Think I’m overstating the narrative brilliance and thematic depth of these books? I dare anyone to read this saga and not agree with me 100%.

 

Rothfuss’s writing style is fluid, rich in detail, and self-controlled; he weaves a labyrinthine plotline effortlessly; his realm-building abilities are subtle and sublime; but the reason I absolutely adore these novels is because in a genre obsessed with size – shelf-bending series spanning eons and featuring a cast of hundreds – Rothfuss has done just the opposite and penned a profoundly intimate story about an unassuming innkeeper recalling the events of his life while working in a tavern. But – trust me – his story rivals that of any epic fantasy adventure…

 

 

“It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.

 

The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking. If there had been a wind it would have sighed through the trees, set the inn’s sign creaking on its hooks, and brushed the silence down the road like trailing autumns leaves. If there had been a crowd, even a handful of men inside the inn, they would have filled the silence with conversation and laughter, the clatter and clamor one expects from a drinking house during the dark hours of night. If there had been music….but no, of course there was no music. In fact there were none of these things, and so the silence remained.

 

Inside the Waystone a pair of men huddled at one corner of the bar. They drank with quiet determination, avoiding serious discussions of troubling news. In doing this they added a small, sullen silence to the larger, hollow one. It made an alloy of sorts, a counterpoint.

 

The third silence was not an easy thing to notice. If you listened for an hour, you might begin to feel it in the wooden floor underfoot and in the rough, splintering barrels behind the bar. It was in the weight of the black stone hearth that held the heat of a long-dead fire. It was in the slow back and forth of a white linen cloth rubbing along the grain of the bar. And it was in the hands of the man who stood there, polishing a stretch of mahogany that already gleamed in the lamplight.

 

The man had true-red hair, red as flame. His eyes were dark and distant, and he moved with the subtle certainty that comes from knowing many things…”

 

 

“The debut novel from Patrick Rothfuss not only lives up to its extraordinary pre-press hype (DAW President Elizabeth Wollheim called it “the most brilliant first fantasy novel I have read in over 30 years as an editor”), it surpasses it. When fantasy fans begin reading The Name of the Wind, they should be fully prepared to lose all contact with the outside world while immersed in this highly original and mesmerizing tale of magic, adventure and legend.”

 

But as I wallowed in the literary afterglow of The Name of the Wind, a deep concern fell upon me – how could Rothfuss possibly write a sequel on the same level of The Name of the Wind? I’ve read plenty of exceptional novels that have been followed up by decidedly inferior sequels. I waited and worried…

 

Fast forward four years. A review copy of The Wise Man’s Fear lands at my door – 994 pages of long-anticipated fantasy fiction goodness.

 

Was it what I was expecting? No. In fact, I found myself stunned on numerous occasions by wonderfully unanticipated plot twists and revelations. Was it as good as The Name of the Wind? Yes – if not better. Readers will find out much more about Kvothe’s past, be introduced to some unforgettable characters and bare witness to more than a few jaw-dropping adventures.

 

The philosophical element is much more integral in this novel, in fact, there were literally dozens of “quotable” passages. Here are a few of my favorites:

 

“A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet introspection.”

 

“If a leg goes bad, you cut it off… and some folk need killing. That’s all there is to it.”

 

“…sometimes the best help a person can find is helping someone else.”

 

I’m purposefully not going into any specifics of The Wise Man’s Fear – I don’t want to diminish anything in this glorious reading experience for anyone.

 

Bottom line: These novels are arguably the best fantasy fiction I’ve ever read. It’s simply unparalleled, masterful storytelling. If you’re a fantasy fan and have yet to experience this saga, drop whatever you’re reading and pick up The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear. It’ll change the way you look at fantasy fiction forever.

 

And as if reading The Wise Man’s Fear early wasn’t enough, I recently got the opportunity to interview Patrick Rothfuss for BarnesandNoble.com. Below is that incredibly insightful and entertaining conversation, which included talk of beards, books and the naming of babies…

 

 

PGA: In your Publishers Weekly interview, you talked about the almost limitless possibilities in the fantasy genre and how that can be a trap for writers. (“It's enough rope for a writer to hang himself with. It's easy to get distracted by the glittering props available to you and forget what you're supposed to be doing: telling a good story.”)

