Patrick Rothfuss’ debut novel, The Name Of The Wind, was something of a revelation. The first of a projected three-book fantasy series subtitled The Kingkiller Chronicles, Wind landed on the New York Times bestseller list, won awards, and created a new world for fantasy fans to obsess over, full of new monsters, magics, and wonders to discover. Most importantly, Rothfuss gave readers a new hero to add to the pantheon: Kvothe, a legendary hero turned innkeeper, with a story to tell and the wit to tell it. Wind is told largely from Kvothe’s perspective, as he relates how he was orphaned and how he subsequently became one of the most powerful men of his age. The Wise Man’s Fear, the long-awaited second Kingkiller book, continues this structure, and shares Wind’s strengths, as well as its small handful of weaknesses.
Those weaknesses are arguably part of the series’ charm. Fear’s prose is solid but unremarkable, its metaphors and descriptive phrases often falling back on comforting clichés. Given the book’s length, though, and the remarkable pull of its story, the words don’t need to be particularly striking—they just need to get out of the way. Additionally, many of Rothfuss’ fantasy creations are spins on familiar genre tropes. The university Kvothe attends is a kind of Hogwarts for grown-ups, and the Adem, a warrior class he meets who follow a mystical path of righteousness, are a mixture of Native Americans, martial-arts experts, and the Aiel of Robert Jordan’s Wheel Of Time books.
But the fantasy genre is built on using recognizable touchstones in surprising ways, and Fear’s touchstones are fully realized and deeply felt. They serve as valuable landmarks in a story that exploits traditional arcs without succumbing to them. It’s telling that Kvothe’s money problems are nearly as exciting as his arcane studies; Rothfuss takes to the Hero’s Journey with a passion and depth that routinely turns the trite into the transcendent. Fear’s narrative sacrifices some of Wind’s remarkable pull in order to expand the series’ world, and it flags occasionally in the final quarter, before rebounding with a strong finish. Overall, this sequel carries the first book’s ideas and wild exuberance further, with aplomb. By combining bold choices with bolder sincerity, Rothfuss has found one of the secrets of great storytelling. He doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but he knows damn sure how to ride it.