Let’s Read The Wise Man’s Fear ch. 121-123

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When Words Fail

To tell a good story? To make sense? To be engaging in any way? We’ve certainly be having a lot of that.

Kvothe goes to Vashet’s house to do whatever.

Empty-handed, I knocked softly on her door. After a moment, she opened it. She still wore her mercenary reds, but she had removed most of the silk ties that held it tight to her body. Her eyes were tired.

Her mouth thinned when she saw me standing there, and I knew if I spoke she would refuse to listen. So I gestured entreaty and stepped backward, out of the candlelight and into the dark. I knew her well enough by this point to be sure of her curiosity. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously as I stepped away, but after a moment’s hesitation she followed me. She did not bring her sword.

Yeah, when the guy you just announced your intention to have put to death shows up at your door at night and tries to lure you into the darkness you should totally follow him. There is no way this could go badly.

We walked more than a mile before we came to the place I had chosen. A small grove of trees where a tall jumble of stone would keep any noise from carrying back toward the sleeping town.

So Kvothe is going to murder her, right? Like that’s actually going to happen? Yes I know it would be despicable, but I am more than ready for some grimdark after the chapter upon chapter of twee bullshit we’ve been getting. Whatever happens just don’t let it be fucking twee.

Then I sat on the other bench, bent, and worked the clasps on my lute case. As each of them snapped open, the lute within made a familiar harmonic thrum, as if eager to be free.

I brought it out and gently began to play.

God damn it.

Without pausing, I moved on to “Violet Bide,” then “Home Westward Wind.” The last had been a favorite of my mother’s, and as I played it I thought of her and began to cry.


Then I played the song that hides in the center of me. That wordless music that moves through the secret places in my heart. I played it carefully, strumming it slow and low into the dark stillness of the night. I would like to say it is a happy song, that it is sweet and bright, but it is not.


“This is why I do not have knives instead of hands, Vashet,” I said quietly. “This is what I am.”





Just….. let’s just move on.



The next morning Kvothe goes back to Vashet’s house again and watches her but on her boob bondage gear.

She picked up a long piece of dark silk and wound it around her torso, over her shoulders and across her naked breasts, supporting and holding them close to her chest. Then she tucked the end of the cloth into itself and it somehow remained tightly secured. I had seen her do this several times before, but how it actually worked was still a mystery to me.

Gosh I wonder why this scene is in the book.

Anyway the whole issue has been settled due to the POWER OF ROCK and Kvothe and Vashet go back to training as though nothing happened.

After more weeks of training (SURE HOPE NOTHING BAD’S HAPPENING TO DENNA) Vashet announces that Kvothe’s test- the one to decide if he’ll be mutilated and banished from the town- is to happen the next day, as the Adem are getting super fond of Kvothe- of course- and they might balk at the idea of his fingers being cut off or whatever if they grow any more attached to him.

Aaaand that’s all that happens. I do not get the point of these tiny short chapters, just put a * or something to indicate time is passing. Surely Rothfuss is just making a ton of extra work for himself coming up with chapter titles.


The Spinning Leaf

The next day it’s test time.

So, here’s a question for you: if you were in college studying for a bachelor’s degree would you expect your final exams to test your knowledge of the material you’d been studying for the last four years, or something tangentially related but which you had never actually studied in-depth before and couldn’t possibly have prepared for?

Because it turns out Kvothe’s test is sort of like that. Specifically he has to do the sword tree thing that Celean was doing earlier.

Penthe didn’t say anything, merely gripped my arms in an open show of support. Then she hugged me tightly. I was surprised when her head only came up to my chest. I’d forgotten how small she was.

So is anyone excited for the Breaking Bad finale? Boy I sure am! What? What quote? I have no idea what you’re talking about.

There are several items tied to the trunk of the sword tree; Kvothe has to run in, grab one and come back without getting cut to ribbons in the process. I am totally calling it now that one of the objects is his lute and he’ll have to leave it behind as a test of character (I haven’t read ahead to confirm this).

To make the test even more unfair the actual criteria for passing are extremely vague; basically they’re going to look at a combination of how Kvothe acts during the test, what object he chooses to bring back and what he does afterward and then somehow come up with a pass or fail depending on how they feel about it all.

You’ve probably already guessed what happens- Kvothe magically re-acquires his wind powers again. I love how that only comes up in specific scenarios where Kvothe needs to do something he couldn’t otherwise, and then is promptly forgotten when it’s time for a challenge to provide actual drama.

