Welcome to my excessively detailed re-read of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers chapters 17-21 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
Chapter 17 is “Interlude: Parts”
As in playing parts. But also as in doing one’s part.
For once we’re not jerked into an interlude—Kvothe sees Cob coming and stops, giving Chronicler and Bast parts to play, of bored scribe and lazy assistant. Bast eagerly wants to be given a part, and Kvothe even gives him a joke to tell. Kvothe’s playing director, he even says “Enter Old Cob. Stage left.” This isn’t the almost shocking jerk of transformation back to innkeeper we’ve seen before. This is very smooth and it’s Kvothe playing. Cob comes in and says he’s meeting Graham, Kvothe offers him cider, then Graham, Jake, Carter and Aaron come in. They’ve come to have a drink to send of Shep, because Carter and Aaron are going to miss the funeral. They exchange memories of Shep. Cob says:
These ent good days to be a brave man. But he was brave all the same. I wish I’d been brave and dead instead and him home right now kissing his young wife.
Then K gives them all whisky, and they ask what the toast should be. Aaron suggests “To the king” which Kvothe vetoes. And his toast is:
To old friends who deserved better than they got.
And I wonder if he did kill Sim, you know? It’s a good toast, it covers Shep and it could cover a lot else. How many old friends might K be thinking of?
After they leave, Bast says he liked Shep and Cob knows what he’s doing, and K says it was Bast who stopped the thing, and Bast says K would have done it if he hadn’t.
“You would have stopped it. That’s what you do.”
And K shrugs and Bast looks angry. And Chronicler says Shep was brave, and K repeats what Cob said, that he too wishes he’d been braver and Shep was home kissing his young wife. As if Shep is another dead person on K’s account—which he might be. If K could have stopped it, as Bast thinks? Or if it was looking for him? So this is K feeling as if he didn’t do his part.
Chapter 18 is “Wine and Blood”
The wine “D” brings, and the blood they supposedly play cards for? The wine K boils and why you don’t want a Sympathist to have a drop of your blood?
And we’re straight back into the story with no messing about picking up pens or anything. We didn’t get jerked out of it for once, we got jerked back in.
Wil and Sim drag Kvothe out of the library and to the Eolian, where he manages to enjoy himself despite knowing “D” is with Ambrose. And Wil and Sim bicker about whether the high king of Modeg is a king or a figurehead, which is really cool. For one thing, it implies a constitutional monarchy—well, we have a Commonwealth too, so not that surprising. But also, we’ve heard very little about Modeg before, and so it’s nifty to hear it being mentioned in a squabble. And third and best of all, if he’s even arguably a figurehead then I think that means we can cross him off our potential list of “Kings to be Killed and Break the World.” Yay, it wasn’t the high king of Modeg, not that we ever thought it was.
And “D” shows up with a Cealdish man and gets them to pretend they were waiting for her and she was late. Sim says only wines from Vintas have a vintage, which is a gorgeous piece of wordplay. “D” plays Corners, pretending she hasn’t played before. Kvothe says they play for blood, but actually they’re playing for money. She fleeces them. Then she says she’s been looking for them and asks them how magic works. She offers them the secrets of what women want in exchange, and then when they’re reluctant adds an offer of alcohol.
Incidentally, it must be a really slow night in the Eolian, because he doesn’t mention anybody playing.
They explain Sympathy as moving power around—the drab lifting the other drab and so on. “Energy moneychangers.” They explain alar as strength of will. Kvothe explains links by making his wine boil. Wil says that’s why you don’t want them to have your blood, and Sim swears “Black hands!” They say they don’t do it. “Not for a hundred years.” Yeah, right. Then they duel over some floating coins and Kvothe wins. “D” seems disappointed that it’s just energy moneylending. Nobody asks her why she wants to know enough to buy them good wine. I mean this isn’t just idle curiosity. Kvothe says that Sim does alchemy, and she asks if there’s a kind of magic that’s just writing things down. Kvothe mentions sygaldry.
“D” asks about:
“a kind of magic where you sort of… wrote things down. And whatever you wrote became true.” She looked down nervously while her fingers traced patterns on the tabletop. “Then if someone saw the writing, even if they coukldn’t read it, it would be true for them. They’d think a certain thing or act a certain way, depending on what the writing said.”
Now this is absolutely unlike anything they know about, or any of the ways we have heard about magic in this world. It’s clearly not related to Sympathy, and it’s clearly not Naming. Is it Shaping? Could be. And there’s later evidence it relates to Yllish knots. And beyond that, what “patterns” is she tracing on the table? “Love me and don’t ask me questions?” Because after they say it doesn’t seem real, Kvothe does ask her and she says “It was just something I heard.” Right.
The woman’s secret she gives is that there are two women at another table interested in Wil and Sim. They say they’re with a Mondegan, she says he’s interested in Kvothe, and offers to send Deoch to distract him. Deoch’s special relationship with Stanchion is discussed. Wil says he’s a “basha” and asks what the word is in Aturan, for someone who has sex with men and women. “D” makes fun of their earlier explanation by saying it’s all just energy. And she leaves with Kvothe.