 

With that narrative boundlessness in mind, some of the best releases on the shelves right now are basically fusions of a variety of genre elements: fantasy, romance, mystery, science fiction, etc. (Richard Kadrey’s Kill the Dead; Clay and Susan Griffith’s The Greyfriar; The Passage by Justin Cronin; The Secret History of Elizabeth Tudor, Vampire Slayer by Lucy Weston; etc.) What are your thoughts on the genre hybridization going on in contemporary genre fiction?

 

PR: I don't really think of it as hybridization. I think authors are just realizing there's no real reason to feel limited to a narrow set of genre rules in their writing. There's no reason a mystery novel can't have fantastic elements in it. Similarly, there's no reason why your epic fantasy series can't have elements of a mystery.


Nobody cooks using just one ingredient. Why would you write using just one flavor of story?

 

PGA: Do you see this as a trend or an evolution in genre fiction?

 

PR: I think it's an indication that a lot of the newer genres are growing up. Compared to classic literature, (which is a genre too, by the way) the modern genres are really young. Fifty years is almost no time at all in terms of establishing a literary trend. Genres like fantasy are finally emerging from their awkward teenage years and starting to mature a little.


Don't get me wrong here. I'm not implying that fantasy is for kids. I'm saying that more and more people are finally realizing that there's more to fantasy stories than elves and wizards and goblin armies. Those things are just props and special effects. And if Hollywood has taught us anything, it's that cool props and special effects are not enough. Story comes first. Everything depends on story.


The best authors have always known this, of course. But these days I think more and more fantasy readers and writers are realizing it's the truth. That's what I mean when I say the genre's maturing. 

 

PGA: As a full-time book reviewer, I’ve read a lot of fantasy over the last few decades – and a sizable percentage of it is derivative, formulaic, uninspired, imitation. I suppose that’s why I loved The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear so much. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever read before – and that really is saying something. Previous to writing the Kingkiller Chronicle, did you read a lot of fantasy?

 

PR: Growing up I read a ton of fantasy. Thousands of novels. I'm not exaggerating here.

 

PGA: Were there any particular novels or series that resonated with you growing up? And why?

 

PR: There were so many books that I loved growing up. Tolkien, of course. The Dragonriders of Pern. The Narnia books. Wizard of Earthsea. The Riddle Master of Hed. The Last Unicorn….


Why did I like them? Well back when I first started reading those books when I was 8 or so, I loved them primarily for the props. Because magic swords and dragons and magic are cool. It wasn't until later that I realized how deep a lot of those stories went.


I could list books all day. But I shouldn't. I'm still finding new books I love. There's some amazing stuff being written nowadays.


PGA: Back to your statement about telling a good story. The Kingkiller Chronicle is essentially a story of a storyteller telling his life story. It’s as close to perfection – a story told perfectly – as I think I’ve ever experienced. Powered by simply extraordinary storytelling sensibilities – character development, pacing, back-story, plot intricacy, imagery, world-building, etc. It’s just a timeless, towering, masterwork. How difficult was it to construct and lay out this incredibly complex three-volume saga?

 

PR: Good lord. Can I put “a timeless, towering, masterwork” on the cover of the book?


But yeah. It was hard. I knew I wanted to do something different when I started to write this book. But when you leave the well-trod path of the classic three-act Hollywood story, things get really tricky. I've had to figure a lot of things out from the ground up.


And I'll admit, over the last couple years there have been times when I've regretted starting off my writing career with a project this big. So many plotlines. So many character arcs. So much metafictional hoo-ha.


Sometimes I wish I would have just picked a little story to start with. A nice little book. About 120,000 words. Something short and sweet and simple.

 

PGA: What specifically inspired you to write Kvothe’s story?

 

PR: I wanted to tell a different sort of fantasy story, something that didn't focus on huge world-shattering events. I wanted to give the reader a look at the life of someone who had become a legend in his own time. Sort of a backstage pass into the myth of the hero.

