A handful of years ago, my son and I were on our way to a hockey game in downtown St. Paul. As we headed toward the arena, I happened to look across the street and see Patrick Rothfuss walking in the opposite direction. Naturally, having loved his first book, THE NAME OF THE WIND, I altered my course and stepped up to him on the corner, my child in tow.
After some menial banter, most of which involved his being surprised that anyone would recognize him on the street, talk turned to THE WISE MAN'S FEAR, the delayed sequel to his masterful debut. Impatience was brewing in the fantasy readership due to the delay, and so I asked him what the nature of the postponement was. His response was blunt: "I don't want it to suck."
After a few more minutes talking, I left our discussion and continued toward the arena. As disappointed as I had been with the waiting involved in the new novel's release, I left that impromptu meeting rather impressed and more than willing to wait for however long Rothfuss felt it was going to take to make this book the very best it could be.
Now, THE WISE MAN'S FEAR is in bookstores, and the question needs to be asked: Has it lived up to the expectations? The shortest possible answer is "Yes!" And then some.
Much like its predecessor, THE WISE MAN'S FEAR alternates between Kvothe Kingkiller, our hero, chronicling his life for an inquisitive soul, and interludes that occur in the present time for Kvothe. In these pages, readers continue on the path that unfolds as Kvothe recounts his quest for the truth about the Amyr, the Chandrian, and the death of his parents. Along the way, Kvothe continues to grow and learn, moving ever closer to being the legend who now sits and tells us his story.
Kvothe remains a supremely interesting and entertaining character to follow, particularly with the layout of this novel. Readers spend time in the Waystone Inn where a retired Kvothe reflects on his life. The life he recounts is that of a 15-year-old thrust into the larger world where he defies all odds and builds himself into a legend. As a strapping young buck, Kvothe also begins the transformation from boy to man, which involves some time spent in the arms of the ladies. This is all handled tastefully.
Rothfuss fills the novel with detail, not overbearing enough to weigh down the pace but just enough to vividly bring Kvothe and his world to life. He does a supremely strong job of providing additional characters to interact with Kvothe, particularly Maer Alveron. He also delivers with a style that's pure lyrical beauty, as if the story itself were a song laid bare on the page. It truly is a remarkable feat and a pleasure to experience.
THE WISE MAN'S FEAR is an exemplary work, full of action, depth and humor. At nearly 1,000 pages, it gives definition to the term "epic fantasy." It seems bigger than the pages and is a world that should not be missed. My only hope is that it won't take four more years for the follow-up to roll off the press. Even if it does, Rothfuss has proven that if you have to wait, you'll be rewarded.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on March 28, 2011