reader sometimes switches back to this present time, providing the information that the story will not have ended yet, although what or how remains unclear.

As it has been 4 years since I read The Name Of The Wind I had forgotten quite a bit of details from it, but the story brings the reader back to the familiar setting of the first book. No less than a third of the book is actually not much different from the setting and events of The Name Of The Wind. The main character is still attending the University, where he progresses further in his studies. As it was mostly more of the same I started longing for the moment the character would leave or do something noteworthy. As said this fortunately came after one third. This certainly improved things as there was finally some real development. The middle part itself consisted of two parts with different settings. The second half was certainly very strong with some strong action and strange settings. I liked this part most of the book. In the final part Rothfuss provides the reader with a completely different setting. It is partially a continuation of the second half of the middle part and can be noted for it’s philosophical themes. Rothfuss manages to present these in a natural way. However, even with a different setting, the story feels a lot like we are back at the University albeit with more restrictions. Rothfuss certainly kept himself on familiar ground.

Overall The Wise Man’s Fear is not that particularly exciting or filled with action. About two thirds of the book the main character is in a learning environment. Nothing really eventful or dramatic happens and although some background is filled in the most significant revelations happen in the middle part, which is also where most of the real action takes places. In the whole book there were only one and a half events which got me rocking (the half one had not that much a climax as hoped), both in the fore-mentioned section. For a book of almost 1000 pages this is way too little, especially as it’s supposed to be the middle book of a trilogy. The first book gave us the early childhood of the main character and his development after joining the University. The Wise Man’s Fear does nowhere get into full gear. Sure, plenty of things happen, but most of them are minor events with (seemingly) little impact on the major story. Rothfuss keeps a leisured pace and after a more active middle part got back to his old pace again leaving the book ending without any impact. The main character has learned a lot but this has nowhere affected the greater story yet. Like The Name Of The Wind there is a small event related to the greater story but it shows no repercussions. It thus seems that all the real action will take place in the third and final book which is a bit odd.

Even as there are few major events happening Rothfuss is a solid writer who knows how to entertain his reader. Nowhere the story gets boring or slogs down. The main character is active and plenty of funny and interesting things are happening. He builds his settings and develops his characters really well. They feel natural and are easily comfortable to the reader. Strong characterization certainly attracts readers and he does a great job at it. In the second book he adds a large set of different characters to the existing ones. They quickly fit in and are very recognizable without being cliché in any way.

Besides the lack of major events the main problem of The Wise Man’s Fear is that it is too long. Rothfuss often makes small digressions and goes into detail to explain situations and backgrounds in a natural way. However it all feels like an extended version of a movie. These days DVDs often provide deleted scenes or and extended version for the fan who isn’t bothered by the length of the movie. This is also how it feels with The Wise Man’s Fear. I always read about how authors tell that editors cut down their first drafts substantially but it feels like it didn’t happen here. Many digressions add little to the story. They provide a greater whole but when cut out you wouldn’t have missed them. Especially the first part contains much similar to the first book and presented little that was new, even if it was done to allow the reader to get back into the story more easily.

Remarkably about these digressions and details is that it does not happen everywhere. Certain events or mini-arcs are quickly skipped over and dubbed as unimportant to the narrator. Of course this is something that can happen, but to me the significance of other events, which were far more fitting to be skipped over or summarized, is unclear. In my opinion probably the book could be a quarter shorter without much effort. If you write a book of almost 1000 pages this amount should be justifiable, for example if there are too many connected events happening that lead to certain conclusion. This is nowhere the case for The Wise Man’s Fear. It could have been cut in two or even three books without much of a problem.

The last thing I want to say something about is that Rothfuss added a considerable amount of romance to the book. As I’m a male I’m not particularly looking for romantic stories but I don’t mind some romance to add some extra dimensions to a story. Even so I noticed that Rothfuss spent quite more attention to romantic events than I’m used to. Could it be he did so to please more female readers? As this is a first person story where the male narrator tells his story to only male listeners it seems a bit too much to spend so much time on these events while skipping on others that would’ve been more interesting to the ones listening to his story. Of course different perspectives can explain things like these, but it just felt a bit odd to me.

As I often do, it will perhaps seem that I’m only critical to a book and sing few praises in comparison to the negative comments. This is mainly because negative comments require more explanation to make clear what specifically is less good. It is the curse of a thorough analysis. Weaknesses are made much bigger than they seem.

The Wise Man’s Fear is a strong sequel to The Name Of The Wind. The reader will feel at home quickly and enjoy a solid and entertaining story with excellent characterization. I certainly had a great pleasure reading it although it did not have many peaks that would make it a memorable book.

I highly recommend The Wise Man’s Fear to every fantasy reader. For now I don’t categorize it in a specific type of fantasy. It dabbles a bit in epic fantasy but the scope and range of events remain restrained so much that I wouldn’t define it as such. It remains a bit in the middle of the road. It does not thread new paths but does contain interesting ideas and concepts. As such this book hasn’t changed my opinion of the series. It is a very well written fantasy story but lacking in impact. Much happens to the main character but it has only a small effect on the surrounding world and the greater story. We know this will change, but usually there is more general development. Until now the main character can just do what he wants and it does not really matter that much. Either way I will surely pick up the next volume of the series.

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