Thursday, June 9, 2011

"Dragon Space Battles and Barbarian Bodice Ripping" Not This Fantasy Novel

 Check out my pal Jared's review of Patrick Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear.

(l) The MAN, Patrick Rothfuss, (r) His biggest fan, Jared (Side note: we waited in line to see Rock Star Rothfuss for something like four hours! Totally worth it though.)

For a very long time, fantasy and science fiction has wallowed in cheap paperback mediocrity. Each time I read another rehashing of L.H Stranslibads ‘Return of the Dragolord golems’ or ‘The Magisters of the Thradenfellian  Space Demons’ I feel like the genre is moving towards its demise.  We stand on the precipice of a grim future, where gratuitous dragon space battles and barbarian bodice ripping are all that comprise the smoking turd that has become the fantasy sci-fi genre. The genre itself needs an iconoclastic hero of an author.
Even with the risk of sounding like a dewy-eyed, praise-singing minstrel, Patrick Rothfuss is such a man. I firmly believe that he is the man who will pull the genre out of the pit of masturbatory fantasy and pugnacious but predictably compassionate anti-heroes.

For those of you not familiar with the author, Patrick Rothfuss is a Wisconsin born scholar who spent nine years undeclared in college. After his book was rejected by a series of publishers, he entered a part of it in a short story contest, which he won, attracting the attention of Daw publishing. His first novel, The Name of The Wind was the result. After that, Patrick went into hiding, leaving only his blog as a sort of altar for his worshippers to look briefly upon his genius.

Finally, after nearly five years spent enjoying his fame and occasionally writing, Patrick released ‘The Wise Man’s Fear’ to the rabid masses.

While ‘The Wise Man’s Fear’ is certainly a masterpiece, it was not what I was expecting.  Rothfuss’s trademark prose and humor is certainly present throughout, the writing style has definitely matured.  Not just the writing style, but the content as well. While Kvothe’s journey in the second book is a great deal more exciting, it is also more philosophical, with long periods of very little dialogue or action. When Kvothe travels to the country of Adem, for instance, he spends a lot of time contemplating their eastern influenced philosophy of life. Such passages are more numerous in the second book than in the first, and Rothfuss uses them to flesh out his character and setting even further.

The second book touches many elements that the first book was missing. Mainly, fighting and women. Part of me was excited to finally see Kvothe in action, but another part was worried that Patrick would fall into the trap of making his character into a god-like action hero. I need not have worried. While Patrick certainly conveys the depths of Kvothe’s badassitude, we don’t constantly read about his rockin’ abs and grizzled but attractive appearance.  And while Kvothe does sleep with quite a few women in the book, bodice ripping and member pulsing are thankfully absent.

One thing that I found upsetting in the beginning was how long it took to finally start learning the answers to the innumerable questions left in the first book. The first few chapters are entertaining and funny, but they are extremely anti-climactic, considering how long I spent dreaming about the book, frothing at the mouth, and making sacrifices to Cthulu so I could only know what happens next! However, the book eventually picks up the pace, and if you somehow restrain yourself from skipping to the first chapter with the words ‘Felurian’ or ‘Chandrian’ it’s very rewarding.

The best part of the book was Rothfuss’s incredible originality. The fantasy genre has become a tired old plot algorithm, despite the fact that it was once the most creative genre in the industry. While Patrick uses some tropes for forms sake, he is constantly innovating with his characters, setting, and writing style. There are moments that will astonish and surprise, but they aren’t there just for the sake of being shocking. Every twist and turn only strengthens the realism of characters and draws the reader further and further into the world. Nothing ever feels stale or over-used.

Rothfuss is not just a fantasy writer. His book is a true literary work of art. While it's easily lovable by fantasy buffs, it doesn't exclude readers of more high-brow tastes. Rothfuss uses the fantasy template to question morality, explore human interaction, and make the reader think, while still keeping all the things that the nerds know and love.

In lieu of a lengthy conclusion, and at the risk of angering off my English teacher, I will simply say this. If you were a fan of the first book buy the sequel and learn the secrets! It will be well worth the time and money.

Postscript: If Patrick Rothfuss ever reads this; Write FASTER!

Thank you Jared for an awesome review of a fabulous book. Stop by anytime you want to review another book, or just talk about books.

Friday, June 3, 2011

What? What? That's Not the End?


So many times I've gotten to the end of a book and realized there's another one coming and I'm left with an agonizing wait. Other times, I've read books that have a satisfying ending and found out months later (or weeks, depending on how slow I am on the uptake) that there is a second book. I'm left thinking, did I have any questions at the end of the first one? Should I read the second if I was pleased with how the first one ended?

The same sort of goes for movies. In light of movies like The Hangover II, I'm left wondering, did I have questions about what happened to everyone at the end of the first movie? Am I moved or interested enough to care what happens to them in the next? Currently, I'm still undecided and will probably wait for video. (Video!?! Am I dating myself here?)

But back to books. I recently read an excellent adult fiction book by the fabulous debut author, Deborah Harkness called A Discovery of Witches. Okay, she's not debut as in she's never published a book before, but her other books were non-fiction history books so I think she sort of counts as debut fiction author. Anyway, as I got to the third act and realized that for as much as she put in play in the previous two acts, there was no way she was summing everything up in such a paltry amount of remaining pages. Sure enough it's a trilogy. And I'm left waiting and wondering. Did I say waiting?

On the other hand, one of my all time favorite authors, Katherine Neville wrote one of my all time favorite books, The Eight. And to be honest, when I read it, I didn't have any questions at the end. I was satisfied. But a decade later, The Fire, a sequel featuring the daughter of a MC from The Eight was released. I was excited to read it, because well, it was the first book Ms. Neville put out in a long time. It could have been a book about the life of gnats and I would have read it.

As a reader, if I know it's a trilogy I often think more seriously about my purchase because it's not just the investment of that one book, it's the commitment that I will likely buy the next two or three or four.

So what's your take on sequels or trilogies? Does there need to be a cliffhanger at the end to get you to the next book? If you liked the characters and author enough would you read a second or third book even if you were satisfied at the end of the first?