Welcome to my excessively detailed reread of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers chapters 99-103 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, 4C = Four Corners, CTH — that thing I can’t spell!
Chapter 99 is “Shaed”
The cloak, of course. I’ve lost count of how many cloaks Kvothe has been through now. They are all inspired by Taborlin the Great’s cloak of no particular colour. There was the cloak from Tarbean, which got damaged saving Fela. There was the green cloak Fela gave him, lost in the shipwreck. There was the burgundy cloak from the Maer, swapped for the tinker’s cloak. And now the shaed. I don’t think they represent anything other than Kvothe’s desire to be like Taborlin and have a cloak, but they are a charming motif.
This chapter begins with Kvothe digressing into explaining “a few peculiarities of the Fae.” As we’ve just gone from an explanation of how Fae and humans are like vodka and water, I was expecting more of that and got whiplash when Fae here is being used as a geographical term, meaning the Faen world. We have not yet been told about how it was made.
So the world, this bit is always in twilight and deeply forested, it could be the Eld. But there are other differences:
There aren’t directions of the usual sort in Fae. Your trifoil compass is useless as a tin codpiece there. North simply does not exist. And in a place with no sun, you cannot get your bearings by watching the sun rise to the east.
I’m going to link to our previous discussion of the trifoil compass (summary in my article under chapter 9, more in comments). The more I read this paragraph and the ensuing description of Fae as a round world tidally locked like an old fashioned Mercury, the more I think the Four Corners world has, well, four corners, and isn’t a globe. “North simply does not exist” could mean that Fae doesn’t have an iron core and a magnetic pole, but it could be more than that. I’m looking at the map, and yes, the world extends out from there, but how much further out I wonder. When Kvothe says “North does not exist” I wonder what he means by the concept of “north.”
Felurian calls the two of the points on the compass Night and Day, and the others Dark and Light, Summer and Winter, Forward and Backward or Grimward and Grinning, which Kvothe thinks is a joke.
The other difference is that the world is immanently aware — or as Kvothe puts it, like the difference between a room with a sleeping person and an empty room. I actually know exactly what he means because I have been to places like that.
Felurian worries about him coming back, and about him not being safe. She offers to make him a cloak. She takes him walking into darkness. He makes a sympathetic light, and it attracts something scary and big that zooms over them — I have no idea what. Felurian rescues him by knocking him to the ground and saying three words Kvothe can’t hear. He doesn’t ask, and we remain unenlightened — it was a weird thing in the darkness. Okay.
Kvothe sees stars, differently patterned and brighter.
Felurian makes a non-sound in the deep darkness and luminous moths arrive. They go into deeper darkness where there don’t seem to be any trees, or stars either, and Felurian does something and collects shadow from the deep darkness. When they get back to starlight she grabs the strands and sews with it, making him a literal cloak of shadow.
He asks questions, he doesn’t understand the answers, and he’s jealous because it’s so magical and he can’t do it. He also says she knows nothing about sympathy or sygaldry or alar — and yet he knew already that sympathy was invented at the University. But what is she doing, making the Shaed?
Chapter 100 is “The Ever-Moving Moon”
And this is the chapter, 100 into book 2, in which I totally fell in love with this series. Up to this point I was enjoying it, with some ups and downs, but this with the moon, and how set up it has been? Genius. So little fantasy actually does fantastic things like this. But nobody will keep reading this long for a payoff like this unless they’re already having fun.
Kvothe sees the crescent moon and knows it’s the same moon as at home and is delighted to see it. Felurian laughs at him. Then she explains that the moon moves between his world and her world. Kvothe asks how, and she asks the moon why it has brought her an owl instead of a man. And she’s not even being rhetorical — well, she is about the owl. But the moon did bring Kvothe to her.
(Sudden thought. Somebody must have got away from Felurian before, or we wouldn’t know her name. Unless we know it from the song when people heard and didn’t follow. Yes, that must be it.)
