Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Patrick Rothfuss: The Wise Man's Fear

This is some kind of enormous book. I'd been lulling myself along as I read it thinking that it was just over 900 pages, then it hit me towards the end that it was almost 1,000. This is the middle book of a projected trilogy and it's longer than the whole of the core text of the Lord of the Rings. The mind reels at how long the Peter Jackson adaptation would be. The damn thing is so big, and so heavy, that for the first time in my life I thought about buying an eReader just so that I could read a book without hurting my wrists.

And The Wise Man's Fear is not long because it's packed with every single incident that the author could think of; he quite deliberately skips two whole chunks of narrative because they've got nothing to do with the plot. The framing conceit of the trilogy is that the protagonist, Kvothe, is going over his life story during what's heavily foreshadowed to be his last few days of life, and he's telling it his way. So he skips an entire trial scene because it's boring and - rather brilliantly - anyone really curious can check the law reports. He also skips an entire sea voyage with pirates and marooning because it has nothing to do with the main story. Mind you, at that point I thought that Rothfuss had decided he needed a way to reset Kvothe's angst meter from "Got money, ready for new challenges" back to the default "Flat broke, need to improvise.", and just arbitrarily took everything off him so as to get him back into Rothfuss's comfort zone for the character.

These are all by the way; for the most part Rothfuss is doing a genuinely impressive job with the books. He's set himself a very hackneyed plot; youthful protagonist must learn the ways of magic to exact his revenge on the evil forces of darkness, yadda yadda yadda, but he's pulling it off pretty well. The main character is just charming enough to drag you along with him without being in any way ridiculously nice. The supporting characters are nicely sketched in. If I have an issue with any of the work done so far, it's that the main love interest doesn't make a lick of sense. It's not that the character isn't sketched in well (though I do tend to imagine that there's a picture of Raiders era Karen Allen on the wall in front of him when Rothfuss is working on the character), it's just that she pops up whenever the plot needs her to, with no rhyme or reason. At one point, Kvothe undertakes an (already mentioned) calamitous sea voyage to a distant city and the next thing we know, there's the main love interest for no readily apparent reason other than to drive him nuts. That began to bug me, though I have enough respect for Rothfuss' plotting skills that I suspect that in the third book we're going to see that there were no coincidences at all in play. Just about everything else that happens in the books so far has happened for a plausibly thought through reason. Rothfuss isn't likely to have slipped on something so central to the action.

Still, it's inhumanly long for the middle book and it's not yet clear to me that it's kicked the plot far enough down the road. Book One, the Name of the Wind, got us from Kvothe age six or so to age 15. Book Two, for this is she, got us to near enough age 17. In the framing narrative, Kvothe is well into his thirties, maybe his forties, living under an assumed name, and apparently the guy who accidentally kicked off a major war. Book Three's gonna have quite a lot of work to pull off to get us from where we are to where we know we ought to be going. Either the tempo of story telling is going to go up about a million gears, Kvothe is going to skip a BUNCH of things which are in the law reports already, or I'm going to need to hire a man to hold the book for me when I read it.

I fear the worst.


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