Welcome to my no moon left unturned re-read of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers the prologue and chapters 1-4 of The Wise Man’s Fear but also contains extensive spoilers for the whole book and the whole of The Name of the Wind, — these discussions assume you’ve read all of both books. These posts are full of spoilers please don’t venture beyond the cut unless you want them.
Abbreviations: NW = The Name of the Wind. WMF = The Wise Man’s Fear. D3 = Day Three, the forthcoming final volume. K = Kvothe or Kote when I can’t figure out what to call him and I’m feeling Kafkaesque. MT: Myr Tariniel. D = Denna
Are you excited to be starting The Wise Man’s Fear? Well, I am.
But first, some gossip. I met Pat at Worldcon in Reno and was on a couple of panels with him. He knows we’re doing this, but he’s not reading the threads. When I told him about the Department of Imaginary Linguistics and about promoting people to E’lir he chortled. So we have authorial approval, and thence onward!
I have an ARC of WMF and it weighs a ton. I feel like I need a lectern for this thing. When is the paperback coming out?
Prologue: A Silence of Three Parts
So, it is dawn, meaning a few hours have passed since the last volume, and we have a silence of three parts, again. The first part is things that were lacking: a storm, travelers, and of course, music. There’s an interesting line in the description of the absent storm: “Thunder would have muttered and rumbled and chased the silence down the road like fallen autumn leaves.” Thunder, eh? Maedre? The last casual mention of thunder we had — “Don’t bring thunder!” — was identified as Kvothe. I’m very much coming to the conclusion that there are no casual mentions here, and there’s a lot of stuff hidden in plain sight. Thunder. Maedre. Kvothe.
But this is making me look more closely at the other things. Kvothe has been a traveler — the Waystone is the only time he stops. He keeps coming back to Ankers and it feels like home, but most of his life he has been a traveler. And of course, there is, or rather isn’t, his music. We’re told the third silence is his, but I wonder if all three parts of the silence are, and if what he has done with breaking his alar or changing his name or whatever has made the story-K into the frame-K has to do with this tripartite silence. Triple-locked silence? Both prologues and epilogues reference this silence, and it’s Silence as a presence, and it’s what Bast is afraid of.
And in NW’s prologue, the three parts lacking for the first silence (sheesh) are the wind, a crowd, and music again. And of course NW is wind and one of the things that wise men fear is the sea in storm, which is thematic here as the wind is there. And the crowd, like travelling, is where K is comfortable. At the end of NW it’s horses, a crowd, and music. Horses? At the end of WMF it’s rain, lovers and music.
But the second silence here belongs to Bast. At the beginning of NW it’s two men in the bar, and at the end it’s Chronicler in bed, and at the end it’s the sound of the wake.
So, new theory. I think the first tripartitte silence reflects what K has done. The second silence is other people not being able to reach him. And the third is the scary solid silence that doesn’t just reflect it but which is it. It’s a magical silence. It’s in the glass and the chest and K himself. And it holds the other two silences, and it is just exactly like splitting his alar, isn’t it, the way we have seen him do?
Damn this is clever! It’s also worth noting that it’s extremely beautiful writing. It’s doing all this thematic stuff and plot stuff and it is beautiful too.
Chapter 1 is “Apple and Elderberry.” Elderberry is Bast’s game, the apples are the apples K gets and presses. This is all frame, all Waystone.
It begins with Bast, bored and alone in the bar looking for something new. His eyes skitter off the sword, which is new in the room — it was under his bed until two days before. He plays a word-game with the bottles and drinks some things. This reminds me irresistably of part of The Bone People (post) where Kerewin does exactly the same thing. She has writer’s block and has quarrelled with her family and at that point in the novel has everything she wants except something to care about, and it seems to me that Bast might be in much the same state. Except that he’s not human and we don’t know what he wants or why he’s there or really very much about him at all except that he does have something he really cares about, which appears to be his Reshi.
K comes in. They chat about tasting — Bast has been mixing the things he gets to make some kind of appalling cocktail. K says they have to talk about what Bast did last night. Bast reacts guiltily, thinking he’s been caught threatening Chronicler. But K means stopping the “creature from the Mael.” Bast tries to make light of what he did and says that K would have “killed it like a chicken,” which K shrugs off. K suggests they could make things “safer around here” by doing something from a song called “White Riders’ Hunt,” and sends Bast off to do it — and promises not to start telling his story before he gets back.
The man who called himself Kote went through his usual routine at the Waystone Inn. He moved like clockwork, like a wagon rolling down the road in well worn ruts.
I wonder if it’s possible to bind alar to a routine that way, so that when you do it it reinforces everything? And what it would be reinforcing here is his innkeeper-hood. But you almost don’t need magic — it’s one of the things some kinds of therapy try to do, instilling new habits to break old ones. When you make bread and the fire you think about the Inn, and only the Inn... and when it was all done
The red-haired man stood behind the bar, his eyes slowly returning from their faraway place, focusing on the here and now, on the inn itself.