 

PGA: Patrick Rothfuss, Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, Michael Moorcock, Pratchett, Feist, Goodkind…Why do some of the best fantasy fictionists of all time have wild beards?

 

PR: Honestly? I think it's because a lot of us have better things to do than spend fifteen minutes a day scraping a sharp knife over our faces. A beard isn't really an achievement. It's something you get by doing nothing. It's an anti-achievement.

 

PGA: I can only imagine the zeal of your fans you meet at signings and such. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen? (Any Kingkiller tattoos, people dressed as Kvothe, etc.?)

 

PR: Someone named their baby after a character in my book.


I'm not even kidding. That knocked me for a bit of a loop.

 

PGA: Are you still writing Day Three?

 

PR: Oh yes. I've got the bones of it. But there's still a lot of work to be done. It's important to remember that I finished writing the first draft back in the year 2000. The first two books changed a lot as I revised them, so now I have to incorporate those changes into book three.


Also, I've learned a lot about the craft of writing in the last decade. Parts of book three are brilliant. But other parts I look at and I shake my head. I've come a long way as a writer, and so now it's easy to see some of those early mistakes now that I've got more experience under my belt.

 

PGA: From The Wise Man’s Fear: “There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.” What do you fear?

 

PR: Screwing up the third book...

 

 

 

Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for almost the last two decades and has written more than 6,000 reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and BarnesandNoble.com. In his free time, he reads.

Comments
by on ‎02-22-2011 11:53 PM

Fantastic article Paul and excellent interview. It's been excruciatingly painful waiting for book two, very nice to know it was worth it.

 

 

by TheBigC on ‎02-23-2011 10:08 AM

*slow clap*

 

Despite the fact that I haven't read WMF yet, this review is exactly how I feel about the series.  Well done.  I could not get anymore excited for March 1, but you almost got me there. 

by on ‎02-23-2011 11:06 AM

Excellent article and great questions. Liked his answer of beards as being an "anti-achievement". And it is on my read now pile.

by JackalopeKing on ‎02-23-2011 11:47 AM

Excellent review. Can't believe it's only seven days  before I can read the book. Since I preordered it on my Nook, I'm probably going to be up all morning waiting for it to download and then reading it. 

by Cieloan on ‎02-23-2011 03:00 PM

I can't wait for this book. I agree wholeheartedly that this book was like nothing I've ever read before--and since it's fantasy, that takes some doing. It really impressed me because it felt exactly like the 'old' fantasy to me while being completely original at the same time. Amazing, amazing work.

by redcrest on ‎02-23-2011 07:18 PM

Wow, I am SO excited about The Wise Man's Fear now! I had the same worries you did--how on earth could the sequel live up to the first book? But now I feel reassured.

 

I have one question for you, Paul--as someone who's read a LOT more fantasy books than I have, I'm thrilled to hear how highly you think of this series that means so much to me. But I recently read another first book that blew me out of the water as well, and for many of the same reasons I loved Kvothe and NOTW; have you read Transformation by Carol Berg? It was published by a tiny press and has the world's most hideous and ill-fitting cover (honestly, it has just about nothing to do with the content or flavor of this beautiful book), but the writing, the characters and most of all, the honest-to-goodness, "this is what it's all about!" story just blew me away.

 

Being as transported by this book as I was, I was pretty surprised to find there was almost no buzz on it online. The writing is masterful, the hero so fully realized and likable, I just couldn't understand why all NOTW fans hadn't jumped all over that series as well. In fact, when I compare Carol Berg's blog w/ its tiny, 10-person readership, then look at how Pat gets several hundred comments within hours of making a post on his blog, I am kind of struck by the sheer cosmic injustice of it all. I'm not Pat doesn't deserve all his fame (he deserves more, I say!), or that Carol should be *as* popular as him, but that huge discrepancy is kind of staggering for what I think is fairly equal genius. Am I just totally missing something? If you've read the book, O Farther-seeing Book Guru, please enlighten me... it's kind of driving me nuts. :smileyfrustrated:

 

...It really is that horrific cover, isn't it?

by Moderator paulgoatallen on ‎02-23-2011 07:33 PM

redcrest:

Wasn't Transformation published by Penguin back in 2000? I did read it – in fact, it was nominated for Explorations' Maiden Voyage Award for Best F/SF Debut! I haven't read everything Carol has written since then but I've read her Lighthouse duology and Son of Avonar and probably more but I can't recall off the top of my head...