Kvothe doesn’t use it to actually move the branches and leaves out of his way, he just predicts the motion of the wind and walks calmly through the branches like a badass.

Astute readers will notice there’s been something of a change in the tone of the book lately- namely, Kvothe is no longer an ordinary guy using trickery and wits to do things that other people ascribe to super special awesome magic powers, he really does just have super special awesome magic powers. The Adem watching this likely won’t know exactly how Kvothe did it but when they inevitably run off like headless chickens to start spreading the story all over the place they’ll be broadly correct in stating that Kvothe was hella awesome liek zomg and did something that should have been impossible.

Then I came to the other side of the tree and saw my lute case leaning casually against the trunk.


Once Kvothe sees this he is filled with dark and terrible anger and he loses the name of the wind again because reasons. He tries to sort through which item to bring back but can’t think one would reflect well on him or which one would be interpreted in a negative light. Also, no matter what he takes he doesn’t stand a chance of making it out unscathed without wind powers.

Natrually this is a Rothfuss production so the way Kvothe gets out of this predicament has to be incredibly stupid.

In the middle of that anxious moment, I was suddenly aware of nothing as much as the sudden, urgent pressure of my bladder.


Thus it was that in the center of a storm of knives, in the midst of my test that was also my trial, that I thought of urinating up against the side of the sacred sword tree while two dozen proud and deadly mercenaries watched me do it.

It was such a horrifying and inappropriate thought that I burst out laughing. And when the laugh rolled out of me, the tension knotting my stomach and clawing at the muscles of my back melted away.

I’m chortling away merrily here while my eyes twinkle with mirth, let me tell you. Hey how close are we to the point where this thing should be reaching its climax? That close? Really? Alrighty then.

Kvothe uses wind power again to make the tree grow still and leaves with nothing, deliberately cutting his hand open on the way.

I extended my left hand, bloody palm up, and closed it into a fist. The gesture meant willing. There was more blood than I’d expected, and it pressed between my fingers to run down the back of my hand.

After a long moment, Shehyn nodded. I relaxed, and only then did the wind return.

Well that was an anticlimactic drama-free sequence. These books mostly consist of endless waffling and time wasting followed by a dilemma or action sequence which Kvothe solves by pulling a random ability out of his ass, followed by more endless waffling and time wasting (and head shaking and twinkling of eyes).


24 thoughts on “Let’s Read The Wise Man’s Fear ch. 121-123

  1. Charamei

    ‘She picked up a long piece of dark silk and wound it around her torso, over her shoulders and across her naked breasts, supporting and holding them close to her chest. Then she tucked the end of the cloth into itself and it somehow remained tightly secured. I had seen her do this several times before, but how it actually worked was still a mystery to me.’

    In addition to everything else that is wrong here…


    It’s at times like this, when the bad writing and lack of research move from merely annoying into potentially life-threatening if somebody decides to use the book as advice, that I really start wanting to take bad authors’ typewriters away.

    1. ronanwills Post author

      Yeah, I’m still not sure what was up with that. Kvothe mentions still having it and all the other stuff he gathered in the latest chapter but it doesn’t seem like he ever intended to actually use it. I think it was just there to trick us int thinking something interesting was going to happen.

      1. Fibinachi

        Oh hey, you summed up a good chunk of the book with that last sentence.

        The more I remember from this, the more I realize that Kvothe really sort of comes across (to me) as a sociopath. Not in some internet-quack “Haha, you are obviously…” way, but… genuinely. He randomly threatens to kill people, he seems motivated mainly by pride or shame, he keeps on refering to others as stupid, or vain, or silly, or wrong, or simplistic, or naive or some other derogatory term. He keeps coming up with great and terrible anger at the most haphazard of times. He relentlessly, shamelessly self promotes (that bit early about some of the rumors he helped start, some of the lies he’s told) and seems to have really few compuctions about lying, killing, decieving, stealing and flaunting any sort of law, moral or ethical. Given a situation of “What are you doing will possibly ruin the livelyhood of my entire people, and for that, we may have to make sure you cannot bring doom upon all of Adem” he spent time gathering materials, power and stuff appropriate to do… what? Slaugher ever Adem who tried to stop him as he left? Dude has a shadow cloak, he could just flee (But that’d be admitting defeat, and he’s bound up with pride for that). He has the temerity to even get angry that others feel inconvienced at him for, you know, stealing their national secrets and possibly ruining their livelyhoods.

