Review: Wise Man's Fear
Title: The Wise Man's Fear
Genre: Fantasy, adult
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
“There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.”
My name is Kvothe.
I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trehon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.
You may have heard of me.
So begins the tale of a hero told from his own point of view — a story unequaled in fantasy literature. Now in The Wise Man's Fear, an escalating rivalry with a powerful member of the nobility forces Kvothe to leave the University and seek his fortune abroad. Adrift, penniless, and alone, he travels to Vintas, where he quickly becomes entangled in the politics of courtly society. While attempting to curry favor with a powerful noble, Kvothe uncovers an assassination attempt, comes into conflict with a rival arcanist, and leads a group of mercenaries into the wild, in an attempt to solve the mystery of who (or what) is waylaying travelers on the King's Road.
All the while, Kvothe searches for answers, attempting to uncover the truth about the mysterious Amyr, the Chandrian, and the death of his parents. Along the way, Kvothe is put on trial by the legendary Adem mercenaries, is forced to reclaim the honor of the Edema Ruh, and travels into the Fae realm. There he meets Felurian, the faerie woman no man can resist, and who no man has ever survived...until Kvothe.
In The Wise Man's Fear, Kvothe takes his first steps on the path of the hero and learns how difficult life can be when a man becomes a legend in his own time.
MY GOODNESS SO MANY MIXED FEELINGS. What is with me and this series??
That 3 star rating is more of a non-rating than anything. I honestly still can't decide if I liked the book or not, but after collecting my thoughts I think I'm leaning more towards not.
When I first finished The Name of the Wind, I also couldn't decide if I liked the book or not. On the one hand, I loved the first half of the book and the University was really cool and sparked my imagination. On the other hand, Kvothe was an arrogant bastard who just happened to be beyond brilliant at everything he did. I also really didn't like Denna and just in general how all the female characters were described in terms of how beautiful and unattainable they all were. I think part of the reason I was disappointed with the book was because it had been so hyped up. I liked it, but there were a lot of things that rubbed me the wrong way.
Two years later I decided to give NotW a reread, this time on audio (because Nick Podehl makes everything better!). I liked the book a lot better this time around. I think it was because I had much lower expectations, but it also helped that Nick Podehl brought out a different side of Kvothe. Kvothe was still arrogant, but it wasn't nearly as grating as the voice in my head. On my reread, I paid a lot more attention to the mythology and the worldbuilding. I loved it, and I decided I liked the series enough to keep reading.
Oh my goodness, why is this series so AGGRAVATING?
The thing is, I went into this book wanting to like it, even moreso than the first book. And yet this book made it so difficult! My main complaint is that 1000 pages later, the series hasn't made any real progress. I still don't know anything more about the Chandrian or the Amyr, Kvothe hasn't grown or changed as a character AT ALL, the women continue to be idealized/objectified/demeaned, and the plot has barely moved in the past or in the present. In 1000 pages, we cover a year of Kvothe's life. If book 3 is supposed to bring Kvothe's story to the present day, that's a good 15 years to cover!
The way women are portrayed in this novel makes me incredibly angry, because if I didn't know any better I'd think Patrick Rothfuss just had no respect for women. But when I read his blog posts and his goodreads reviews, where he says things like "I want to be like Tiffany Aching when I grow up", I know that isn't true! He makes it a point to appreciate characters who happen to be women and feminism in other people's books, but in his own books he never lets us forget that a character is female. When any female character is introduced, Kvothe talks about her appearance. Auri has a golden halo of hair, Devi looks like a pixie, Fela is gorgeous, Denna is "indescribable"... and all of them serve some sort of purpose that revolves around Kvothe. Auri must be protected, Denna must be fantasized about and possessed, Fela feeds his ego. Devi is perhaps the only one out of the lot that makes it clear her world doesn't revolve around Kvothe, but even she is willing to throw herself at him to get something she wants. Let's not talk about Felurian.
Only one in ten students at the University is female, a point that Rothfuss makes many times, as if to make his world more "realistic". What makes me really angry is that it's not like it didn't occur to Rothfuss that his fantasy world didn't have to follow the same rules as the real world. He constructs an entire society, the Adem, where women have roles of power and don't exist simply to fulfill some need of Kvothe's. Then he goes and cheapens it by turning a valuable mentor and independent character into a sex object. It's so frustrating!! The final straw for me was when Kvothe dared to compare what Denna had to do to survive with his choices after his bout with Felurian. Just the fact that he thinks that his jealousy of Denna's suitors is even remotely comparable to her anger at him...Denna made her choices out of desperation, and Kvothe made his because it made him feel good.
And yet, Kvothe goes out of his way to rescue two girls and blast people who perpetuate the idea that getting raped is in any way their fault. I also appreciated the inclusion of the Adem society, even if some situations rubbed me the wrong way. And even if the plot was terribly, terribly slow, I did enjoy Elodin's antics and the political manipulations when Kvothe was with the Maer. I found the story about the moon particularly striking, and I can't help but wonder how Denna fits in with it.
I can't let go of the fact that there were so many things I didn't like about this book, and I'm not sure I have the patience for another 1000 maddening pages. I'm not sure that I love the world enough to continue, because I certainly don't love the characters. I honestly don't know if I'll finish the series, although I probably will since I'm guessing I'll have plenty of time to let my mixed feelings simmer before book 3 even releases. Let's just say that if this series had any more than three books, I would definitely not be continuing.