I enjoyed this more than the 1st book, happy to say. Many of my complaints regarding the 1st were quite improved in this one. The only problem was theI enjoyed this more than the 1st book, happy to say. Many of my complaints regarding the 1st were quite improved in this one. The only problem was the last 200 pages. And the 200 before that were a bit mixed as well.
My first complaint about the previous book was that Kvothe seemed to be too much of an adolescent wish-fulfilment character. He was good at everything and pretentious and arrogant. I'm happy to report that this has been mostly toned down in this book. He fails liberally, loses embarrassingly, and at no points in the book did he magic his way out of a situation through overpowering brilliance. Any brilliance he exhibited in this book was as a result of hard work and training, which brought a sense of believability that was lacking in the first book. Except for the sex. I'll come back to that when I talk about the things I disliked.
Another one of my criticisms from the 1st book was regarding the quality of the antagonists. This criticism still stands at the moment, although there were a few other antagonists in this one and they weren't cardboard cut-out template-characters. Ambrose remains a weak character, but at least the Chandrian are mysterious enough to bear some ambivalence.
I then criticized the two-dimensionality of the supporting cast of friends. I'm pleased to report that they have become quite a bit more 3-dimensional here, although not by a huge amount. Sim still seems like a copy of Ron from Harry Potter. Ambrose is still Malfoy, but I hope to God that the Chandrian aren't just a replacement for Voldemort.
I also criticized the songs. I think these were improved in this book.
I also criticized the romance. Whilst this was also generally improved this time around, this brings us to the first major weakness in the story: the sex. There was far too much sexy times in this book for this type of fantasy novel, and while it was never explicit or graphic in any way, it was just redundant adolescent wish-fulfilment. It was like the author minimized the protagonist's over-the-top abilities and intelligence, only to channel all of that into his sexual prowess. It felt contrived and unnecessary, took far too much time, and didn't really add anything to the story. Plus it was revisited several times to the point where I had to raise my eyebrows at times and wonder whether this was a transcript of a talk show. The scene with (view spoiler)[Felurian didn't add much to the story in my opinion. So the boy got a sex tutor. Seems a bit out of place, but ok. Then he becomes a veritable sex machine, and I felt like the author was working something out of his system. (hide spoiler)]
My second criticism of this novel was the last 200 pages. Like in the first, the author begins to rush towards the end, cramming in huge plot points right to the end at unsatisfactory speed and with unsatisfactory resolution. Everything up until (view spoiler)[ he leaves Ademre is good. I enjoyed it all immensely except for Felurian but at this point it was great. Then he rushes off in a whirlwind and meets the caravaners and returns the girls and gets jilted by the Maer and goes back to the university. It all happens in such a whirlwind that it makes the Felurian scenes seem highly indulgent by comparison. Why spend so much time on training the boy to have sex when the caravan scene and Maer conflict are wrapped up in a fraction of the time? The worst scene of all was the one with Sim and Fela where they just have a chat about Kvothe's sex life. The whole thing stank. It was contrived and cheesy. "The way you look at me lately is just physical," she tells him. Unless the author plans to make some sort of love-crossed triangle of betrayal and romance between these three, I really think that scene was weak and totally unnecessary. All it did, its entire function, was to belabour the point that Kvothe has become a sex machine and was bedding everyone in town. (hide spoiler)]
Overall, I think Rothfuss' strength lies in his world creation. The world itself is intriguing, the cultures believable and rich, and the magic system is probably one of the best things about the book. The plotting is thorough, the foreshadowing is well done. The greatest weakness is in the characters themselves. A few template-characters hurt the overall quality, but the really weak area is in the way the author seems to be working out his own fantasies through the protagonist, being the cleverest boy in school, being the toughest and most tenacious, being a rebel badass, getting private tutoring by a 3000-year old sex goddess, bedding all the women in 2 cities... these would all be great if they were done with a smidgen of temperance, but each time he takes it from cool to over-the-top.
