Let’s Read The Name of the wind ch. 14-15


Programming note: When I originally started this Let’s Read I said I’d be posting about once or twice a week; obviously I’ve been cranking these things out a lot faster. I’d like to continue that pace in the long term, however I’m entering an extremely busy period of college work from now until the 12th of April that’s probably going to necessitate a schedule closer to what I had originally planned. Now back to out regularly scheduled snark analysis

Ben teaches Kvothe some more “sympathy” but he’s disappointed that it’s not “real” magic.

It was useful. There was no denying that. Ben used sympathy to make light for our shows. Sympathy could start a fire without flint or lift a heavy weight without cumbersome ropes and pulleys.
But the first time I’d seen him, Ben had somehow called the wind. That was no mere sympathy. That was storybook magic. That was the secret I wanted more than anything.

I really don’t see how sympathy is any different from magic, which is why I’ve been using the two words interchangeably. If there is a difference between them the book hasn’t made it at all clear.

I’m also not sure why conjuring fire from nothing is no big deal but making the wind blow somehow knock’s Kvothe’s socks off. I’m assuming it’s so we can have a big dramatic scene at the end where Kvothe realizes he’s had the power inside him all along and creates a tornado or something.

Looking around I saw a large boulder by the side of the road. I pointed.
“That stone should be warm from sitting in the sun. I’d bind it to the water in the kettle, and use the heat in the stone to bring the water to boil.”


“Stone to water isn’t very efficient,” Ben chided me. “Only about one part in fifteen would end up warming the water.”

…..one part in fifteen of what? You know what the law of conservation of energy is but not what unit energy is measured in?

What’s the limit on magic use anyway, could you take nuclear energy from the sun? Could you get some wizards to dig a really big hole and transfer geothermal energy from it? Let’s get these guys on the energy crisis.

Ben asks Kvothe how he’d take down a bird using magic and Kvothe comes up with a fairly nifty plan to remove the oil from a feather using lye soap then transfer the can’t-fly-ing-ness of the feather to the bird. Via, like…… catalytic energy. Or something.

This is the problem with mixing science and fantasy- if he had just said “I’m going to magic the feather using magic” I’d have no problem, but when the characters keep bringing up scientific concepts it brings me out of the story.

Kvothe tries to “call the wind” and ends up almost smothering himself. Luckily Ben manages to rescue him in time.

He looked at me. His mouth moved. He called the wind.
A leaf in lightning, I shook. And the thunderclap was black.

I understand what the words “and”, “the”, “thunderclap”, “was” and “black” all mean, but I cannot for the life of me figure out what they’re doing arranged in a sentence like that.

In hindsight, what I had done was glaringly stupid. When I bound my breath to the air outside, it made it impossible for me to breathe. My lungs weren’t strong enough to move that much air. I would have needed a chest like an iron bellows. I would have had as much luck trying to drink a river or lift a mountain.

….. what? Every time you breathe you’re breathing “the air outside”, why is this time any different? I have no idea what Rothfuss is even trying to say here. Did the air in his lungs take on the mass of the entire atmosphere? Because I’m pretty sure that would have more immediate repercussions than just not being able to breathe.

The wagons come across a large standing stone and decide to stop for the night, as is apparently their custom. Ben tells Kvothe that the stones are also called “waystones” and I know this is ripping off the Wheel of Time now because I remember that phrase coming up a lot when I tried to get into the series.

My father gave me a kiss too. “Let me have your shirt. It’ll give me something to do while your mother fixes dinner.” He skinned me out of it and fingered the torn edges. “This shirt is wholly holey, more than it has any right to be.”

…. really, Kvothe Dad?

His parents sing an awful song and his dead recites an awful poem about the waystones leading into Fae that I’ll spare you from reading. After some more antics Kvothe takes off to have dinner with Ben.

I decided to leave them to their discussion and started to scamper back to Ben’s wagon when I heard my father call out behind me, “Scales after lunch tomorrow? And the second act of Tinbertin?”

Tim Burton?