 

But yeah, she is a fantastic writer – as for the popularity thing, I just don't know. There are plenty of writers that I think are singularly brilliant that haven't "exploded" yet (while other lesser books sell tens of thousands of copies)...

 

That's essentially my job – finding praiseworthy authors like Carol and shouting it from the rooftops. Check out my past Explorations blogs and you'll see.

 

Patrick Rothfuss is in another category altogether. All genre categorization aside, he is the best pure storyteller I've ever read.

by ‎02-23-2011 08:14 PM - edited ‎02-23-2011 08:25 PM

I can't remember any book, other than The Name of the Wind, that has given me chills up and down my spine when reading it. Is it the best book I've ever read? I honestly find it almost impossible to rank the great reads of my life. But it's among the small number of books that comprise my 'best ever' list.

 

I've been waiting for the second book in Kvothe's story since the day I finished The Name of the Wind. I can't wait to get my hands on The Wise Man's Fear. I'm regretting ordering it over the internet rather than going into the store to pick it up.   

by jmricks on ‎02-24-2011 03:57 PM

I wanted to post some comments from the other side of things, since the review and following comments were all shiny and wonderful. (Hopefully this will get posted).

 

I like The Name of the Wind. It was a decent first novel.  It wasn't amazing, though.  It's strengths lay in it's characterization of Kvothe, the great world building, and the incredible magic system.  However, these things do not a great story make.  Stories have to go somewhere.  Pretty much nothing happened in the first book.

 

Having said that, I am planning on buying The Wise Man's Fear and reading it.  I was intrigued enough by Kvothe to want to know more.  But if nothing happens again by the book's end, I'm done with The King Killer Chronicle.

 

The vast majority of people will disagree with me, I know.  I can live with that.  I do think Pat is a very talented writer.  The Name of the Wind was just too slow-paced for me, and I was left feeling that its promises weren't fulfilled by its end.   

by redcrest on ‎02-24-2011 06:21 PM

Paul, thank you so much for responding! :smileyvery-happy: It's really awesome to get an industry pro's view on all this, since the mysterious workings of the publishing world are quite beyond a plain, old reader like me who just knows what she likes and doesn't like, etc. ;-)

 

I'm glad to hear you have read/heard of Transformation and liked it too. And for some reason, it kind of surprises me to hear that it *was* published by a big publisher. So covers like that happen at big houses too... huh. @_@; And now that I poke around, you're right, it did get nominated for a few awards and all, so I guess it must have generated its share of buzz back when it first came out. But, being a new fan, I must've missed it all. :smileysad:

 

I do agree with you that Pat is an incredible storyteller and Kvothe is one of the most fleshed-out, likable, memorable and sympathetic heroes to come out of the SFF genre EVER, and he is definitely the biggest appeal for me in the series too. I have to confess, though, that I thought some of the bits toward the end of NOTW (like that *random* attack scene in the inn--was I the only one who felt it was a bit tacked-on, considering that a man dies in their midst and they all go right back to storytelling again?) were a bit awkward.The last scene, too... I know there's a lot more story to tell and Pat had to kind of randomly end book 1 somewhere, but that scene with Bast and the Chronicler was REALLY random. Maybe it's foreshadow that will make sense retrospectively, but as a reader who has no idea what's to come, it was just... a little clumsy. But, first-book-clumsy, and perfectly permissable considering how incredibly good other parts of the book were. I certainly wouldn't knock a star off for that, certainly!

 

But the thing is, I didn't see ANY of that awkwardness in Transformation, which was also a first book. I know that's probably the exception rather than the rule with first books, but considering how well-executed and how mature and solid the voice and characterizations were... sorry, I'm sounding like a broken record on those points now, but can you see why I've got these niggling feelings of injustice lingering around? Not to hijack your review's comment thread, but I wonder if you remember enough of the book to elaborate a little on why it didn't leave as big an impact on you as NOTW did. Seyonne's narrative was just as intimate and gut-wrenching as Kvothe's, and you might argue (because we get to see a fuller arc of Seyonne's tale in one book, perhaps) that he faces and overcomes even harder trials than Kvothe and manages some pretty heroic feats to boot. This truly isn't any disrespect to Pat or Kvothe (after all, we haven't had Kvothe's full story yet), but I really am curious as to why this great story just didn't seem to hit as much of a chord with readers as NOTW did.