Chapter 19 is “Gentlemen and Thieves”
Kvothe asks “D” if she went looking for him at the Fishery—but of course she isn’t. This is just keeping our niggle at that in our minds. It’s a technique, where you open a question and have to keep reminding the reader it’s open.
She talks about breaking up graciously with Kellin and keeping his gifts, and about hoping to hear from her patron. This would imply that it wasn’t from her patron that she heard about the writing things down magic? Kvothe offers to get Threpe to look for a patron for her, and she says she doesn’t deserve better, and makes “an odd fidgeting gesture with her hands.” More Yllish magic? Kvothe instantly changes the subject. Or trying to draw attention to her missing ring?
Kellin objected to Geoffrey. Kvothe asks how he is. She says he fell for the “weeping widow” trick, and explains it. Rushthatspeaks, in comments to an earlier post, points out that in this chapter “D” explains how this works and then does it to Kvothe with her ring, which he spends a lot of effort getting back. She shows him what the marks on a pawnbrokers mean. Geoffrey got completely taken in. She says it’s like a morality play.
She’s cold and he puts his (Fela’s) cloak on her and then reaches into the pocket for wire, startling her. The wire is to fix his lutecase, which is falling apart. She does the gesture again and he realises her ring is missing. She says Ambrose was going to fix it, she says she only went out with him a couple of times, she says the ring was important, and Kvothe says he’ll get it back. She doesn’t even have to say she’s a widow or that it was her grandmother’s. She does seems surprised he remembers it.
Chapter 20 is “The Fickle Wind”
The next day, Kvothe goes to the Golden Pony where Ambrose lives with the intention of breaking in and stealing D’s ring, even though he’d be expelled if caught. He’d got Ambrose away with a flirty note (written by Wil) and Wil and Sim are lookouts. He breaks in, with some difficulty and the help of a gust of wind at the right moment that stops him falling out of the window. And then the wind slams it shut. He searches the room for a while, not finding the ring but playing childish jokes like weakening the seams of Ambrose’s pants so they’d split when he sat down. Then Wil warns him that Ambrose is back, and he realises he’s trapped by sygaldry on the window. He manages to break it before Ambrose comes in, but the wind blows at the wrong moment and he falls out.
He goes home to Ankers via the roof. Wil and Sim come round. Sim patches up his arm under Kvothe’s direction—he can’t go to Medica. They make up an alibi.
Wil says let sleeping dogs lie. Sim says Ambrose is a rabid dog. Wil says he’s like a bear Kvothe keeps poking. He says that Kvothe is “well over the hill” about “D.”
Chapter 21 is “Piecework”
Now this is just like Rothfuss and very unlike standard fantasy—there’s an event, which has been set up, and the consquences are much more complex and interesting than you’d expect. So Kvothe broke into Ambrose’s room and didn’t get the ring, no big deal, he got away, but then it starts complicating.
At the Fishery he sees Basil, an E’lir he likes, who is working handing out supplies because he added water to acid instead of the other way around. There’s a note for Kvothe to see Kilvin. Basil has seen the girl with the charm.
The light looks different in the Fishery because it’s early, and Kvothe thinks there’s a new lamp. This amuses me. Kilvin is blowing glass, and makes Kvothe help. When it breaks he swears in Cealdish “Kist, crayle, en kote. Kraemet brevetan Aerin.” Kvothe thinks the last bit means “shit in God’s beard.” We know “kote” means disaster.
Kilvin tells him to make something original and quit the piecework. Kvothe agrees, but then faints from the heat. He wakes up in Medica with Mola looking after him. She diagnoses “an acute case of jumping out of a window.” She doesn’t like Ambrose either—has he been horrible to all the women? Seems likely. Sim and Wil come in. She says they’re “thick as thieves” in all implications—meaning also stupid. She doesn’t put the window in her report. And Wil talks about the way Kvothe’s eyes change colour and how it’s not worth arguing with him when they’re dark green.
And we’ll stop there and start from 22 and the real consequences next week.
In last week’s comments
Interesting facts: It is revealed that spotted hyenas really give birth through a vestigial penis. Ewww! Jnai further reveals that the neurocognitive fact mentioned by Fela is real. Goodben explains that ferrous and Cupric are both the same oxidation state, and could this be relevant? It turns out that the fact about infinities is wrong—and this isn’t Rothfuss’s first math mistake.
Artful Magpie reveals that he was taught Zen by Elodin! Many people continue to think artificing should be more widespread. And best of all, Stargazer considers the poetry of real life power generation:
Somewhere, right now, a turbine is spinning in superheated steam above a great flame, gnawing ceaselessly day and night as a vast swarm of servants scurry about the globe to feed its insatiable appetite so that you may read these words from afar or speak to distant loved ones. Nations pour out gold and blood onto desert sands and throw away lives down deepest caves, burn down whole forests and flood river valleys that once were home to millions, all in the name of feeding those flames. Adepts labor cleverly to reduce inefficiencies as much as possible through ever more intricate patterns scrawled in copper and silicon, inventions from the University doubling your gas mileage and letting your cell phone hold its charge a little bit longer. And the most foresighted of those adepts dream of harnessing the greatest fire of all, ever circling overhead, by stealing right from the sky its power, or harnessing it through its stepchild, the ever-restless softly blowing Wind.
Terrific comments everyone!
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.