Tag Archives: frame story

Book Review: Female Power in The Wise Man’s Fear

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Spoilers!

It didn’t take me long to go looking again for Kvothe, the red-headed lutist of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles. I had been somewhat blinded to my fondness for this protagonist by my love of Rothfuss’ artistry, but I found myself missing them both after some time away, and Kvothe much more than I would have expected.

I had been warned that I wouldn’t enjoy the second book in the series as much as I had the first. Kvothe remains in many ways naïve throughout The Name of the Wind, an underdog fighting to play in the same field as older, richer men, ready to believe the best of others on the fringes of society and the worst of those who move at the highest tiers.

The Wise Man’s Fear sees Kvothe ousted from that field and sent to try his tongue on foreign soil. The majority of the book is spent exploring other and Other cultures within the world created by Rothfuss.

Kvothe’s first journey by sea, a journey involving “a storm, piracy, treachery, and shipwreck, although not in that order” is given one full page of text (403-404), and then we land in Vintas, where a once more penniless Kvothe is to meet with a man richer than his king. Unwilling to long support himself by the means of street living with which he is all too familiar, Kvothe bluffs his way to the Maer’s door.

Kvothe then undertakes misadventures of courtly intrigue and faux pas, learning and enlightening us to the intricacies of Vintish culture.

When Kvothe has all but outlived his usefulness to the Maer, he is sent on a fool’s errand, which though more difficult and dangerous than anyone had expected, Kvothe manages spectacularly to complete despite poor circumstances.

On this errand with him is an Adem mercenary, who begins Kvothe’s instruction in Ademic culture—which is interrupted by an encounter with a Fae known to lure men away for intercourse, during which they succumb to either death or insanity.

The second half of this book, alongside its exploration of the Other, specifically explores the ideas of female power in its many and varied forms. The Fae Felurian represents and embodies the female sexual power. She possesses a strange magic that Kvothe hopes to learn and which he temporarily bests through Naming. In besting Felurian, Kvothe earns the right to learn about her powers, both Faen and sexual. Felurian does not learn from him, and so Kvothe’s power is increased while Felurian’s remains static.

Upon returning from this tryst, Kvothe finds himself compelled to follow Tempi to Ademre, where the two are immediately parted and Kvothe made to defend himself by learning the ways of the Adem and particularly of the Adem mercenaries. Rothfuss here shows readers another form of female power. The best Adem warriors are women because women are less often led by anger or impatience and are better at “knowing when to fight” (849). Again Kvothe learns while his female instructors do not.

The power of procreation for the Adem is further purely female. The Adem do not believe that men are involved in procreation. In our culture, historically, much of a woman’s power and value have been derived from her ability to birth children but that power has been limited because of a woman’s dependence upon a man to do so. That power in Ademre is unlimited, and what’s more men depend on women not only for their own birth but also for the continuation of the culture. The Ademic culture then is similar to the early matriarchal, mother-goddess cultures that I have heard postulated, where women are believed to be the sole progenitors and derive their power from this, sort of taking the patriarchal demotion of women as sex objects and turning it into a promotion.

Much of Kvothe’s increased power during the course of The Wise Man’s Fear has, then, come from female instructors and in his acceptance of the female powers offered to him, which might be another paper in itself.

Within The Kingkiller Chronicles so far, Rothfuss has mainly presented a world in which the greatest female power is sexual. However, while almost all of his female characters have presented sexual interest in one male figure or another, few have possessed merely sexual power. There are strong and wise fighters like the Adem and clever survivors like Auri and Devi, and intelligent scholars and craftsmen like Fela and other female university students.

Denna of course embodies for Kvothe the ideal woman. She is one of only a few women who do not advance on Kvothe sexually, and Kvothe is clever enough not to ask or demand her sexual favor. She is in many ways unattainable to Kvothe because he has seen her flee from the sexual advances of other men, but Denna certainly knows how to use her sexuality, so she is powerful in that right. Perhaps she is desirable for being powerful but unattainable. In a story arc that comprises almost wholly of Kvothe’s struggles to attain knowledge and through knowledge power, that interpretation makes a lot of sense.

On the whole, I’m not sure that I can call Rothfuss’ presentation of the female “feminist” in the same way that I can some of George R. R. Martin’s characters or Patricia C. Wrede’s Cimorene, and I wish that I could, because Rothfuss treads near a feminist perspective in this book especially.

****1/2

Rothfuss, Patrick. The Kingkiller Chronicles, Day Two: The Wise Man’s Fear. New York: DAW-Penguin, 2013.  First published 2011.

This review is not endorsed by Patrick Rothfuss, DAW Books, or Penguin Group, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Patrick Rothfuss, Hero Who Can Call The Name of the Wind

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For years, friends have been raving about the misadventures of Kvothe and even more so about the poetry of Patrick Rothfuss. Years back, I found The Name of the Wind in the library. I read the first few paragraphs, and I was blown away by the weight of each word, the perfection of and care taken with each sentence and paragraph break, and the images that were painted. I said, “I don’t have time for this.” I wanted to give it the time that I thought I would need to enjoy it. I’m so sad that it took me years to decide to have time for it.