        Added to that that it seems only his pain really matters, and he is the most grieving of souls, the hardest of hearts, that most broken of broken men, oh, so much weight does his poor shoulders bear, bla bla blaaaaah (disregard for the situations of others, incredible focus on self).

        Terrifying, really

      2. Aaron Adamec-Ostlund (@AaronAO)

        What you just described seems to be typical of bad fantasy authors. Not the sociopathic main character, although that pops up a lot to…, but that the authors seem to have genuinely good ideas or well written parts, but they seem unaware or uninterested in them. Is there some sort of sociopathic litmus test we could put Kvothefuss through? If not someone should make one.

    2. Hekateras

      One year late to the party now, but I think you have a point, and the accidental sociopath thing totally IS a staple of bad fantasy authors. Or at the very least extremely absorbed ones. The whole thing reminds me uncannily of the Inheritance Cycle, but with less dragons and slightly – very slightly – less thesaurus abuse. But the sociopath thing – in one memorable scene, Eragon (the teenage prodigy-in-everything hero of the Inheritance Cycle) murders an enemy soldier after the soldier’s side lost an encounter, an enemy soldier who is begging him to let him live and how he’s just a kid and was conscripted. With barely a second thought for it, Eragon breaks his neck. His elf companion slash love interest who was like ten feet away reacts with shock and Eragon explains that there was no way to keep the soldier alive and even if they’d taken him prisoner, he would’ve slowed them down, and the elf (who is about several centuries old, and a princess and a diplomat) is immediately cowed by his explanation and accepts his oh so great wisdom. Note that the explanation he gives is a load of rubbish, as both he and the elf basically have superpowers by that point, both magic and super strength and speed and endurance, so it was less ‘ there was no way’ and more ‘eh I couldn’t think of an easy enough one in the .005 seconds I took to think about it before killing him’. Also note that they’re in no *direly* urgent situation, and that no effort to consult his elf companion and ask HER for ideas before killing the soldier was made. In subsequent chapters, we get scenes where Eragon experiences “remorse” and it weighs on his mind and shit, but in later analogous situations, he doesn’t act much differently >.<

      I don't think the accidental sociopathy comes from the authors being weird insofar as it comes from them trying to construct deep dark epics about deep and dark and troubled characters that are still ultimately heroes and noble and good, just, y'know, tragic ones. And then the authors, despite, in this case, Rothfuss's alleged intent of deconstruction, to actually put enough *thought* into things and how their heroes' decisions actually look to an outside eye.

      Plus, there's that 'this reads like a video game' problem. Kvothe feels calculating and disrespectful and cold because in some types of video games the protag doesn't have much of a personality, they're just a puppet for you to control. Like, in the Elder Scrolls series you have full character customisation, the game *can't* invent a personality and storyline for your character for you, it's up to you to imagine that and put elements of roleplay into your gameplay. Or you just forget the roleplay and act entirely to get gameplay advantages, robbing and killing when it's convenient, using your Persuade skill to convince someone you're a saint, killing the dragon, rescuing the prince, et cetera. The latter is what this book is like. Kvothe is like a player-controlled puppet running around gathering XP and achievements and unlocking new items and abilities, his 'personality' in the book reads like an after-the-fact attempt to retroactively mold his actions into something motivated by complexity, when in reality they're just motivated by calculations of gain vs. risk, every single time.

      1. NR

        Kvothe is a sociopath. What if – dun, dun, dunnnnn – Kvothe is a Chadrian?! And Rothfuss intentionally created a nice guy redditable PUA Gary Stu wish fulfillment sociopath that his readership roots for and relentlessly defends before the Big Reveal, turning the mirror on his audience to let them know that THEY are the monsters?! That their God, Kvothe, embodies everything that is wrong in the world? Rothfuss – literary and psychological genius.

  2. katz

    Just look at how cunningly he’s subverting all these storytelling devices! Instead of a meaningless exercise unrelated to his actual skills with nebulous goals that you pass by doing the opposite of what they tell you to do, it’s a straightforward test of clearly-defined skills judged by objective experts, thus drawing attention to the nonsensical nature of the typical fantasy training graduation challenge.

    Oh, wait. That’s not what he did.