Still, it was a fun read and I can't wait for the 3rd. I'm not sure how he is planning on resolving the huge issues that remain in the story: (view spoiler)[ why Kvothe is dying, how he gets expelled, how he gets an education if he's only been there 1 year, how he finds the Amyr through the Maer, how he finds and faces the Chandrian, how he comes to be the kingkiller, and how he settles his love affair with Denna. (hide spoiler)] I hope he doesn't cram all of this into 1 book just to have a trilogy. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I won't summarize the book. Instead, I'll just discuss its merits and flaws. The book begins very well. The premise is intriguing, the start is compelI won't summarize the book. Instead, I'll just discuss its merits and flaws. The book begins very well. The premise is intriguing, the start is compelling and believable and draws you right in. The scene that sets our warring world some time in the future works well, and all you really need to know is that an enormous ship, The Mayflower II, sets out for the planet Chiron. A brilliant scientist had sent a ship there some decades earlier filled with robots and babies. Thus the story's tropes and main premise is laid out: earth is all at war and destroyed, a vast vessel carrying a mirror image of modern American society is sent to colonize a planet. This planet is a convenient blank slate. The babies that were sent there were raised by robots. They have no modern conventions or habits or prejudices to learn from their parents and existing society. Until now, the book is intriguing. Unfortunately, it all withers out as soon as the colonists arrive on the blank slate planet.
The greatest flaw in the book is most certainly with the Chironian world that Hogan has concocted. I'm disappointed to say that it is simply weak. The lovely style and compelling narrative of the start of the book crumbles apart when the ship finally arrives at Chiron. The author takes on a lecturing tone, the new world is a utopia, everyone is smart, everyone is skilled, everyone is content. The world appears to me to be totally shallow. I can't help but compare Hogan's anarchist utopia with Ursula Le Guin's anarchist world in The Dispossessed. Le Guin doesn't create a simplistic utopia modelled on a recognizable American city, but a real place with well thought out believable problems and societal ills. Le Guin's world reveals a deep understanding of human psychology and society and the often petty motivations our egos harbour. She portrays an anarchist society with believable problems of majoritarianism, mob rule, herd mentality, where egos and a sense of inferiority can still have a detrimental effect on society even if there are no possessions and everything is shared. In Hogan's world, by contrast, the world appears flawless, a fresh new beginning where the first colonizers were brought up by robots. A perfect blank slate. And yet they build homes seemingly to traditional American architectural styles, they speak normal American English, and despite having no established social conventions whatsoever to learn from the machines on this new planet, they somehow find no better way to socialize in the evenings than in bars. Hogan's lecturing about the Chironian culture's currency not being money but competence is left rather flat when the American colonizers arriving on the Mayflower II can walk right off their ship after a 20 year journey to a completely recognizable bar complete with totally mundane bartenders and waiters as we all know them. As if going to an American bar is some sort of physical law of entertainment that all cultures will inevitably develop independently. This seems really flat and difficult to believe after reading Le Guin's public mess halls where everyone serves themselves and the cooks are grumpy everyday workers filling in a day's work like anyone else. Hogan's bartenders meanwhile are just everyday folk who couldn't stomach living freely off society and decided at the age of 10 to spend their lives mastering the intricate arts of bartending as a way to "give back". The premise is that in Chironian culture, everyone starts to feel ashamed by the age of 10 of living without contributing anything, and that feeling then drives them to work and select careers. They continue to do this because they respect mastery and learning. This is all just childishly simplistic and unconvincing when you compare it with how Le Guin explored labour and work, how she explored the power of language to affect social conventions. In Le Guin's world, the anarchists create their own architecture and devise a language devoid of personal pronouns to erase the idea of personal possession. She explores the effects on relationships and on child-rearing. In Hogan's, this just means everyone has lots of guiltless sex and are able somehow to use '70s pop-culture references. Everything is the same as 1970s-80s America except everyone is awesome and enlightened.