The prologue is awesome, and when paired with the epilogue, it left me a blabbering mess of “Did he just— He did!” I don’t even really know how to begin to describe to you the wonder of what Rothfuss did with those four pages. I’ve never seen a wizards’ knot, but I think now that I might have read one.

Now, don’t, like me, be daunted by the prologue. This book reads surprisingly fast. Granted, I did decide to read it when I knew that I would have more than my usual free time, but I don’t think that it would have been bogged down by the usual pace of life, and I think I’d have been stealing moments to read just a little more. Despite criticism from friends who were pushed into saying something by the gabbling Facebook status that I posted after finishing the book and despite that I recognize their criticism as valid, I’m still hankering for the second in the series and was not sated but rather my appetite increased by the short story, “The Lightning Tree,” recently released in Rogues.

Kvothe is fairly likeable if a little pompous and self-aggrandizing (though in fairness he is the storyteller and can be expected to shed himself in the best light just as any of us would) but Rothfuss is the real star of The Name of the Wind. I enjoyed Kvothe’s adventures, but I enjoyed Rothfuss’ storytelling and poetry so much more. Rothfuss is a writer’s writer often alluding to the process and perils of writing by having his protagonist engage in storytelling, and there is much within the novel that rang like a hammer against a nail of truth and sympathy driven into myself. Another of my favorite sections is the four pages that Kvothe and Rothfuss take trying to decide how to describe one character because those pages allude so fiercely to the difficulty of describing characters in fiction (417-420).

The Name of the Wind and presumably the whole of The Kingkiller Chronicles are written with a frame story, and the two stories weave together to drive the reader on into the series. Kote the barman is confronted in the present-day with the resurfacing of his past, from which he has run and hid, but which has found him at last. He battles a darkness that manifests as overgrown spiders, tries to brush aside his knowledge of how to destroy them as garnered secondhand from visitors to his lonely tavern, but more privately lets slip something about a war that is his fault, of which I guess that these creatures are a symptom. His student, Bast, is worried about his Reshi and is using the famed storyteller, Chronicler, to try and get Kvothe to remember himself and become what he was. Chronicler is looking for a story, and the truth. So Kvothe is wheedled into telling his story, and he takes us back to his childhood. The Name of the Wind, the first of the three days that Kvothe believes that his story will take to be told, spans from Kvothe’s happy youth, to his tragic tween and teen years, to his first few terms at university, where he distinguishes himself but not perhaps in the ways that he had hoped, and during which time he meets an alluring girl and worries over whether or not he has her heart. This first book of the trilogy has many elements of the bildungsroman, and the adult Kote, looking back, talks about his story as if it is indeed the education and becoming of himself: “If you are eager to find the reason I became the Kvothe they tell stories about, you could look there, I suppose” (186).

Kvothe’s time at the university can be dissected too in terms of the school story, where those familiar with the genre (as many of us unwittingly are thanks to J. K. Rowling) will recognize many familiar patterns: the rivalry with the more powerful peer, difficulties in learning, the grudges held by professors, the unexpected aid from those same or other professors, a squad of friends on whom one can rely when difficulties arise in the classroom and outside of it…. I’ve said before that one of the perils of the school story is the large cast that it calls for. Rothfuss handles the cast quite well. He does not unnecessarily dive into everyone’s backstories, and their characters do seem to enter—as they should—onto the stage only when Kvothe needs them to do, but they seem too to have lives and personalities outside of Kvothe, and that is imperative to good characterization and an element too frequently overlooked when one is working with a larger cast.

In the university, Rothfuss’ fantasy is given scientific examination. Dragons are large fire-breathing lizards but are considered natural. Magic is given names like sympathy, which applies scientific principles like the inability of energy to be created or destroyed to the manipulation of objects. Naming is another form of magic that has more in common with Ursula K. LeGuin’s and Diane Duane’s models. I have always been a fan of the blending of magic and science, and so Rothfuss’ models tug at my heart. It’s clear that, as with the language and craft he uses in storytelling, Rothfuss has given a lot of thought to magic and world-building. I’m interested to see if the scientific nature of magic persists throughout the series. I don’t know how to apply science to some of the things that the elder Kvothe has clearly encountered: fey, spider demons, the angelic Amyr, and wraithlike Chandrain.   Kvothe reminds me in that way of myself:  He’s learned the science but he won’t give up the magic despite people’s judgements of his “childlike” fascination with the truth of the world that they can’t see.

If you enjoy words, if you enjoy writing, I must recommend this book as a meaty helping of prose.

*****

Rothfuss, Patrick. The Kingkiller Chronicles, Day One: The Name of the Wind. New York: DAW-Penguin, 2008.  First published 2007.

This review is not endorsed by Patrick Rothfuss, DAW Books, or Penguin Group, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.