And of course, we readers are all owls, we want to know “how? how?” even more than Kvothe does. How often during this read through have I asked these questions? How? How? And all of us in comments — how? Well, maybe... how? How? We are the owls battering at the edges of the universe.
There are neon tetras in Felurian’s warm pool. At this point, Kvothe is even thinking in rhyme. But he’s not really a sweet poet, he’s really steeped in a scientific worldview, he is the owl crying “How?”. Felurian says “Even the fish delight in kissing you” and he responds “I think they must like the salt on my skin”. She’s impatient at his change of mode. As I’ve complained before about the unrealistic nature of the relationship between Kvothe and Denna, I want to note how perfectly characteristic and well observed a moment this exchange is. It’s a “You’re right, but I wanted you to be romantic” moment, it’s deeply characteristic of both of them.
Then, after a sexual moment, Felurian explains the moon. The moon moved between the two worlds, and the bit you can’t see is in the other world. So amazingly cool! And all the conversation is in rhyming couplets in iambic pentameter.
Then Kvothe says he heard a story about a man who stole the moon. And Felurian says “until he stole the moon there was some hope of peace.”
Felurian agrees to tell him the story of the stealing of the moon in return for three sexual things he’s going to do for her. This creeps me out slightly as a bargain.
She says this happened before men, before fae, there were those who knew the names of all things. And she rejects Kvothe’s explanation that naming is mastery,
“to swim is not mastery over the water. to eat an apple is not mastery of the apple.”
Kvothe doesn’t understand and neither do I. But then she says mastery came in with those who wanted to change things, the Shapers. (She doesn’t use a capital. But she’s Felurian, she reserves capitals for herself.) And there was only one world and one sky, and Murells was in it and Felurian was in Murella, eating a shining fruit from a silver tree. Long ago. Human history goes back two thousand years to Caluptena.
Then the old Knowers tried to stop the Shapers. Felurian was impressed with the things the Shapers made. The Shapers made the Faen realm.
the greatest of them sewed it from whole cloth. a place where they could do as they desired. and at the end of all their work, each shaper wrought a star to fill their new and empty sky.
Two worlds, two skies, but only one moon and it was in the mortal world. Then the greatest of them stole the moon, the Knowers understood the Shapers weren’t going to stop, and there was the Creation War. She doesn’t call it that, but that’s clearly what it is. She won’t name the greatest, but she says he’s shut behind the Doors of Stone, which is what Skarpi said happened. Then she explains how the moon draws the worlds together and Fae are drawn to the mortal lands when the moon is full there, and mortals to the Fae world at the dark of the moon. She says there are
a thousand half-cracked doors that lie between my world and yours
We have said that Fae is the crooked house that Jax builds, and “half cracked doors” while it could mean “half open” recalls this.
Then she mentions the things that stop the Fae in the mortal world:
iron, fire, mirror-glass, elm and ash and copper knives, solid-hearted farmers’ wives who know the rules of games we play and give us bread to keep away, but worst of all my people dread the portion of our power we shed when we set foot on mortal earth.
We know about iron and fire and elm and ash, but mirror-glass is new — doesn’t Auri gives Kvothe a piece of mirror?
And she’s warning him. “A wise man views a moonless night with fear.”
Chapter 101 is “Close Enough to Touch”
Felurian works on the shaed, Kvothe tries not to feel like a child underfoot in the kitchen. He asks questions about magic, which are all scientific-worldview based. And she sounds like Elodin: “you know too much to be happy.” And she can touch the moonlight and sew with it, and he can touch it when he isn’t thinking, and when he thinks it is light again.
Then he talks about how he has a good memory, and how that’s central to him. (If you’re going to have a first person narration that’s at all plausible it has to be somebody with a good memory.) Then he says he can’t remember some things about his time with Felurian — where the food came from, where the lights came from.
I like this because any details about this kind of thing about make Fae less magical, and not remembering and saying so makes it more magical.
