"WELL, HERE'S THE THING," Patrick Rothfuss says. "Anyone can get lucky once, but if you can do it twice, then that starts to establish a pattern that proves that you can really do this professionally. And so there was a ton of pressure from that, in terms of the rest of my career as a writer. The second book was going to be the determining factor of how much of a career I was going to have, and what sort of career it would be."
That second book is The Wise Man's Fear, the eagerly anticipated sequel to Rothfuss' 2007 debut, The Name of the Wind. Coming out of nowhere, from a then no-name author, The Name of the Wind was a gust of fresh air in the musty fantasy genre. With The Name of the Wind's first-person narrative, a gleeful subversion of genre clichés, and a great central character—Kvothe, a tired innkeeper who was once a legendary, dangerous magician—Rothfuss won both acclaim and a fervent fanbase. As fun as it is, though, The Name of the Wind feels slight when compared with The Wise Man's Fear, a book that cashes in on its predecessor's potential. Here, in the second volume of Kvothe's three-book saga, the young magician recalls his early ventures into a larger, stranger world—and Rothfuss only improves on a tale that was already surprising, adventurous, and original.
"I thought, 'Okay, I'm going to write a fantasy novel, but... I'm not going to make this a copy of a copy,'" Rothfuss says of his early motivations for the series. "'I'm not going to try to do all of the things that I've read in those D&D novels; I'm not going to try and do all of those things that all of the authors that were copying Tolkien did.' I thought very specifically about the things that I did not want to do."
Some of what Rothfuss avoided was resorting to the shorthand that can plague genre literature. "You know how some people say there's hard sci-fi and there's soft sci-fi? I think there's hard fantasy and soft fantasy. And I write hard fantasy, where everything has a deep, logical underpinning. If there's a religion, I want it to be deeply enmeshed and interactive with the culture it's sprung from. And if there's magic, then that magic had better have a reasonable influence on the world. And if you are living in this old age where paper's expensive, then you better have a reason for that. And if you don't acknowledge the importance of stories and oral communication in a world like that, then you really don't understand how people work."
But since Kvothe's self-told story is one deeply rooted in a vast, fantastic, and carefully constructed world, Rothfuss' continuing quest to write an organic, inventive fantasy series was made all the more difficult.
"I realized, when I started to look at the mechanics of this second book, there's like 18 plot threads, and like 27 various, different character arcs that I have to somehow juggle and bring to fruition in some meaningful way. It's insane!" Rothfuss says. "I never meant to get tangled up in this. This is not the sort of thing that you should ever do as your first project as a novelist. I have fond imaginings of what I'll do after the series is done. It would be so nice to just write a little story."
For a (mostly) complete transcript of this interview, go here.