  3. Signatus

    I always found funny how this fantasy books, wise, mystical masters of whatever fancy art (magical or not), pull tests out of their “bottoms” that have absolutely nothing to do with the student’s preparation.
    The few times I’ve heard of it happening at college, it didn’t end well for the proffessor. Students tend to be very sensitive about unfairness, specially when they’ve been working their fingers to the bones for months.

    It would have been much more interesting if Qvothe had to really fight for his test, but I guess Deus Ex Machinas are more interesting for Rothfuss than true drama and tension is.
    The more I analyze his books, the more I’m convinced that the last time he had been anywhere close to epic fantasy literature had been the intro of the PC indie game Sacred. (not sure if it was an indie game, or just a terribly glitchy copy of Diablo).
    This man doesn’t write, nor has the knowledge, of someone who is versed in fantasy literature.

    1. Aaron Adamec-Ostlund (@AaronAO)

      Even if he had had to fight Kvothefuss would have probably just pulled the name of the wind (I refuse to capitalize that) out of his ass again, won the fight and then been able to some how justify his magic as being ‘of the Lethani’ or something.

      I still don’t get why a mercenary culture would object to someone wanting to get better with a sword when learning weaponless martial arts is okay for that person. It’s like they think the practicing of their styles is not related at all to being so good at them. They probably just thing understanding the Lethani will make them better fighters or something. Just like how they have no understanding of human reproduction.

      1. Fibinachi

        But, well, you can forgive them for that. Sure, their ability to make casual inferences between events is a little suspect but what the hell, “Ha ha, you believe in Male Mothers, Oh Kvothe, you foreigner” is at least a point of cultural world building.
        It’s a silly one, and a strange one, for an otherwise seemingly fairly capable and intelligent society, but it’s fine.

        No, what I can’t forgive is the bone-deep idiocy of having a test of your martial skill be a potentially crippling run into a tree with nebolous goals of victory. All it takes is a gust of wind and a slit jugular vein, and bam, you’ve just wasted years of training on some hapless person who is now bleeding out on the ground because asking someone to avoid a tree of jagged leaves is not the same as teaching them fighting.

        At least the thing Tempi did a few chapters ago where he was testing Kvothe’s conditioning and seeing how far he was willing to go had a sort of sense to it. Throwing students at a killing tree is just… argh

      2. Signatus

        Fibinachi, not to mention these Adem are supposed to test their prowess against men, not trees. The movement of trees has nothing to do with how a brute with a claymore moves, so this test is as dangerous as it is stupid and pointless.
        Not to mention, unless this super special razor willotree as large gaps between branches, it is systematically impossible to avoid getting touched by the leaves, even when calm.

  4. Verpa

    Do you think that the editors got bored reading it and just waved it through so they didn’t have to read any more of it? I can’t imagine how this got published, otherwise.

      1. katz

        From that link:

        1. The manuscript I gave Betsy was 150,000 words shorter than the eventual print version of the book.

        I think we’ve found a new person to blame for everything.

        1. ronanwills Post author

          This still boggles my mind. Obviously I’m not an editor and I haven’t seen Rothfuss’ early drafts (God help us all) but I do not see how someone could look at any version of this story and think “this needs to be longer”.

          If I had to try and construct a scenario in my head I’d guess that maybe Rothfuss showed her what he had written of the entire trilogy, or at least an outline, and she suggested moving some material that had been intended to be in book 2 into book 1. To be honest if that was the case they should have gone even further, almost half of Wise Man’s Fear feels like it should have been in The Name of The Wind.

          1. katz

            The most generous explanation I can think of is that she read this disjointed mess and suggested that he add a character or plot thread that would tie the whole thing together. But since Rothfuss doesn’t understand that concept, all he heard was “add more characters and plot threads.”

      2. Reveen

        That fact that he likes his editor is a bad enough sign. A writer like Rothfuss needs a flint-eyed, iron-fisted tyrant of an editor that will crush his primal twee urges under her boot.

      3. Signatus

        I really can’t understand how editing can make a book grow. All my books loose over 1/3 of trash after they are revised and edited.

      1. Fibinachi

        Be strong. The end is nigh, and you can reach it. We believe in you, Ronanwills, Who Does Wizards, Unraveller of the Spun Bull, Picker of many Nits, Thrice-Cursed Reader of Tomes Esoteric, Erotic and Egregious, who wields the weapon of .gifs and .jpgs with much astuteness.

        But yeah, Thrice-Cursed.


        It’s meant to be a trilogy! This confounding inanity is all leading up to… something.


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