 

And now I'm going to make myself very unpopular by suggesting... is it because Pat is male, and it's a lot rarer to find sympathetic, sensitive SFF male heroes who make themselves so vulnerably transparant to their readers, who are written by male authors? Because if I'm being honest with myself, a large part of why *I* love Pat so much is probably that--because he *does* speak to these gentler sensiblities that resonate with me, and which I have found beautiful examples of in female authors' writing (like Carol Berg), but not as often (in my limited experience, never before) in male authors' writing?

 

I'm not asking this to be nasty and confrontational or wave a giant "publishing is sexist" flag or anything, because obviously, I and Pat's millions of other female fans would be quite implicit in the sexism if that's really what's going on here. But all other things being equal, I just can't understand how else Seyonne's story failed to hit the same resonance that Kvothe's did. "It's a sensitive hero written by a woman... yet another." I wonder if that's what we're all thinking unconsciously in the depths of our minds when we encounter heroes like Seyonne? What do you think, Paul?

by someoneinatree on ‎02-25-2011 03:11 AM

redcrest:

I do have to agree about the attack in the bar. That whole bit fell short at the end of it all. Though, I respectfully disagree about the final scene with the Chronicler and Bast. That was the "of course!" moment of the book for me. Not to mention, with that scene, Bast officially had a purpose. Until then, he was simply a student/assistant the entire book, practically a bystander, and I don't care much for characters that serve no purpose, more so when connected to the main character. So, with that new development, Bast had intent. I loved it and I am just as excited about that storyline as I am about hearing more about young Kvothe.

 

Secondly, there is without a doubt a struggle still happening with female talent being recognized. Who can say if that's the main reason why Carol's book isn't talked about much. It probably has a little to do with it. I mean --okay, sorry, I hate to bring this up but I find it necessary for the matter being discussed-- take Stephanie Meyer, for example. All these people assume Twilight is such a hit because females relate to Bella. I'm assuming I don't have to get into what happens in the book and why it's such a disappointment since it's been discussed so much. So, moving on! People assume we've made advances as a society regarding who women are, but we haven't, especially when everyone assumes every female is relatable to someone like Bella. Then there's still that expectation that a woman has to "pretty" herself up with makeup, flattering clothes, etc. etc. to look "good enough". Women are given opportunities, sure, but we remain misunderstood and don't receive the proper respect that men are automatically given. We just aren't treated the same. (Just look at what happens when a man hooks up with a lot of women... he's the man! A woman does it and she's a slut.) There is definitely still much progress left to be made for women to be respected in the truest sense, especially when women themselves don't even quite get it.

 

Finally .... You are preaching to the choir! re: Great talents remaining unnoticed. I'll personally never understand why Stephen Sondheim isn't a household name. The man is arguably the best composer/lyricist living today, and yet the only composers that get any attention are those that work on movies and tv shows. (They are worthy of the attention, of course - I'm definitely not arguing that.) What with the world so obsessed over the likes of American Idol and Glee, you'd think Broadway and opera performers would all be well-known because of the high caliber of vocal talent. But I think the reason for unknown vs. known talent is more simple than it seems: most people like only what they are aware of. Unfortunately, most of that talent remains unnoticed because most people follow the mainstream media and truly believe it is the only source of viable entertainment. Hence everyone's outcry when Arcade Fire won best album at the Grammy's over well-known acts. There were people that seriously said "If no one knows who you are then you obviously don't deserve an award." *headdesk* As for those who actively pursue new interests (like myself), we still are somewhat limited to what we find because we can't be looking for new favorite things 24/7, but there's definitely a wider variety available to us.