I said in a previous post that I like Kvothe’s parents, but I’m starting to seriously reconsider that. Rothfuss is attempting wacky zany comedy, which is difficult enough to get right even for good writers, and failing badly at it such that it just becomes annoying. Kvothe’s dad in particular is starting to get on my nerves.

Ben explains that he’s having second thoughts about teaching Kvothe, as the magic Kvothe is now using is usually only learned by adults.

He started to say something else, then stopped and rubbed his face with his hands. He gave a great sigh that seemed to deflate him. When he took his hands away, his face was tired. “How old are you again?”
“Twelve next month.”
He shook his head. “It’s so easy to forget that. You don’t act your age.”

See, Ben agrees with me that Rothfuss is terrible at writing kids. Me and Ben are bros.

I actually like this as a character moment. Ben seems to be pretty isolated from his wizardly peers so it’s understandable that he’s get excited about discovering an enthusiastic prodigy and forget that he’s teaching a young boy to play with fire. This also marks the first time in the story Kvothe has been shown to make a mistake and while Ben undoubtedly is responsible for teaching him things he wasn’t prepared for, I like that Kvothe’s recklessness is acknowledged by the story and not hand waved away or excused.

The chapter ends with Ben drastically slowing the rate of Kvothe’s magic teaching, much to out hero’s chagrin.

In chapter 15 the merry band arrives at a town called Hallowfell, which is a fucking awesome name for a town. Kvothe helpfully informs us what’s going to happen next- Ben will fall in love with a beautiful women who wants him to come and run her late husband’s brewery, but this will turn out to be a clever ruse of some sort.

Continuing my fantasy science watch thing I should point out that the text has implied several times that knowledge in chemistry automatically makes someone a good brewer, which is not remotely the case.

The troupe decides to to have a joint going away party for Ben and birthday party for Kvothe, which sounds like a recipe for mega tragedy time to happen. For some reason we don’t actually see Ben meet this mystery woman and fall in love with her, Kvothe just tells us it happened. Apparently we needed a whole chapter of him dicking around with his parents, but important character development can be summarized in a few sentences.

To truly understand what it was like, you must realize that nothing is so grand as a troupe showing off for one another.


Small towns, rural inns, those places didn’t know good entertainment from bad. Your fellow performers did.

The troupe continues to have an oddly elitist view of the rural villages that seem to make up most of their business.

At the party Kvothe receives some high level equipment to begin his first bard quest with, such as a knife, a cloak and a lute. I expect all three of them to become vitally important over the course of the book.

Ben opened up a small keg of mead he had been saving for “just such an occasion.” I remember it tasting the way I felt, sweet and bitter and sullen.

Giving alcohol to 12 year olds? FLAWLESS.

There’s some more wholesome antics from Kvothe’s parents and the troupe that just scream “most of these people are going to die”. Kvothe Dad sings part of his epic new song he’s been secretly working on, demonstrating handily why it’s a bad idea to set one of your characters up as a master wordsmith if you yourself aren’t at least that good:

“Sit and listen all, for I will sing
A story, wrought and forgotten in a time
Old and gone. A story of a man.
Proud Lame, strong as the spring
Steel of the sword he had at ready hand.
Hear how he fought, fell, and rose again,
To fall again. Under shadow falling then.
Love felled him, love for native land,
And love of his wife Lyra, at whose calling
Some say he rose, through doors of death
To speak her name as his first reborn breath.”

After a sappy goodbye scene Ben leaves the troupe, but leaves Kvothe a book with a note in it suggesting that Kvothe will go to Wizard School some day. To my surprise, the chapter ends without any mega tragedy occurring. I am disappointed.

The format of this chapter is very odd. The fact that Ben falling in love with an unseen woman is simply glossed over makes me suspect Rothfuss is using the well-worn amateur writer’s technique of skipping over all that dull talking and boring character development to get to the interesting parts- although he seems to have a very esoteric notion of what constitutes “interesting”.


8 thoughts on “Let’s Read The Name of the wind ch. 14-15

  1. CmdrBoreale

    So I know it’s been a while since this was posted, but I’m just reading this now.

