Patrick Rothfuss Reread

Rothfuss Reread: The Wise Man’s Fear, Part 7: The Next Three Moves

Welcome to my excessively detailed re-read of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers chapters 35-40 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.


Chapter 35 is “Secrets”

Now there’s a title to send chills down your spine! Chandrian secrets!

On his way to the Fishery, Kvothe meets a girl who asks him to follow her. He does, correctly not suspecting anything, which is naive considering what he just did to Ambrose. He can’t place her, but of course she’s Nina from Trebon. He only recognises her when she looks worried. She says he was hard to find because he didn’t give his name, and he thinks vaguely that maybe that was just as well as he was responsible for burning down half the town. This really is an excessive shouldering of responsibility—the draccus did it, and it might have done it without any intervention from Kvothe. The reason he was trying to kill it was because he knew it would start attacking places where people were looking for more denner. And his magic stopped the other half of the town burning and he killed the draccus with the wheel. (I wonder if his guilt in the frame for ruining everything might be something similar?)

Nina has come because she has been dreaming about the Chandrian vase. It had eight figures on it, not seven. And she has done a drawing of her memory of one side of the vase, as remembered in her dreams. Is there magic that might have made her dream of the vase? She was using Kvothe’s “amulet” which was nonsense, working through human suggestibility—or was it Naming? Or even Shaping? He told her to believe she’d be safe from the Chandrian and her nightmares, and her dreams changed to be useful to Kvothe.

Why would anyone make a Chandrian vase in the first place? I mean it’s hardly what you want to put flowers in! And why didn’t the Chandrian kill them as soon as they made it? Or did they, and was that the “barrow”? But then why didn’t they destroy it rather than just allowing it to be buried? I think because the Chandrian went to the trouble of destroying the whole wedding we can assume that there’s something there and that this is correct information. However, by a similar process since neither Skarpi nor Denna was killed after their Lanre stories, can we assume that their information isn’t trustworthy? (Skarpi was arrested, but we know he’s fine in the frame, and we know we have to see him again in DT, it’s one of the few things we can be absolutely sure about.)

The first person Kvothe sees on the parchment is recognisably Cinder. His attributes here are white hair, black eyes, bare tree, standing on water. Kvothe thinks “the one who killed my parents.”

The next one is Haliax—cloaked in shadow, with moons over his head, full, half and crescent, and with two candles:

one yellew with a bright orange flame. The other candle sat underneath his outstretched hand: it was grey with a black flame, and the space around it was smudged and darkened.

“That’s supposed to be shadow I think,” Nina said. “It was more obvious on the pot. I had to use charcoal for that.”

I don’t think we’ve talked about these candles before, but I find them very interesting and potentially very significant. There’s Lackless’s husband’s candle, there’s Taborlin the Great’s candle, there’s the candle Auri gave Kvothe, and here we have Haliax with a candle of light and a candle of darkness.

Kvothe says when he’d seen him the fires had been dimmed and he’d been surrounded by an unnatural shadow. The light candle’s flame is orange though, not blue. Was Arliden right that they have one sign each? Because when Cinder was in the camp there isn’t any entropic rot of wood and metal I don’t think, and here we have Haliax with an orange flame as well as the black one.

The third figure is larger than the others, he has a symbol that looks like an autumn leaf, but which is actually a tower in flame. His hand is red, which she says is supposed to be blood which directly suggests Ciridae, and in his other hand is a shield. Nina says “He’s the worst,” but Kvothe recognises him as an Amyr and guesses he’s trying to rebuke the Chandrian.

But Nina says:

They were all awful to look at. But he was the worst. I can’t get faces right, but his was terrible grim. He looked so angry. He looked like he was ready to burn down the whole world.

For the greater good, no doubt. Destroying it in order to save it, perhaps? If it’s supposed to be Selitos?

She only vaguely remembers the other side of the vase—a woman with no clothes on and a broken sword and a fire.

She got the parchment by stealing it from a church, but she thinks God (Tehlu) wanted her to. She thinks an angel sent the dream. We know there are angels and Tehlu was one, so it’s possible. The angel names she didn’t scrape off sit on the Amyr’s shoulders, they are Andan and Ordal.

I think it’s charming that Kvothe is slightly shocked that she cut it out of what’s essentially a bible and really shocked that she hurt a book.

He tells Nina where to find him (Ankers) and says he plays music there. When she asks if it’s magic music he says some people think so—but he really has played magic music.

Kvothe resolves to discover more about the Amyr, since there’s one on the vase which is older than the historical founding of the Amyr as part of the Church, and since they were disbanded but Haliax had mentioned them as still a threat. The Chandrian aren’t researchable in the Archives, but he hopes the Amyr are.

