Monday, February 28, 2011
Review: The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
In this series, Rothfuss sets out deconstruct the standard epic fantasy hero. To do this he must embrace a number of the classic tropes involved – Kvothe is orphaned, driven to avenge his parents’ death, attractive, arrogant, gifted (at music and in some academic pursuits), an adolescent coming of age, a legendary fighter, a talented wizard, etc. The joy for me is in watching Rothfuss slowly dissect this ideal fantasy hero – a classic Gary Stu if you will. Rothfuss chooses to do so by having an older and (possibly) wiser hero relay his story to a chronicler and the reader sees this all through the first person perspective of Kvothe telling his coming of age story. Kvothe chooses what to share and how to share it while periodic interludes provide hints of the popular versions of these events as told by people at large and offer other fun and interesting perspectives. Kvothe often leaves out what would otherwise seem rather important – like the time he is on a ship attacked and sunk by pirates which he barely survives after which he spends time as a penniless beggar is glossed over in only a couple of lines, yet he spends pages mooning over the girl of his dreams. Apparently one of the more infamous events in Kvothe’s popular lore is a trial that he eventually wins – yet he barely mentions it in his retelling, much to the chronicler’s chagrin. The reader is left wondering which is more at work – the exaggeration of rumor or Kvothe’s own version of things?
It’s in this style with Kvothe as a narrator that is both one of Rothfuss’ greatest strengths and weaknesses. The reader sees that the infamous Kvothe Kingkiller is at times nothing more than bumbling idiot of an adolescent – utterly clueless about events around him and women in particular. We get to see Kvothe learn to fight in a distant land where he gets his butt kicked repeatedly (often by little girls) and never even becomes an average fighter among those that teach him. And at other times we see nothing but arrogance. Kvothe tells the stories he wants – so we get to see him talk endlessly about his lady love. We get to hear all about those stories from the University – you know the types that your buddy tells over and over even though you’ve heard them all 1000 times before. The events that you feel are important are either lacking or different. And it’s all complicated by the factor that Kvothe is probably not the most reliable narrator – did he ever grow beyond that arrogant kid who loved to embellish stories about himself?