Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Wise Man's Fear: giving Patrick Rothfuss the benefit of the doubt

The sequel to The Name Of The Wind, The Wise Man's Fear, is a sprawling double album of a fantasy novel - not a genre known for its brevity. Coming it at a colossal 994 pages, it makes its predecessor, a third shorter, look abrupt by comparison.

Warning - spoilers ahead.

I'm no fan these days of the shelf-busting fantasy - why do you need 1,000 pages when you can tell the story in 500. Heck, in some cases even 300 would be too much. 

But I kept going - with a little judicious skimming - up to the end. 'Cause let me tell you, there are some great short stories in there. My favourite is the sequence late on where the hero Kvothe returns a pair of kidnapped girls to their township - it's a western story in miniature. 

There's also a whole lot of world-building, man-build-magical-stuff, man-get-training and man-solve-problem going on in TWMF. More than enough to keep the core-audience entertained, and well done enough that it doesn't feel like the padding it sometimes is.

At the very least, with Rothfuss we're dealing with a skilled craftsman at work. I'm still trying to work out if he's more than that. And that depends for me on where he's taking the protagonist and the series a a whole.

On the face of it, Kvothe rides the  teenage boy wish-fulfilment demi-god trip harder than any fantasy protagonist I've seen since the Belgariad. Having spent most of the previous book and part of this one training to be a wizard, he takes a break from his studies to pick up mystical unarmed combat. The full Grasshopper treatment.

Kvothe's omnicompetence reads like an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons munchkin's dream: teenage mage-thief-bard-monk-fighter, anyone?  And apart from those who hate him, everyone admires and respects him to the point of nausea. I came very close to putting the book down at the point where he's schooled in the arts of love by a passing fairy queen. 

No. Just no. Just Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!

But I persevered. The quality of the writing aside, the main reason I did was the sense that Rothfuss might be setting his hero up to knock him down, hard. Both The Name Of The Wind and TWMF share the same framing device: Kvothe is telling his story to a scholar while in hiding as a village innkeeper, a shadow of his former self seeking exorcism in telling his story.

Something has clearly gone very wrong. And we know from the title of the series and references in the framing story that Kvothe is a regicide.

My hope is that Rothfuss intends at least some subversion of fantasy's tendency to pander to adolescent power fantasies - it's played too straight for parody. 

So, at the moment I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt. But if the plot doesn't start moving quicker than this and he keeps giving us hundreds of pages of Kvothe levelling up to the coos of his adoring audience, I'm off before Rob-Jordanification sets in.

1 comment:

  1. A more critical, interesting take on TWMF can be found here at Doing The Wizard: