Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Girl on Week Action: The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day Two)

The Wise Man's Fear. Written by Patrick Rothfuss.

: That's right, it's once again time for me to prove that I can read and conversely, that Doomwench can sit through a movie. It's time for the old switch-er-roo, where I'll be telling you all about a book I've been buried in.

Preconceptions: I suppose it would have been more helpful to start with the Name of the Wind, the first book in this series, but I read that ages ago and I'm more excited about The Wise Man's Fear (plus Doomwench has already done one). This only just came out and I was dancing nervously at the door waiting for its arrival. Excepting A Game of Thrones (which I originally read some time ago, but am re-perusing for the same book club Doomwench is in-do we do anything apart?) Name of the Wind is the best fantasy book I've read in years. Waiting for the sequel has been killing me.

General Review: Just in case you've had your head in a fantasy blocking bucket for the last couple of years, the general plot of the Kingkiller books is as follows (beware of very minor spoilers):

Kvothe, our hero, is telling the truth of his much exaggerated life story to
a historian. We flash to the present, where he's a tavern keeper and then back to the exploits of his youth. After the death of his parents at the hands of some mysterious demon types, he spends a few years in poverty and then manages, through trickery and generally being a smarty-pants to get himself into a school of science and magic. The Wise Man's Fear covers the middle years of his time at school, the love of his life and some extracurricular adventuring (spoilers end).

Right off the bat, let me tell you that I very much enjoyed this book. The pacing was a heck of a lot better than that in many second act fantasy novels. This was not a placeholder book, the way so many second act books are. It didn't run in circles and vaguely set up for the climax. I ate the whole thing up over a few days and it was the cause of a couple of bleary eyed mornings (just one more chapter).

While we do focus heavily on Kvothe (a deeply self absorbed character) the glimpses of the other characters he allows us remained interesting. Walking the line between writing a believably egoistical protagonist and ignoring the rest of the cast is difficult and Rothfuss doesn't waiver a bit. The slow revelation of who our demonic villains are continues to be paced exactly right. We get the feeling that it's difficult to figure out, but also have enough tiny crumbs of information not to be entirely frustrated.

I know what you're thinking: "but how do you feel about the love interest, O Love Hatey-ist of Reviewers?" Well, I have to give into my own stereotype at least a little here. While the love interest is integral to the story and not at all shoe horned, I continue to hate the object of Kvothe's interest: Denna. She's supposed to be the ultimate desirable but unattainable woman. She's also supposed to be soulfully sad, believing that she's alone and unworthy of being loved. Yeah, you'll be shocked to hear I don't buy it. I just haven't been convinced that she's that great. This might be intentional on Rothfuss' part, the fact that quite a few characters fall head of heels for her leaves me with the distinct impression that it's probably just my wishful thinking. Truth be told, while I enjoyed every minute of this book it was generally lacking in fascinating female characters for me to latch onto. Getting me to ignore my gender bias shows you just how engrossing a read this was!

The world building holds up in this second novel, it continues to feel like a real place with its own history and laws of nature. The magic system of Sympathy (using the likeness between two things to effect each other) is something I've seen toyed with in other fantasy, but is explored to much greater depth here. We spent just a touch too much time at the school, but just as I was beginning to get tired of the setting, Rothfuss moved us out of it.

If you haven't read the Kingkiller books yet, you simply must. It might not be for those of you who want to set the entire fantasy genre on fire, but it is one of the handful of series I would even bother recommending to my pyromaniac friends and readers. These books are excellently written. Rothfuss has created a wonderful world, peopled with unforgettable characters and has woven a complex story I think you'll dig. It is an un-regrettable read.

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