BenBlog Book Review: Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss.

There is something about a great book that is profoundly different from a great movie or television show. Something magical.

I have a hard time putting into words just how much I enjoyed Wise Man’s Fear.  It’s absolutely fantastic. Stunning. Breathtaking. [Insert another phrase for awesome].

Long story short: this book is mesmerizing.

I highly recommend Wise Man’s Fear but, as it’s the second book of a trilogy, I’d suggest you start with The Name of the Wind. Don’t worry, both are fantastic. What makes these books stand out is not the story (though it’s thoroughly engrossing) but the writing.

Dear god, the writing.

I’m not one of those readers who writes down phrases or highlights parts of the book they’re reading, but next time through these books I’m going in armed with a stack of sticky notes. I’m going to highlight the shit out of these books.

Sometimes you’ll read a book where the plot is so good that you don’t care that the writing is bare bones. You want know what happens next (think Dan Brown and Da Vinci Code) so you don’t really care that the author’s descriptions are lackluster (ie: the woman was pretty because she was pretty).

Then you have other books where the writing is absolutely gorgeous, but the story is mind numbingly boring. You can have most beautiful prose in the world, but if the plot stinks, the book suffers.

Patrick Rothfuss has managed write an amazing story and do it remarkably beautiful way.  The book is a page turner (I stayed up til 5am to finish Name of the Wind and I plowed through the final 3/4ths of Wise Man’s Fear in 6-8 hours on my day off) but I can’t tell you how many times I just stopped reading and marveled at Pat’s descriptions. I’ve not read anyone in fiction who writes about music better than Rothfuss. I’m grinning right now just thinking about it.

I’ve read a lot of books (and seen TV shows) when the author needs a character to be clever, so all the other characters remark at the cleverness of this person (or wise or funny, etc). But to me, the reader, I don’t find this character particularly clever. The plot and story are still good, but I’ve been taken out of the story because of non-cleverness of the clever character.

(Kinda like how it’s hard to make a movie about a standup comic. You need that comic’s bits to be, you know, actually funny. If everyone’s like “hey Frank, great set. That was hilarious” but you, the viewer, didn’t think his jokes were funny, it hurts the movie).

Rothfuss doesn’t have this problem. When a character dispenses worldly wisdom, it sounds wise. When a character has to do someting clever, it rings true.

Yes, these books are fantasy. Yes, they’re long (Wise Man’s Fear is over 900 pages), as fantasy tends to be. But that’s what I love about fantasy, particularly the Epic Fantasy of Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin. By setting the story in a fictional world, it allows the author to explore the human condition in a way that doesn’t deal with our Real World biases. They can discuss love, sex, politics, duty, responsibility (you know, life) through a fresh set of eyes. When done well (and Wise Man’s Fear is nothing if not done well), the results can be spectacular.

Just browse through these reviews for Name of the Wind and see if you aren’t just a little intrigued (this one is from the Onion):

“THE NAME OF THE WIND is quite simply the best fantasy novel of the past 10 years, although attaching a genre qualification threatens to damn it with faint praise. Say instead that THE NAME OF THE WIND is one of the best stories told in any medium in a decade. Author Patrick Rothfuss teaches English at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and he describes himself in self-deprecating terms as a perpetual student, role-playing geek, and connoisseur of rejection letters. That’s all about to change. His debut novel combines the intricate stories-within-stories structure of The Arabian Nights with the academic setting of the Harry Potter series, and transforms it all into a brooding, thoroughly adult meditation on how heroism went wrong. More entries in the series, dubbed ‘The Kingkiller Chronicle,’ are promised; they can’t appear fast enough.”

As far as book sizes go (and these are huge), I never understood why people who read for pleasure are put off by big books. Now, books that are huge and crappy- that I get. But when I see a large book by an author I like, I’m comforted by the knowledge that those 900 pages contain hours upon hours of enjoyment. Don’t you want more enjoyment out of a story? Is that not the point? If the author is a good enough story teller, I want as much story as he or she will give me.

And Patrick Rothfuss is a most excellent story teller.

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