Big Books and Training Montages: The Wise Man’s Fear (#SFWApro)

Like Patrick Rothfuss’s first novel, The Name of the Wind, his sophomore novel in the Kingkiller Chronicles, The Wiseman’s Fear, is a frustrating book. Lots of great stuff, but a huge, dull patch in the back end of the book.
And I do mean huge—150 pages is about the length of a Doc Savage novel. It’s true the book runs close to a thousand pages in hardback, so it’s only 10 percent, but that’s a very big 10 percent. It made me think of the definition for a great movie Roger Ebert used in Casablanca: three great scenes, no bad ones. By that standard WMF doesn’t make it. Though the fact I still picked up the book says a lot for the good parts of the book. I’ve read lots of books that suffered the same problem (the first Wheel of Time I described as 600 brilliant pages in an 800 page book) and I almost never bother with the author again.
Like the first story, this has the legendary hero Kvothe, now an innkeeper for some undisclosed, tragic reason, recounting his personal history to a scribe. We follow him through another school year at The University (the magic school) and then out into the world as he’s sent to a wealthy lord in hopes of finding a patron, then off on an anti-bandit mission. There’s seduction by a demigoddess and an introduction to the martial arts, while behind it all, there’s Kvothe’s ongoing search for the mysterious, very nasty Chandrian.
The school stuff and the handling of magic are great. The politics at the lord’s court and the handling of odd cultural details (one people he meets regards singing in public as the equivalent of having sex in public) are well done. Denna, the annoying love interest, doesn’t get as much space and there’s more of the more interesting female loan shark, Devi.
And then there’s the 150 pages (approximately) which are the equivalent of a movie training montage. The bandit hunt brings Kvothe into contact with one of the Ademre, a people/order of martial artists, and he winds up training with them. Worse, it’s training with great heaping cliched chunks of alt.Far East philosophy mixed in with it (it’s Mr. Miyagi without the charm and personality). Lots of discussion of the way of the warrior and why you fight and how you fight, all of which Kvothe absorbs annoyingly passively as if it’s wisdom were not to be contradicted. He shows a lot of creativity in dealing with magic and his magic tutors, but almost none here. It made me think of author Kit Whitfield’s observation that combat training is one of those things presented as having all the answers: if people have to question their training, that implies there’s something wrong with it.
It may also be the Western tendency to assume that Eastern philosophy is automatically something incredibly deep and wise and above question.
I do wonder, if Rothfuss had whacked a couple of hundred pages from the book, would it be better? Or would it still be 10 percent disappointing? Would a 250-page novel with a deathly dull 25 pages be an easier read, or would I be just as frustrated.
Either way, WMF had enough good stuff I’m still hoping for a sequel with no bad scenes.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Big Books and Training Montages: The Wise Man’s Fear (#SFWApro)

  1. Less Denna, more Devi? Yay! Still haven’t picked up WMF, although I’ve been meaning to for a while.

  2. Pingback: Pornography, old musicals and fiction (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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