Incidentally, the place where Nina stops for this chat is between “a glassblower and a clocksmith’s shop” which is interesting detail—he’s mentioned before that trades serving the University cluster there, but it’s nice to see specifics.


Chapter 36 is “All This Knowing”

A few days later, Kvothe got drunk with Wil and Sim in the Eolian to celebrate defeating Ambrose. Why didn’t they invite Mola and Fela? (I get why they didn’t ask Devi.)

Kvothe knew the Great Stone Bridge was safe, but he doesn’t feel up to it and neither does Sim. Wil says there’s a place to sit and says something in Siaru: “Kella trelle turen navor ka.” Department of Imaginary Linguistics, do you have any suggestions? It makes Kvothe and Sim laugh, so I guess it means “It’s better to wait than fall off a bridge” and is an ancient proverb.

They sit by a greystone in a clearing, and this is where they have the “sleeping under the wagon” conversation. It’s interesting that Sim thinks greystones are pagan relics and ought to be avoided, the opposite of Kvothe’s belief that they mark safe places. They bet on who’s right, to be settled in the Archives.

Kvothe frets about leaving his lute in the Eolian and they talk about obsessions. Kilvin got drunk and talked about cold sulphur lamps. Lorren repeats “grasp by the spine” but I bet that’s not what he’d say in his cups!

And it’s interesting that Sim feels he has to ask if Kvothe’s really Edema Ruh. I wouldn’t have thought Kvothe had kept is sufficiently secret that Sim wouldn’t know. But he admits to it.

Then he sings the “Netalia Lackless” song. She hated the awful meter, she said, but months ago Alkhia noticed that “not tally a lot less” is “”Netalia Lackless” and no doubt the real reason she made him sleep under the wagon was to prevent him from using her real name.

Sim says in Atur men kicked out of bed by their wives sleep in the kennel—which I suppose is the “doghouse” which I’ve heard metaphorically used in the US for the same thing. Wil says in Siaru that “Melosi rehu eda Stiti”,” and Kvothe translates “eda Stiti” as “next to fire.”

They talk about women, and the fact comes up that Fela is Modegan. D gets mentioned, and Sim says that D is interested in Kvothe. Kvothe says she doesn’t say so, and Wil quite reasonably explains that Kvothe is afraid.

Sim says he wants somebody who likes him. (Awwww.) Kvothe says he wants a clear sign. Wil says he wants:

a magical horse that fits in my pocker, and a ring of red amber that gives me power over demons. And an endless supply of cake.

Isn’t that adorable? And look, another ring!

Sim asks if it’s true that the Ruh know all the stories in the world, and Kvothe says it probably is—which really isn’t true! He himself knows how much he doesn’t know (all this knowing, indeed!) and he remembers his father trying to find out the truth behind Lanre and other stories. He could really be put on the spot if they asked him for a specific story he didn’t know! But Sim just asks for any story, and Kvothe tells the one about Faeriniel, where all the roads in the world meet, because it has an Amyr in it. The story starts on “a long and lonely night without a moon.” (Wise men fear a moonless night.) The chapter ends with the story beginning, and the next chapter is the story, and the chapter after is back with Wil and Sim having a reaction. So what we have here is another frame within the story.


Chapter 37 is “A Piece of Fire

So, we have five groups of travellers at Faeriniel and a beggar coming to each of them in turn. The story is beautifully a poetically told, but stripped of that it’s a very simple set of stereotypes—the Cealdish merchants will sell but not give charity, the Adem are silent (this is the first time we hear in any detail about the Adem—the Lethani, the silence, the hoarded words coming out in constant twitching), the Aturans try to enslave him, the people from Vintas would have shared with him except that he was such a mess he set off their superstitions.

Then the Amyr—and Wil breaks the frame, to say they’re not part of the church, and again, they make a bet to be settled in the Archives. The Amyr refuses the beggar because he only barely has enough and he needs it himself—weighing the beggar’s need against the good the Amyr can do. And some information about the Ciridae, completely trusted and incapable of doing wrong. Ick.

Then the old man finds the Edema Ruh and they welcome him as family and ask his name, which is Sceop—we’ve speculated that he may be Skarpi, it’s certainly similar. They ask him where he’s going and he says Tinue—echoing “how’s the road to Tinue.” They say they’re going to Belenay, which is the University.

What this story is doing is telling us some stuff about the ethnic stereotypes and doing some setup for when we meet the Adem, giving us some information about the Amyr and setting up the Archive search. It also gives us Faeriniel at the heart of travel and the circle of stones. And it shows us Kvothe Sheherazadelike telling a story within the story he’s telling.


