Mount St. Joseph University

Book Review: World Building in ‘The Wise Man’s Fear’

Dateline: student newspaper

By: Brian Mendell

File Under: book review, dateline

Rothfuss' trilogy book covers

Patrick Rothfuss could be called the next George R. R. Martin with his own epic fantasy series, The Kingkiller Chronicle. In his first book, The Name of the Wind, Rothfuss introduces readers to Kvothe (“pronounced nearly the same as quoth”).  Kvothe recounts his life to Chronicler, a historian of sorts, interested in his story. It will take three days for Kvothe to tell all, and The Name of the Wind is just day one.

Plenty of people write fantasy novels. Evidence of this can be seen in the rows of shelves dedicated to the genre in any local library or bookstore. An author has to do things differently in order to stand out. When thinking about Rothfuss’ series, two things come to mind.

First, you’ve never seen magic quite like this. The Wise Man’s Fear, like its predecessor, grounds magic with a set of rules. In Kvothe’s world, magic is not unique. While it’s not exactly everywhere, anyone can learn how to do it. Whole buildings can be constructed with magic, if you know how to transcribe the correct rune. The magic described by Rothfuss feels almost like science. With the right training, anyone can learn. Central to the plot, however, is the art of “naming”, a type of magic that few understand. By knowing the true name of something, the arcanist can shape the world around them in a myriad of ways.

This book is more than meets the eye. The second thing that stands out to me is Rothfuss’ storytelling. Through only brief glimpses of the present, in which readers are torn from Kvothe’s tale and thrust into the tavern with Chronicler, there is a sense that something has gone terribly wrong. Kvothe is an unreliable narrator and shamelessly embellishes parts of his past, and even he admits his story does not have a happy ending.

Readers will easily forget this fact while listening to Kvothe. The world Rothfuss constructs can feel whimsical and often gritty. It’s easy to become invested in Kvothe’s success. But when the stakes are raised, readers are harshly reminded that this story will end in tragedy.

The Wise Man’s Fear continues right where day one left off. Kvothe is well on his way to becoming the tragic hero the first book promised. After witnessing the horrific deaths of his parents, he swore to become the greatest magician the world had ever seen. Kvothe’s hunt for vengeance against the villain Chandrian takes him on an epic quest through medieval cityscapes, magic colleges, and fantastical worlds.

Although the third and supposedly final installment of The Kingkiller Chronicle is not yet out, The Wise Man’s Fear will leave readers wanting more. No word from Rothfuss has revealed any hint of a release date, but fans might not have to wait too long to get their fill of Kvothe’s story. As reported by Newsweek, an adaption of the series is in the works with producer Sam Rami, and Lin-Manuel Miranda signed on to executive produce both the film and a Showtime series adaption back in 2016. There are no release dates yet for the film or TV series. In the meantime, if you haven’t read the tale, you certainly have time to catch up.