Patrick Rothfuss Reread

Rothfuss Reread: The Wise Man’s Fear, Part 5: A Special Kind of Stupid

Welcome to my no-moon-left-unturned re-read of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers chapters 22-28 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

Useful links: The Sleeping Under the Wagon post, in which there are lots of theories. The re-read index. The map.


First, let’s talk about rings, that ever significant component of fantasy novels!

In last week’s comments, A Fox linked the rings of D‘s ring con and her ring Ambrose keeps with the rings as exchanged at the Maer’s Court. (Hereafter MC.) This made me think about rings in the story. In addition to these, there are also Kvothe’s right hand and left hand rings as listed in the rhyme. His rings and the MC rings are plain and made out of different things—bone and wood and silver and gold and flame and air and etc—and the MC rings have names engraved. D‘s ring has a stone. We’ve talked about Kvothe’s rings (where are they?) in connection with the ring of stone that Fela makes in class as signifying power over the things. And the MC rings are signs of social status and give people power over each other in weird dominance game ways—especially when there are the bone and wood ones thrown in, both of which Kvothe gets. I wonder whether the MC rings might be a vestige of magic rings?

But anyway, Ambrose is Vintish nobility and he knows ring games and ring power and control, and he keeps D‘s ring. Is it significant that it’s specifically a ring and just a random trinket? And where did she get it in the first place? It’s the one thing she always has. Does it give her power over something? (What?) Is she any different while she doesn’t have it? In any case, Ambrose keeps it and while he takes it to be fixed, he keeps the slip of paper on him, not in his room. It could be aristocratic carelessness or it could be something more sinister. But it isn’t unconscious of significance of rings, it can’t be. He knows the MC. And what does he know about D? Is she telling the truth about that?

A Fox further suggests that Bredon is the king of Atur (as well as Master Ash) but I think he’s Ambrose’s father.

And onwards to the text!


Chapter 22 is “Slipping”

“Slippage” from magic going wrong. Also, he slipped from the window. And he’s slipping generally on the things he’s normally protective about and the care he takes, because of D.

We begin with an explanation of the boring stuff Elxa Dal is teaching oin Adept Sympathy, which directly connects on to what D was asking about—where the extra energy goes. It makes it more plausible that Kvothe can do the things he does when you think about him memorizing tables, I suppose. And also knowing that some arcanists cook themselves or make themselves sick or tear their own arm off trying to do something—limits on power are useful. It’s also good to see Kvothe’s power increasing steadily through hard work and practice and lessons, even just for a couple of pages here.

“My Alar was like a blade of Ramston steel,” resonates so hard with “Best knife you’ll ever have until it breaks,” that I can’t but think he really has broken his Alar before the frame.

Then after class he has a chat with Elxa Dal—who he addresses as “Master Dal”, I don’t know what that does to what we decided about Elxa being a title. He asks Dal if he knows names, and Dal says it’s not a polite question: “Like asking a man how often he makes love to his wife.” Then when Kvothe apologises, Dal says it’s a holdover from times when arcanists had more to fear from each other, and lights the brazier with the name of fire, which Kvothe hears as “fire.” Kvothe says sympathy is more practical than naming, and Dal puts his hands into the coals, having power over fire.

What we have here is a direct contrast between Sympathy—memorizing tables, talking about thaums of heat, and Naming, bringing fire from nowhere and being able to put your hand into it. They’re both magic, but….

Kvothe goes to Imre to look for D, finds Threpe at the Eolian and we get an explanation of why he can’t have dinner at Threpe’s house—because he doesn’t have the clothes. I’m not sure this rings true—it makes he wonder if he has clothes good enough for the Eolian.

Some people come in and say something in Yllish, and Stanchion attends to them. So Yllish speaking people exist and come to Imre and expect to be served, or else they’re friends of his. And Kvothe recognises Yllish even though he doesn’t speak it yet. I think that’s worth noting for evidence of his good ear or how different Yllish is from the other languages around.

Kvothe asks Threpe about Master Ash’s legitimacy, and Threpe doesn’t know anyone like that and thinks it’s dodgy.

And on the way back to University, Kvothe gets struck by weird heat that he cools by getting into a stream, and goes home “dripping wet, confused, and terribly afraid.”


Chapter 23 is “Principles”

In both senses of the word.

We begin with Kvothe telling Wil and Sim about the heat, and telling them he told Mola and that she said it was his imagination—and we quickly learn that her brief relationship with Sim is over. Kvothe thinks it might be some chemical he has exposed himself to in the Fishery. Sim thinks it could be a plum bob aftereffect, set off by the metheglin he drank in the Eolian. He plays music for two hours and then feels a chill, a really bad chill, and he needs Wil’s help to get upstairs. And he does incredibly dangerous Sympathy to warm himself, of the kind we’ve just been told can cook someone from inside out. It works, just about. Then he’s stabbed by an invisible knife. I like it that they take so long to put together what’s happening and come up with wrong theories—binder’s chills, inability to regulate temperature and so on, before they realise it’s malfeasance. Too often in fiction people leap instantly to startlingly correct conclusions. Once he knows, he can prevent it—but only when he’s concentrating.

There’s some lovely interplay with Wil and Sim here. And Kvothe is relieved it’s just somebody trying to kill him. He’s sure it’s Ambrose, found some blood on a tile. Wil says it’s not his style—he doesn’t do things, he gets other people to do them. And this is indirect but obvious:

“If you got knifed in an alley people would be shocked. But if you fell down in public and started gushing blood from malfeasance? People would be horrified. The masters would suspend classes.”