"The whole planet, [Colman] realized as he reflected on it, was a powerhouse of progress, unchecked by any traditions of unreason and with no vested-interest obstructionists to hold it back. If the pattern continued until Chiron became a fully populated world, it would effectively leave Earth back in the Stone Age within a century." P. 221
Another element that irritated me to no end was Hogan's simplistic portrayal of religion, as well as the psychological buffoonery of the attempted colonizers. The colonizers on the Mayflower II are impossibly obtuse. Some critics have lauded this as first rate comedy, bitingly clever in its indictment of modern society. I, on the other hand, found it eye-roll-inducingly tedious that an advanced society meant to satirize our own can create an enormous spacecraft to fly tens of thousands of human beings 20 years across galaxies to colonize another planet, but somehow lacks the intelligence to even understand or comprehend the societal structure they find on Chiron. As if our current society is completely devoid of the concepts of libertarianism or anarchism or socialism. The narrative symbol for modern American society, the people on board the Mayflower hold endless meetings to ruminate upon the society they have found; "where are their leaders??" they ask incredulously ad nauseum. They embarrass themselves repeatedly in front of the Chironians with their pomp and pageantry that the author obviously intends to be seen as hollow and pathetic. The author's pedantic lecturing style when introducing Chiron and its culture is at its worst when it comes to religion. It has the tone and all the intellectual gravitas of a 15 year-old's newly discovered atheism. The bumbling buffoon of a Priest runs around the streets of the planet's capital city, perhaps in an homage to Zarathustra, hysterically yelling at people to believe in God, in what I'm sure the author thought was a compelling and powerful scene. The Priest's yelling is taken seriously by a young boy who then engages him in formal argument like an ancient Greek rhetorician. Armed with the twin enlightening powers of science and logic, the young boy frowns in frustration as he simply cannot see any reason to believe something that cannot be seen. The Priest then smugly asks the boy why people believe in the atom if it can't be seen. Then the boy dramatically and gloriously takes him down by pointing out that atoms, unlike this thing called God, have evidence behind them that can be measured and tested. Checkmate religion. He then waists no time in dissecting the fallacious logic of the Trinitarian God that the Priest is arguing for. The whole thing comes off as 9th-grade level debate, and the dramatic scene intended to hit the reader with the force of pure reason and superior argumentation and force him to experience an epiphany on the absurdity of religious belief, falls flat on its face.
Overall, I'm happy to have read this book as it is considered a classic of the genre. I found the premise underlying the story to be compelling. I simply couldn't stomach the author's lecturing style, the simplistic utopia he designs that is totally devoid of depth, and his overt scientism. All the good characters "believe" in science and logic. All the bad ones are politicians or religious figures. Most disappointing is that the book fails to explore what it promotes thoroughly, it doesn't make a convincing argument for it. It doesn't really explore what life would be like in an anarchist society. It doesn't give any answers. It doesn't tell you how to get there, but instead Chironian culture is created by a set of babies sent on a spacecraft without adults, in what the author argues is a new step in evolution brought about by heretofore non-existent conditions. It doesn't go into much detail about how this society functions, other than the fact that everything is free and everyone is hardworking and happy and productive. All it really does is poo poo modern society a bit and provide wish fulfilment for people who fantasize about seeing politicians and world leaders exposed and made to look ridiculous.
