07 January 2014

All Wise Men Fear (writing too much)

This review is more for myself than anything else, to sort out how I really feel about The Wise Man's Fear. And there are very minor spoilers ahead. As an aside, I always feel a little guilty of criticizing other creatives. They've done things I (kind of) have only dreamt of. So include a great amount of trepidation and respect as you read this.

Mr. Rothfuss has created quite a tome here and, as many have said, much of it is inconsequential. As Stephen King is often quoted, most fantasy authors just wanted to linger in Middle-earth a little longer, but Mr. Rothfuss (like GRRM and many others) is lingering in his own world.

It's a good world to be sure, well-developed with many different cultures and enough hints at languages and custom to feel quite substantial. There is momentary brilliance as well in terms of prose and content: Elodin's speeches, bits of wonderful poetry, the little we learn of Fae, brief glimpses of the ancient mythology of the world (like the Creation War). Those teases at great scope are what makes good fantasy worlds. 

His space is setup properly and, again at times, beautifully portrayed. But about halfway through this story I started getting tired. Very tired. My interest would pique here and there but it always settled down to the dull thrum of Kvothe going here and doing this and going back again.

Just as we reach his trip to Ademre, though, it hit me. This is just a tall tale in the format of contemporary fantasy. It's the "true" story of a folk hero being born, a folk hero who is aware enough to weave his own gestation and contractions and birth pains. And if he's going to be the greatest hero of the age, of coursehe's going to go to the best university and be the best student. Of course he's going to kill a 'dragon' before he's old enough to drive. Of course he's going to stumble upon a plot to kill a noble and be the only one who can figure it out. No wonder he loses his virginity to a nymph who thrives on hot lovin', freeing him up to bed every other woman he comes across (who, seemingly, aren't much better than the sex-goddess). And (facepalm) certainly he would happen to be in a position to learn how to fight from the most deadly, and yet noble, warriors in the Four Corners. 

It's an RPG story. The great hero is leveling up. Taken like that the story falls more into place. 

We also get a peek at the after effects through the 'interludes'. The sassy, self-assured, ballsy and over confident Kvothe of his teens has become a broken man. So the fact that everything works out, that his smart assery pays off and that he becomes a legend before he can grow a beard, doesn't seem so wild. 

But The Wise Mans' Fear suffers from the same disease that many contemporary fantasy writers have contracted, in which brevity becomes a four letter word. It surprises you with it in some parts ("and then I made it to Severen"), but typically it is just too, too long and feels self-indulgent. What could be said in one chapter takes five. This is what you have to do when you're telling the story about a few years in the life of one man and you want to make it into an epic fantasy volume. Again, there are moments of payoff but the pay isn't much more than a handful of shims (see what I did there?).


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