Chapter 38 is “Kernels of Truth”

Sim didn’t expect the story to end like that, he thought the beggar would be somebody important—like Taborlin the Great. “Old beggars in stories are never really old beggars.” They all think the other ethnic stereotypes are right but their own are wrong, which is funny.

Kvothe tells them the kernel of truth in the story is the bit about water and wine, and that’s how to behave with a troupe. He looks up at the constellations:

Ewan the hunter, the crucible, the young-again mother, the fire-tongued fox, the broken tower…

Sim asks where they’d go if they could go anywhere, and Kvothe says across the river to bed. There’s nowhere he wants to be more than the University. When pushed he says he’d go to the Tahlenwald, which is I think the first mention of these people, famed for their ability to cure social diseases. Kvothe says their songs can cure the sick and make trees dance. Wil says he’d go to the Faen Court. Sim doesn’t believe in faerie. Sim says he doesn’t know where he’d go, and that he’s only there because there isn’t going to be much left for him after his brothers inherit—so I guess he’s not going to become king. Oh well. Good. Wil says not to ask about his family. And they go home.

This is three chapters of being drunk, all absolutely packed with fascinating and relevant snippets, with hardly a word wasted.


Chapter 39 is “Contradictions

Late the next morning—I bet it is—they go to the Archives to settle their bets. Wil tells Kvothe that Sim’s father has a duchy in Atur, Dalonir. Kvothe says the University has the most open-minded atmosphere since the church burned Caluptena, which hardly seems to me to be a recommendation! Sim’s the fourth son. The first inherits, the second has a commission, the third is in the church, Sim’s at the University. In the real world he’d have become a lawyer. His father wanted a diplomat, but he’s in the Arcanum.

They split up and find books to settle their bets. Sim has two books that mention pagan frolics at the stones, one that says they are markers. He says he used a scriv, but Wil accuses him of asking Puppet, which Sim admits. Another book says they decorated the stones at the equinox but forbade visiting them at full moon because you could pass through into Fae. Wil thinks it’s interesting, Sim thinks it’s bunk. They end up with seven for Sim and ten for Kvothe, which is declared a draw.

I suspect they’re probably both right. I mean if you have mysterious stones around the place for whatever reason—markers to Fae, road markers, whatever—some people are just going to use them for pagan frolics. It’s what people do. There’s a standing stone near where I used to live that’s actually a neolithic tomb, but people use it for pagan frolics all the time.

Wil and Sim have different books, both quoting the proclamation that disbanded the Amyr. Kvothe’s copy says it was issued by the Church, Wil’s that it was Emperor Nalto—the one we remember from Kvothe’s entrance exam, the last emperor. Kvothe says:

Contrary opinions are one thing. Contrary facts are another.

Wil says it’s time for Kvothe to meet Puppet.


Chapter 40 is “Puppet”

We’ve had hints about him for so long, it’s exciting to actually meet him!

Sim tells Kvothe to be polite but not patronising. Wil mentions that he lives in the Archives. He opens the door and looks ominous, they says he’s forgotten his hood and dashes back for it. Kvothe is horrified that there are candles in there. He asks them to knock again, and they do, and he pretends to be Taborlin and then asks how he was. He’s clearly mad, in the same kind of way as Auri but also quite different.

The room is full of books and candles and puppets. It has curtains even though it is underground. Puppet has white hair and is older than Kvothe thought. And Kvothe realises that Puppet is

one of the talented, not-quite-sane people that had found a niche for themselves at the University.

He immediately starts to make a puppet of Kvothe. He says that Kvothe’s thinking expression looks as if

he’s just thought through the next three moves in a game of tirani and figured out how he’s going to beat you

Which is a lovely bit of external observation of our first person narrator, I’d say.

Puppet says too much looking can get in the way of seeing, which is another Elodin-esque way of putting it. And Puppet reveals that he has an eidetic memory of where all the books in the Archives are. In addition, he knows about the Amyr, and of course Kvothe is right, the Pontifex disbanded them and Wil loses his bet. While he’s talking, he puts on a puppet show in which a Tehlin priest hits a woman with the Book of the Path, which reminds me of the Abelard and Heloise puppet show in Being John Malkovitch but which doesn’t seem to have in story significance or I’m missing it.

Kvothe asks Puppet about the Four Plate Door, and Puppet says it shouldn’t be of any concern to a student.

Sim says he has to go, and Puppet says he wants to get back to his reading but they should bring Kvothe back because he has more work to do on him. On his puppet? Or on him—he’s already given him advice to chase the wind.

And we’ll start next week from 41.


Last week’s comments

Lots of interesting speculation on D’s letter, and a consensus it comes from Geoffrey or Master Ash. A lot of discussion on Geoffrey, which Herelle’s post sums up for me too:

So I think that´s the point, she shares a secret with Geoffrey that she keeps from Kvothe and the reader is supposed to know, that´s why it´s in the text. Denna doesn´t keep her affection for Geoffrey secret.