And he thinks Ambrose would have rubbed Kvothe’s nose in it—the way he did with the plum bob. They then consider who else might have his blood, and of course he thinks of Devi…

He was going to put his blood on leaves to become untrackable, as he did before, so he goes up onto the roof, where he meets Auri. She says he looks like one of the Ciridae and he asks her how he knows about them, and she vanishes.


Chapter 24 is “Clinks”

The room in the Underthing, of course, itself a double meaning like so many of Auri’s names.

He goes across the roofs and finds Auri, and she is crying and says she doesn’t like telling, and he says this is the worst thing of all the horrible things of the last few days. Worse to upset a friend than be attacked by malfeasance? I suppose that speaks well of him. She says she was looking at the lightning, and he asks what was in it. She says “Galvanic ionisation” which is what lightning literally is, an electrical discharge. Then she adds the whimsical “And river ice. And the sway a cattail makes.” Then she asks what he was doing out “All crazy and mostly nekkid.” We know Elodin lectured on the difference between nude and naked, and here we have a third variant of unclothed, “nekkid.” He apologises and she says he is her Ciridae and above reproach, which is probably a reference to the Amyr’s lack of oversight. She quotes “Ivare enim euge,” as if his asking her is for the greater good—but she doesn’t answer about how she knows.

They put blood in four bottles and set them circulating in a pool, and when that’s done, Auri says “We’re safe.” She’s surprisingly practical about this, saying how many and so on.

The chapter ends with a little bit of Kvothe’s guilt and self-loathing. I really am getting to be afraid that he has killed Sim—maybe not as a king, maybe just as a side effect. But anyway:

They were the best sort of friends. The sort everyone hopes for but no one deserves, least of all me.

Poor Kvothe.


Chapter 25 is “Wrongful Apprehension”

Clever wordplay there, because it’s apprehension in the literal sense of fretting, and it’s also the charge Sleat was suspended for—Wrongful Apprehension of the Arcane, meaning learning something you’re not supposed to.

He goes to Kilvin and asks for a schema for a gram—Kilvin says only when he’s El’the, and he doesn’t need one anyway. So he asks for a private room with a forge and the right to use precious metals, and Kilvin gives him that.

He goes to a downmarket inn called the Bale and visits Sleat, an underworld type who is also intermittently a student. They exchange stories about each other’s reputations, and Kvothe kind of asks him if he hired the thugs for Ambrose. Sleat won’t tell him. He’s prepared to deal on the gram until he finds out that in his terms, Kvothe belongs to Devi. But he sells him a crossbow for some gold and silver purloined from the Fishery.

So he meets Fela by arrangement by the Four Plate door—she says she dreamed Valaritas was an old dead king and the door was to his tomb. She says schema for grams might be in Kilvin’s private library, but they won’t all be because of the mess the Archives are in. So they start looking, don’t find anything, and decide to get Wil and Sim to help.

Chapter 26 is “Trust

Kvothe is “fairly sure” Devi isn’t behind the malfeasance, so he goes to see her to check. He fakes a stumble and steals a hair. They chat about the book he borrowed. Then it comes out that she sold the plum bob to Ambrose. He asks to see his blood, she refuses, he uses the hair and holds her still. She moves anyway, her Alar is “like an ocean in storm” (one of the three things a wise man fears!) and she wins the duel. This means she’s better than anyone currently Re’lar and studying Sympathy. She’s also tamping mad. She binds him so he can’t even speak. She says their relationship is over and she needs the money by the end of term. And she says that she trusted him. It’s a real betrayal.

Chapter 27 is Pressure

Kvothe gets supper for Wil and Sim and tells them it isn’t Devi and that he can’t legitimately get the plans for a gram. He tells them his new theory—that it’s Ambrose, but Ambrose doesn’t know it’s Kvothe’s blood. It would be too risky for him to do malfeasance against Kvothe, and also he could denounce him for breaking and entering, but he’d do malfeasance against a random burglar. Sim says fighting with Ambrose is like stepping into a beartrap, and Kvothe says he needs a beartrap. They are confused, and so are we—but it’s for the Bloodless he’s constructing. Wil and Sim agree to help him search for a schema.
They start to search but don’t find anything. But they do find that it’s Ambrose—the attacks always come when he’s in his room.

Chapter 28 is Kindling

The day and the thing and love.

The attacks come without warning, he has to keep up an iron-hard Alar against them, he gets defeated by two people against him in Adept Sympathy.

Then on the ninth day of the search, Fela finds a schema, but it’s in Eld Vintic. Sim can read it because he studied it for three terms with the Chancellor to read the poetry. Sim improvises some about Fela finding the book while reading it, which impresses Fela.

Let me say this, it was worth the whole awful irritating time spent searching the Archives just to watch that moment happen. It was worth blood and the fear of death to see her fall in love with him. Just a little. Just the first faint breath of love, so light she probably didn’t notice it herself. It wasn’t dramatic, like some bolt of lightning with a crack of thunder following. It was more like when flint strikes steel and the spark fades almost too fast for you to see. But still, you know it’s there down where you can’t see, kindling.


And he translates the thing with Sim, and makes the gram in bursts while he knows Ambrose is busy.

And we’ll go on from Chapter 29 next week.

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.


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