Chapter 102 is “The Cthaeh”
Felurian helps him discover magic and he helps with the shaed — and she’s like “a quieter more attractive version of Elodin.” So it is Naming that he’s learning. I think. Or is it shaping? Anyway, eventually he can touch the shaed and shape it and it has numerous little pockets — of course it does! And they take it into daylight — and I have more owl questions immediately. How big is Fae? Not all that big, if it’s walking distance to day and dark. How long does it take to go all the way around?
She sends him away “For the time it takes to love four times” while she works with the shaed and a piece of iron — her eyes change colour while she touches the iron, and she says it would be a help for him not to be there. “I do not need flame, or songs, or questions.” Especially questions....
He walks for an hour into full daylight. He says he shouldn’t go far from “her twilight grove” but he also says they’ve taken the shaed into daylight, so who knows. Is twilight only an hour — four or five miles — from daylight?’ Kvothe knows he should have known better than to go too far, but goes too far, because he has been chased off like a child. He finds his way to a green grassy plain, in sunlight. He sees a tree and walks to it, even though the path doesn’t go there.
It’s a type of tree he’s never seen before, with blue blossoms. The smell is like leather and spice and lemon, which is like his chest and the mounting board, which has been identified as roah wood. So it’s a roah tree, a rare but plausible tree that it’s possible but expensive to buy bits of. It’s not a unique tree is what I’m trying to say.
The butterflies around the tree sip from the blossoms, and it’s beautiful. Then Kvothe sees one cut in half and realises all the ones on the ground are dead. “A voice from the tree” speaks and says “The red ones offend my aesthetic.”
It’s not supposed to lie, but that seems to me immediately like a lie.
It introduces itself as the Cthaeh, says it’s not a tree, and that he’s lucky to find it and many would envy him. Of course, many others would run the other way, but it doesn’t say that. He can’t see it. He has heard of it vaguely while looking at Chandrian folklore and remembers that it’s an oracle. It says “I am. I see. I know.” It kills a blue butterfly, and says there are no red ones left and the blue ones are slightly sweet. Look, it’s committing wanton destruction right in front of him! Kvothe himself has used killing butterflies as a metaphor! It’s right up there with smoking as a clue that this is a malevolent entity!
It asks if he’s Felurian’s new manling — and “manling” is something we have had as an equivalent to “faerie” in the expression “manling tales.” It’s a put down. And then it says it can smell the iron and it wonders how she stands it. We’ve just seen Felurian repelled by the smell of iron when Kvothe shaved, but now actually working with iron to protect him.
The CTH asks him to ask it something, and he asks it about the Amyr. Interestingly, it doesn’t answer, it asks why he doesn’t just ask about the Chandrian. Would an answer about the Amyr be more revealing? It bullies him into asking about the Chandrian. It says he should call them “the Seven” because of the folklore hanging off the name “Chandrian.” It says the masters at the University might know but they wouldn’t tell him and anyway Kvothe is afraid to ask. Then it scoffs at the idea that he wants to kill them, and say that Haliax has been alive five thousand years without a second’s sleep. It then correctly sums up his experience so far:
The few people who believe in the Chandrian are too afraid to talk, and everyone else will just laugh at you for asking.
Then it says arrogance and assuming you know everything is the price for civilization, and that he wouldn’t have a hope of finding out anything until he made it to the Stormwal. Then it says most people won’t take the search for the Amyr seriously either, but the Maer is different.
He’s already come close to them. Stick by the Maer and he will lead you to their door.
The CTH then says this is a joke that Kvothe will eventually appreciate. People have suggested various things about this, like puns on “lead” and the lead bowl, and that Bredon might be the “stick.”
Then it says Cinder is the one he wants, the one who did things to Kvothe’s mother, who held out better than his father. He asks why:
Because they wanted to, and because they could, and because they had a reason.
Then why Kvothe survived:
Because they were sloppy, and because you were lucky, and because something scared them away.
If I didn’t already hate the thing I’d hate it for these non-answers. “They had a reason?” And it was? “Something scared them?” What?