 

I only heard about The Name of the Wind because I searched for "best Fantasy books" lists some time ago. And now I'll be looking into Carol Berg's novels because of you mentioning her here, under an article on Rothfuss. And actually, I only ended up here because of a link on Whedonesque.com to Rothfuss' blog, and on his blog he linked to this review/interview. :smileyhappy:

by Moderator paulgoatallen on ‎02-25-2011 12:53 PM

"But all other things being equal..."

 

That's the answer right there, redcrest. All things aren't equal. I've read hundreds of brilliant novels that were commercial failures and just as many stinkers that hit the bestseller lists. There are so many variables – marketing budgets, promotional stragedies, distribution, cover art, author's presence online, etc.

 

The fact that an author is male or female makes no difference, I believe – it's all about exposure, marketing, word-of-mouth, etc.

 

Paul

by redcrest on ‎02-25-2011 02:48 PM

Yeah, I guess you're right. Publishing (and life, I guess) is really just a wild crapshoot in the dark. Guess all we can do is treasure the little gems we find and support them as much as possible.

 

Thanks for the insights, Paul!

by redcrest on ‎02-25-2011 03:05 PM

@someoneinatree

 

Lol! That's web-surfing in the truest sense there~ Well, glad you serendipitously found your way onto this article and into the comments section if it will mean another person will be introduced to the amazingness that is Carol Berg's first novel. ;-) I actually discovered her through Patrick Rothfuss's blog too--a few of her novels were prizes in his World Builders' Charity and his assistant had read them and squee'd so hard over them he let her put up a little mini-endorsement/intro to the books on his blog entry. ^^

 

And you brought up a really interesting point about how all the extremely worthy stuff off the beaten path likely doesn't get its due recognition because the mainstream don't seem to realize (or perhaps, don't care to go find out) that there all sorts of little sub-genres/fandoms/what-have-you. I don't know why that surprised me when you pointed it out, but it's true--some folks are really okay with just floating along with the mainstream and never venturing beyond its bounds. I mean, I know no one can know everything about everything; at most, even your average 'adventurous soul' might only really delve into maybe six or seven sub-cultures. So I guess I shouldn't be so surprised to see the same thing happen in books, where excellent authors are their own little "sub-cultures" within the reading culture. Still... I guess I could see how a so-so writer who plays to a certain sub-genre might only have her own small cult of fans and be unknown in her wider genre and the publishing world. But Carol Berg... that amount of skill being pigeonholed and shoved off to the side kind of galls me.

 

Anyway! Sorry, I don't mean to moan on and on about some other author in an article about the fabulous Patrick Rothfuss and his awesome series. I do love him (and believe me, if he had ended up with Carol Berg-level stardom, I would be b*tching and moaning about the injustice of it all too). As it is, I'm happy to see he, at least, is enjoying the leve of admiration he deserves.

 

P.S. "[women] don't receive the respect that men are automatically given" -- Yeah, I actually agree 100% about that (despite their often kind and genuine efforts, sometimes; it's like it's so internalized in a lot of men that they can't perceive that they're being condescending) but I guess that's a chat for another time and place. ;-)

by Swing-time on ‎03-10-2011 09:40 PM

I was wondering when the third book is coming out? Is this the right place to ask??

This series is by far the best I have ever read. I can't wait for the third book!

by Mordonez on ‎03-11-2011 08:59 PM

When's the third book coming out? Really? Oh god, please don't show the thread to Pat, lest we need to refer the above poster to Neil Gaiman's famous  "George R.R. Martin is not your @#$*!" post.

 

I too am waiting eagerly for book three, a couple of years from now-ish, but I also have to say that I'm not totally as in love with WMF as I was with NOTW.

 

Maybe that will change with the last couple hundred pages, and perhaps my reaction is related to having just re-read NOTW at sort of breakneck speed just to prepare. That book I loved all over again, but there are a couple of sections in WMF that, were this a musical score,  feel a little bit like Rothfuss inserted a "repeat" symbol.

 

Eh, expectations are hard to live up to, and it's not like I'm enjoying WMF. Especially the part late in the book when Kvothe mmmph aagh let go of me you bastards FINE i won't spoil it.

by on ‎03-12-2011 01:27 AM

I wasn't choking you that hard.