What they come to rest on is the sword Folly — what was his plan in doing that? He’s interrupted in any case by Graham the cooper showing up with three new barrels bound with brass instead of iron. K says it’s because the cellar gets damp, but maybe it’s so it’s nicer for Bast? Graham has a drink when he notices the scrubbed patch on the floor and says “Bad business last night.”
And then a bit of philosophy — death is an everyday reality for these people, and they don’t talk about it except in stories, dressed up in foreign clothes.
A chimney fire or the croup cough was terrifying, but Gibea’s trial or the siege of Enfast? Those were like prayers, were like charms muttered late at night when you were walking alone in the dark. Stories were like ha’penny amulets you bought from a peddler, just in case.
Note peddler, not tinker. Note contrast of story and reality in frame. Note applicability of this to us too — losing your five year old in a mall is terrifying, reading about K’s entire troupe being murdered by Chandrian is fun. Will it keep death from us, or from the villagers of Newarre? No, but nothing else will either.
Graham wants Chronicler to write him a will. He says other people will want the same. K frowns with irritation and then says Chronicler will be setting up shop around midday for that kind of business. K relaxes when Graham says everyone will be harvesting until then anyway. And Graham starts to complain about things, saying “Back when—” and catches himself, and then he compliments K on his acuity and asks if things are as bad as they seem or if he’s just getting old. K says the world is always awful, which I think is an outright lie. Graham says K isn’t old — which he isn’t, though goodness knows how old he is. And then K tells the truth:
Things are bad and my gut tells me they’ll get worse yet. It wouldn’t hurt a man to get ready for a hard winter.
Then the Bentons stop buy with apples, with K buys. He sorts the apples. He doesn’t sing while he’s doing it. He starts to make cider — this strikes me as weird, because I have been to cider museums and you always need a donkey for a cider press, because apples to not crush the way grapes do. So K doing it himself seems like a feat of incredible strength. I don’t know if this is an error — has Pat been to cider museums? — or if it means it. His muscles stand out. And his eyes are so pale they could have passed for grey.
Chapter 2 is “Holly”
The holly is the protection Bast has gone to get, and more widely trying to protect Aaron too.
Chronicler gets up and K tells him while soup and bread and pudding are easy, making pies is hard. (This observation is quite true, and inclines me to accept the veracity of the whole text.) Chronicler seems to find in unbelievable that K is doing it. And then K asks what pomice is called (K hasn’t been to the cider museum!) and after Chronicler tells him he says “If it’s something everyone knows I can’t afford to ask.” Which is interesting.
Then Bast comes home with holly, having ruined K’s good sheets. K starts to get cross then says it doesn’t matter. (He’s waiting to die. Do you need good sheets when you’re waiting to die like a cut flower?) They discuss what to do with the holly and why iron wouldn’t work against the shapechange things from the Mael. Bast teases Chronicler pretending to be possessed by it. (And Jhirran? Some definite Fae language there “Te veyan? Te-tanten ventelanet?”) K laughs. Bast says later how glad he is that K laughs, and that he hasn’t done it for months.
So then a possibly odd thing. K is making a chain of holly, and “the innkeeper’s fingers fumbled clumsily” and jab a thorn into his thumb, and he’s angry. Has he cursed himself with clumsy innkeeper hands? Why is he surprised and angry when he can’t do things. I think this holly-weaving goes with the sympathy and the breaking lion as things he tries to do and is baffled when he can’t. Of course, this can be alar. He can hide things from himself and fail to find them.
Then Bast gives Chronicler a holly crown as a freely given gift, and Chronicler takes it. They talk about what Bast wants Chronicler to do, which is wake up K.
They have breakfast. The smith’s prentice comes by for some travelling food. Carter’s going to join up and so is he. The army gives you a whole gold royal... and
Once we get the rebels to swear loyalty to the Penitent King things will start getting better again.
Oh, really? We have rebels? So we have a king who did something for which he’s Penitent. We have a king Kvothe killed. And we have rebels who are rebelling against the Penitent King. And we are in Vint, as conclusively proved by GBrell.
But while Aaron the smith’s prentice thinks the problem is the rebels, they can only be part of it. I mean there’s the scrael and the skinchanger and everything else making the roads bad.
And then comes the thing that really astonished me the first time I read it. K tells Aaron who he is and offers to let him hear his story if he won’t go off and enlist. K cares enough to risk his safety and anonymity and everything, to save this kid. Because K feels that everything is his fault and he wants to save something. But Aaron doesn’t believe him.