Finally, a spoiler regarding the ending: (view spoiler)[there is seemingly an enormous contradiction in the end of the book. The Chironians avoid hierarchy in their associations and society, yet after the Mayflower II mission is declared complete and all of its staff have become converted Chironians, the new mission seems to contradict everything they have learned. They set the new mission, to go back to earth, and then swiftly and proudly announce the same positions as when they had come to Chiron! Nothing has changed! All they did was replace the previous Chief of Engineering and Chief of this and Chief of that, with a bunch of new Chiefs from the list of favoured characters. It's a mind-boggling flaw. The entire point of the book is that the earthlings learn the Chironian anarchist ways and realize the error in their own societal structure, and yet as soon as they declare a new mission they immediately revert to the same hierarchical bureaucratic positions as they had at the start. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I read this book on a Greek island beach in 5 days. It was after a tough period at work and I wanted something to escape into and just forget about reI read this book on a Greek island beach in 5 days. It was after a tough period at work and I wanted something to escape into and just forget about real life for a moment. For that purpose it was a great success. It was fun, engaging. I wouldn't say it is classic literature, or the best of this genre, but it certainly served its purpose. On the topic of the prose, I thought it was quite good, with the exception of the songs that seemed a bit bumbling to be honest with you. Now here are the negatives:
While I certainly enjoyed the book and intend to read the 2nd, I'm beginning to worry a bit about the modern fantasy genre penchant for brilliant young boys. It seems to be a new theme where a protagonist is born talented to the ears, an astonishingly brilliant badass who has to go through some hard knocks in life, but ultimately establishes himself as a desirable lady-magnet and focus of hatred for all other young males - especially rich ones. While the book is not Harry Potter, I couldn't help but note Kvothe, born better than everyone else, going to school where the chicks are falling for him left and right, becoming the nemesis of a rich blonde dandy son of a noble and drastically inferior in his talents. Ambrose is like a mirror image of Malfoy. So I worry a bit about whether I'm enjoying this simply for its wish-fulfilment or for emotional masturbation. Enjoy it I did, however, despite the overbearing adolescent fantasy quality and cliches of brilliant adolescents dazzling everyone as soon as they're born or go to school. As other reviewers have noted, one does come away with a sense of cheap wish fulfilment, but overall it is also very enjoyable and well written.
This seems to be some sort of weird product of American culture. There seems to be an obsession in the US of the unearned, being born better than everyone else, a misunderstood genius. It pervades all American art, from the superheroes of Marvel and DC like Superman and the X-men mutants and Tony Stark, to modern TV shows like Suits, Numbers, the Mentalist, Psych, House, the Big Bang Theory, Malcolm In the Middle, Independence Day, Star Wars... it's not enough to be a regular guy in a predicament anymore; you have to be a prodigy dripping with badassery. Either gifted with more intelligence than anyone else or more skill. Preferably poor or from a rough background. I feel that this trope is much rarer in European film, television, and literature.
Kvothe definitely has the air of The Chosen One, or Misunderstood Genius, whilst Ambrose is a Malfoy, Simmon is the goofy best friend like Ron or the trope of The Cynic, and Wilem doesn't really have enough character yet to be defined as anything more than a generic additional friend-character.
I was also annoyed to no end by the cringeworthy romance. It was really cheesy and contrived, and I had to struggle to believe that the women the protagonist was 'courting' were actually smitten by his dry-as-bread flirtation. Another fault was in how the author chooses to explain just how badass Kvothe is. His achievements were made lame by the fact that the readers would often discover them through a star-struck character asking Kvothe if the story was true. "Did you really learn X language completely in 1 day?" "Why yes I did, although naturally one never learns a language completely." This sort of faux-humility was very tiresome, but luckily it decreases as the book progresses. Nevertheless thinking on it after reading, I realize that at the back of my mind I was annoyed by the author's decision to make this into a sort of memoir when the leading protagonist is also a demigod. It gives the impression of a session of boasting. Like the ego-stroking memoirs of a president listing his own accomplishments. This may be less annoying, however, as the series continues and we find out why Kvothe is a barkeep.
Finally, the ending just fizzles out unexpectedly, as if the whole series is already written and the author just decided that 662 pages was a good reasonable point for people to take a break. The narrative rushes toward the end of the book quickly raising important plot points out of thin air as if desperately trying to entice the reader to pick up the next book. ...more