    I’ve had mead before, and two words I would never use to describe mead are “bitter” and “sullen”, granted I’ve also gotten used to the bite of alcohol before trying mead.

    And yeah, that’s the first thing I pick up on so far, given that you succinctly sum up the rest of it. Can’t wait to see how this epic tragedy ends.

  2. Andrea Harris

    Considering the sort of high praise this book is getting, I am increasingly convinced most fantasy fans and authors under the age of 40 (Rothfuss is 39) base most of their understanding of fantasy and its underpinnings on a combination of D&D, Disney movies they saw as kids, and obsessive-yet-unaware readings of Lord of the Rings.

    1. q____q

      I think that might well be true. Similar to the people who think Stepen King and Dan Brown when they hear „literature“, I feel that most people reading Fantasy/SF read only that (and I’m speaking a little from my own experience here, I have to admit) so they only know shit books and then if someone comes along who does something slightly different and „meta“ and maybe has a slightly different more „poetic“ *cough* style they totally freak out.

  3. braak

    The chemistry/brewing thing is another sort of nail in this coffin, I think. The Name of the Wind is given a lot of credit for the strength of its world-building, but it seems to fumble as basic a cornerstone of a setting as “roughly what stage of industrial development are we talking about here?”

    I don’t mind when it’s not super-specific (or, like in Perdido Street Station, super-specific but also completely disinterested in whether or not you can figure it out [“What time period is this?” ::shrugs:: “I dunno, who cares? CACTUS MAN!”]), but Rothfuss’ story keeps bumping into the fact that none of this shit makes any sense. 17th century alchemy was still talking about extracting the aristotelian vegetbale spirits from plants; Paracelsus’ theory of chemistry involved GNOMES, for fuck’s sake.

    So, there are mass-produced books and (apparently) a largely literate culture, but not really public schools? There’s still a troubadour tradition? The Adem (we get to them later) enrich their culture by working as mercenaries all the time, but no wars seem to actually be happening? There is a church (kind of), but 1) no one seems especially religious, and 2) there aren’t any actual churches anywhere? There’s a school where they can produce fantastical sympathetic machines, but we haven’t had an industrial-magic revolution? What is going on here?

    Chemistry is a pretty useful tool for brewing beer, but it’s also a really modern combination, because of how recently we’ve come to actually understand how chemicals work. So, how is there a Wizard School where they understand chemistry well enough to know that water with a low Ph makes for a smoother stout, but NOT well enough to invent, say, gunpowder, or gasoline, or rubber?

    The idea that he’s dissapointed with sympathy because it’s not “real” magic is kind of half-interesting, I think: his problem is that it’s a lot less interesting when he figures out how it works, and sympathy works in a pretty specific way, while “real” magic works in some completely inexplicable way (none of this is specifically elaborated here).

    But that only serves to remind us of theme of the book, and that’s the worst part: Kvothe is a legend based on our really modern understanding of how people become legendary, but he became a legend through this travelling-bard-trobadour system which works completely differently.

      1. braak

        Man, I am glad you’re doing this, because right after I finished the book, I really liked it. Was I high? I don’t know, man; I think I have a pretty severe addiction to shitty fantasy, and the last couple weeks have been a very long moment of clarity.

    1. Zort

      “The Adem (we get to them later) enrich their culture by working as mercenaries all the time, but no wars seem to actually be happening?” — Who’s talking about no wars? What about the one those deserters came from, the ones who robbed Devan?

      “There’s a school where they can produce fantastical sympathetic machines, but we haven’t had an industrial-magic revolution?” — I got the impression that folk are too superstitious to make more than small begrudging use of magic-powered things. But yeah, you’d think someone ambitious and clever enough would come along one of these days and take advantage of the existing market inefficiency. um.

      1. neremworld

        This is late but a big thing is made about how things were peaceful largely until Kvothe killed the king, and ‘war’ was only started like right around the time they deserted.

        Like the Ademre were getting jobs punching bandits in the face during the flashback’s time period.


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