It is interesting to hear what Aaron knows about Kvothe. He knows he’s dead. He knows “he knew all sorts of secret magics” including “six words he could whisper in a horse’s ear that would make it run a hundred miles” which seems to be a reference to the Trebon episode and also to the seven words he keeps saying to D. He knows he could turn iron into gold and save lightning in a quart jar — which seem like fairly easy things to do with sympathy and sygaldry actually. “He knew a song that would open any lock” though in fact he knew lockpicking “and he could stave in a strong oak door with just one hand” — which is odd for two reasons. First, Kvothe isn’t especially strong, and secondly it’s another reference to opening doors.
“He rescued some girls from a troupe of ogres once” is the two girls from the troupe of false Ruh. But he’s also “a right bastard.” He got thrown out of the University for stealing secret magics and “they don’t call him Kvothe Kingkiller because he was good with a lute.”
Red hair, devil with a sword, silver tongue that could talk his way out of anything — this is an interesting picture of the story of Kvothe from outside, even if it isn’t giving us anything new.
K says “if your head was worth a thousand royals and a duchy to anyone who cut it off” which sounds as if it might be a very specific price on his head. And very Vintish.
And Aaron breaks the spell of K offering to let him stay by asking to see his “cloak of no particular colour” — which is of course Taborlin the Great’s cloak. And Aaron says he’s just making fun and he doesn’t believe K any more than he believed that his mother was sick or his girlfriend was pregnany — everyone is trying to keep him home.
Then he says K’s sword was silver, and called “Kaysera the poet killer” which is Caesura — but “poet killer” rocks K.
And Aaron quotes a poem about Kvothe’s rings, and K completes it.
On his first hand he wore rings of stone,
iron, amber, wood and bone.
There were —
There were rings unseen on his second hand:
one was blood in a flowing band.
One of air all whisper thin.
And the ring of ice had a flaw within.
Full faintly shone the ring of flame.
And the final ring was without name.
We know they make rings in the University to show their mastery of Names. We see Fela doing it. So this would imply Kvothe knows the names of stone, iron, amber, wind, ice and fire. Because we also know he gets rings of bone and wood in the Maer’s court, and the blood surely has to be the Lackless blood he brings? And “without name”? When they are rings of naming? Without name? And who wrote that? He wouldn’t have. Somebody else wrote that about him and it went out for people to hear and learn. Was it D? Was it part of her betrayal of him? It’s a poem not a song. Was it why he killed a poet — if so, not Ambrose, because it scans. His expression is “unreadable” when he recites it.
When Aaron leaves with his food, K says, “So much for my legendary silver tongue.”
Chronicler was surprised K would take the risk. So was I. K says it’s not much of a risk because it’s not much of a life.
K says he’ll start again and asks where he’d got to. Bast says he was mooning over his lady love — interesting word. K says he doesn’t moon.
And he reads through the last bit, and says all he wanted was to stay at the University.
One of the things that surprised me about WMF the first time I read it was how long K did stay at the University. This line led me to think that we’d fairly soon be heading away. But it’s Chapter 50 before he goes. At five chapters a week it’s going to take us until the middle of November to leave there.
Chapter 3 is “Luck”
And we’re right out of the frame and plunged back into the story. Admissions again. K has one talent and one jot. Fela comes to talk to him, and he notices that she’s beautiful like somebody in a painting. She’s going to do Manifold Maths, keep on as a scriv, and do some chemistry. He’s going to do Medica, the Fishery, more Sympathy and learn Siaru. Then Fela confesses that Elodin has invited her to join his class — and Kvothe is jealous because he hasn’t been invited, even though Elodin sponsored him to Re’lar. They chat about Elodin. She invites him to lunch and he turns her down because he can’t afford it. He trades tiles with Wilem, who accuses him of flirting with Fela. Fela thinks her Admissions slot is lucky.
As far as I can see this is all just setup and easing us back into the situation.
Chapter Four is “Tar and Tin”
This chapter starts with a little explanation of trade — exotic things from all over the world came to the University and magic stuff left — medicines, alchemy and products of the Fishery. He says they are things you could only get from the University, though we know that’s not true. There are Arcanists out there in the world like Ben.
Kvothe goes to the Fishery to make two deck lamps because they will sell before Admissions and make him some more money. Eight hours of hard work later he collects some cold food from Ankers and takes it up to Auri — whose hair is making a halo around her head, for whoever was collecting haloes. This time Auri has normal things — an apple, a bun, a lettuce — about which she is being whimsical. Kvothe shares his squash and butter and potatoes. He says he’s afraid the potatoes are cold, and Auri tells him not to be afraid, she’s there, which is very Auri.
Auri carries “something the size of a coin that gave off a gentle greenish light” which may be an ever-burning lamp. They go into the tunnels to eat their dinner, and then he gets into the Archives the back way to study for Admissions.
And Promotions: The Department of Imaginary Sympathy is proud to promote Rush-That-Speaks and Wetlandernw to E’lir, for startling insights in the comment threads on the speculative summary threads, which I will be discussing in detail when we get there in the book.
Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and nine novels, most recently Among Others, and if you liked this post you will like it. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.