We know more about Geoffrey characterwise than about the others, but we know less about his background (social standing, origin, descent) than about the others. I think we don´t even know his last name and/or title, which is usually given at a formal introduction. That, and because we know Denna payed his debts, is why I think her relationship with Geoffrey is different than with her usual male company and he is special to Denna. Up to now we only had Geoffrey and Mr. Ash about whom Denna kept information from Kvothe, and she keeps Kvothe secret from her patron. To me it seems as if those three people at least are important to Denna.

This doesn´t explain the letter in any way and as I said the assumption is just due to a feeling in my gut, supported by the placing maybe. Geoffrey was mentioned shortly before that (when Kvothe met him) and shortly after that when we get to know that Denna gave her earrings to Devi to pay his debts.

I still think Geoffrey may be a girl in disguise. But in any case, I don’t think he’s insignificant, or just one of D‘s lovers.

neilH and DrFood discuss Devi’s family background.


So far it hasn’t really been questioned because of her brash and seemingly self sufficient nature I had largely ignored her, but where is her family? Does she visit them? If not, then why? I understand that we have as little info on her or less than we do to work with on Denna, but surely her future is pretty tied in to this story( she has epic sympathy skills and naming?)

and Dr Food:

I think you’re right—she projects such self sufficiency, we don’t ponder her own possible sources of support. I would guess that a very bright young woman with an Alar like the sea in storm is just not ready to go back to the farm, or wherever, after getting expelled from the University. She’s really unwilling to go very far from the Archives, although we don’t really know what in the Archives excites her.

When Kvothe pays her back, much later in WMF, he realises that her gaelet business isn’t about money and she doesn’t have a minimum amount, what she wants is power and connections and people owing her favours. If you think about the options women have as laid out by D in the Bechdel scene, it’s quite clear that Devi is trying for a different kind of power. It’s also possible that she can’t go home after being expelled. It’s even possible that her family are all behind her career plans—maybe they’re an organized crime family.

DrFood also has a fascinating thought about Kvothe’s hands and the conversation he has with Devi about proprioception:

So, what is proprioception? It is the sensation of your own body’s position and movements within space. It’s how you can clap your hands with your eyes shut. It’s the difference between an 8 yr old trying to play a piano piece that uses both hands, stopping and starting and looking first up at the music, then down at her hands, and Billy Joel (or Sarah Maclachlan) belting out a song and looking out at the audience whilst both hands are moving all over the keyboard. If you lose your sense of proprioception, you won’t know what your hands are doing if you can’t see them.

So, it’s interesting that this little bit of apparent time killing prior to his disastrous confrontation includes a brief discussion of proprioception. Kvothe argues that the author doesn’t know what he’s talking about when he talks about people with amputated limbs. Here it seems we have a reference to the “phantom limb” phenomenon, where a person who has lost a limb still “feels it there.” Most commonly what the person feels is phantom pain in the missing limb. One theory about this phenomena is that the brain is primed to receive data back from all parts of the body (that’s proprioception) and if the part of the brain expecting feedback from the, say, left hand is getting nothing, then this lack of data may be interpreted as bad/pain.

I can’t imagine Pat going all Empire Strikes Back on us and having Kvothe actually flat-out lose a hand, only to have it replaced by a simulacrum that doesn’t have good proprioception and thus can’t play the lute. So what could he “do” to Kvothe’s hand, within the Four Corners world? Something about unbound principles?

Could this be what has happened to his “good left hand”?

Sillyslovene suggests:

Proprioception and K’s problems could also account for K’s lost fight to the soldiers- if someone’s got you around the neck from behind, seeing your hands could be very hard, and if he’s got some problem with his hands as has been hinted, this could account for him still being able to perform the “perfect step” and beating the Scrael but failing when he can’t fully see his hands for the complex counter movement…

The thought about unbound principles could be an interesting answer- as K in the frame seems much more knowledgable about alchemy (coaching Bast on the use of Cellum Tincture, which IIRC is an alchemy text) than in the story proper. He apparently has put in a lot more study in the area after the point he is at in his story- could that have been his motivation?

and I like that a lot, because that fight has been worrying me because physical skills like fighting shouldn’t be breakable like Alar. But an alchemical hand? That can still make pastry? Well, if he has a pastry fork, why not, I pretty much do it one handed with the other hand holding the bowl. A hand that can hold the bowl but not finger a lute or break a hold—poor K!

n8love cautions us against overthinking, and suggests other perfectly relevant reasons for the mention of proprioception… and could very well be right.

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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