Then it says Kvothe saw Cinder a few days ago, and Kvothe realises he must have been the bandit leader. It talks about Kvothe’s failure to catch him, and then it asks what D would think about Felurian, who it calls “some pixie”. Then it talks about D being abused by her patron, which we’ve discussed pretty thoroughly already.
And at this point Kvothe has had enough and runs away, despite it saying that it has more to tell him.
I’m angry with it myself.
Then he goes back to Felurian, and she looks tired and less than entirely beautiful. When he tells her that he has spoken to the CTH she searches his body for wounds and asks if he is well. She says it has not bitten him and his eyes are clear so he’ll be okay — the bite is poison and so are the words, but they haven’t broken his mind. She says it doesn’t lie, it has the gift of seeing but only tells the things that hurt.
Chapter 103 is Interlude: “A Certain Sweetness”
What the CTH said the butterflies has, and what Kvothe says retelling the story of his life has. Hmm.
Bast doesn’t interrupt, but K stops because of how awful Bast looks, and it’s a jolt to be back in the frame. Bast asks if he’s just putting the CTH in for colour, and goes ballistic when K makes a joke of it, knocking the inkpot over and yelling “Don’t lie to me.” K says he’s telling the truth, and Bast says he doesn’t care “what shit you spin into gold” or give “a fiddler’s fuck” but he wants the truth about this.
K says again that it’s his one chance to get the truth behind the stories recorded.
This doesn’t mean it is true. I mean Chronicler’s right there, and if K has an agenda and is lying, he couldn’t tell Bast, even if he wanted to.
Bast says he finally understands what the matter is — which is an interesting way of putting it. (How long has Bast been with K? Where did he find him?)
K says he has faced worse things. Bast says there isn’t anything worse than the CTH.
Bast asks if K knows who the Sithe are. K says they’re a faction among the Fae. Bast says:
their oldest and most important charge is to keep the CTH from having contact with anyone.
Now what we knew about the Sithe before this is that Haliax threatens Cinder with them. So the CTH dates from before the Chandrian? It could.
Then he says they kill anyone who speaks with it, and kill crows that land on their body. Chronicler asks why anyone would risk this, and Bast says the flowers are a panacaea called Rhinna that can cure any poison, wound, or illness. K looks at his hands — significantly? — and says he can see the appeal. He says he didn’t see any guards, and Bast says he’s surprised. But maybe Bast has heard fairy stories too.
And Bast says it knows the future perfectly and is malicious. K says anyone that speaks to it is like an arrow into the future, because it knows how they will react. Bast says:
“Anyone influenced by the Cthaeh is like a plague ship sailing for a harbour.”
He says the Sithe would kill them all for hearing what K said.
Chronicler says it can’t be that bad, and Bast makes a crow from spilled ink and beer and tears it apart in flames, saying Chronicler knows nothing about Fae and has no idea who Bast is. (Well, neither do we. A Prince of Twilight?)
Bast swears there is nothing more dangerous than the CTH, three thousand times.
K says he believes him, and that after meeting the CTH everyone’s choices go wrong. Bast says not just wrong:
catastrophic. Iax spoke to the Cthaeh before he stole the moon and that sparked the entire Creation War. Lanre spoke to the Cthaeh before he orchestrated the betrayal of Myr Tariniel. The creation of the Nameless. The Scaendyne. They can all be traced back to the Cthaeh.
Kvothe’s expression went blank. Well, that certainly puts me in interesting company, doesn’t it?"
Bast says that if the CTH is on the backdrop of a play that’s to show it’s a tragedy. And of course, it’s on the cover of NW.
Then K says he knows what sort of story he’s telling and this — the Inn — is the end of it. Chronicler and Bast both agree the story isn’t over if K is still alive. K says they’re both so young — though we know Bast is hundreds of years old.
So K does not believe in the possibility of eucatastrophe. Bast does, or did until this moment, because that’s what he’s been doing, trying to get K back to himself.
Don’t miss the great comments on last week’s post!
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.