What images do the words "epic fantasy" bring to your mind? For me, they call up ferocious battles and distant lands and great, world-changing actions. By those measures, Patrick Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear would certainly fall into the epic-fantasy camp. Yet those approaching the second volume in The Kingkiller Chronicle with hopes of Tolkien-esque fields of slaughter or the geographic sweep of the Viriconium novels will probably end up a bit surprised. Rothfuss maintains the approach he began with The Name of the Wind, twisting fantasy tropes to fit an intimate rather than expansive narrative, a story centered on a single, extraordinary life.
The Chronicler is ready to pick up his pen again. A day and a night have passed, and the story he has heard so far from the legendary Kvothe hasn't disappointed. A tragic childhood. A serendipitous enrollment at a famous arcane academy. A clever dispatching of a marauding dragon. A search for the terrifying Chandrian, at whose appearance iron rusts and wood rots and flames gutter blue. The red-haired man masquerading as a backwater innkeeper has recounted many of the details for which the Chronicler has longed. Yet there are more to come. As the second day dawns, he will learn how Kvothe saved the life of a powerful noble, turned the tide of a savage skirmish, and escaped the clutches of the seductive Felurian, the fae woman whose charms break men's bodies and crush their minds. But doubts will arise in the Chronicler's mind, too. Why do some of the tales that Kvothe recounts not seem to square with evidence? Why can't the man who allegedly called lightning down on scores of his enemies deal with a couple of squabbling soldiers? And why does Kvothe's fae assistant, Bast, seem so set on having the Chronicler produce an uplifting account of his master?
If you've read The Name of the Wind, you have a pretty good idea of what lies in store with The Wise Man's Fear. If not, then go get it -- now. Any author deserves attention who can produce an 800-page-plus tome that's elegantly written, original in setting, exciting in action, profound in theme and imminently readable throughout. That's no small feat. His follow-up keeps the quality similarly high, albeit with a few missteps. Readers know from the first book that Kvothe is destined to become a great lover, a kind of brainy warrior Cassanova. But when Rothfuss introduces Kvothe's first liaison with the supernatural Felurian , it comes across as more silly than seductive, purple in style and studded with similes galore. "Though I am doused in you, I burn," he intones. "The motion of your turning head is like a song. Is like a spark. Is like a breath that billows me and fans to flame a fire that cannot help but spread and roar your name." You get the idea. Also, the novel tends to lose its main plot thread among a snarl of secondary actions, and when references to the Chandrian pop up, they do so with surprising abruptness. Still, these are pretty minor faults. Anyone who liked The Name of the Wind would be foolish to not pick up The Wise Man's Fear.
(Picture: CC 2009 by duane.schoon)