Let's read The Kingkiller Chronicle Pt. 2: Enter Chronicler

Note: my current plan is to post two of these a week. I can't guarantee that will always happen though, as my medical issues leave me unable to work on things without warning and I want to keep a stock of pre-written posts as a buffer.

I'm going to skip over most of the rest of The Name of The Wind's first chapter, since it consists of Kvothe and Bast trading dialogue like this ("Reshi" is Bast's name for Kvothe--he has a lot of names, it's kind of his thing):

“Today, master, I learned why great lovers have better eyesight than great scholars.”

“And why is that, Bast?” Kote asked, amusement touching the edges of his voice.

Bast closed the door and returned to sit in the second chair, turning it to face his teacher and the fire. He moved with a strange delicacy and grace, as if he were close to dancing. “Well Reshi, all the rich books are found inside where the light is bad. But lovely girls tend to be out in the sunshine and therefore much easier to study without risk of injuring one’s eyes.”

Kote nodded. “But an exceptionally clever student could take a book out-side, thus bettering himself without fear of lessening his much-loved faculty of sight.”

“I thought the same thing, Reshi. Being, of course, an exceptionally clever student.”

“Of course.”

“But when I found a place in the sun where I could read, a beautiful girl came along and

Conversations like this happen a lot in these books. Like, a whole lot. 

The gist of it--apart from Bast being a horndog--is that Kvothe is worried about the demonic spider (called a Scrael) and what it could mean, as the local townspeople are utterly unprepared for the larger incursion that he fears is on its way.

Before we start on chapter two, here's what Kvothe did with the corpse of the Scrael from last time:

“Yes, I made sure the pit was deep enough. Yes, I made sure there was rowan wood in the fire. Yes, I made sure it burned long and hot before they buried it. And yes, I made sure that no one kept a piece of it as a souvenir.”

In Kvothe's world, there are basically two forms of magic. One of them is highly mechanistic and operates on well-defined, quasi-scientific rules, and is known about as a hard fact of existence, at least by people who live near the areas where it's practiced. As far as I can tell, this magic system is mostly of Rothfuss's own design, although based on previous fantasy tropes and elements of real-world mysticism.

The other--which we're seeing a glimpse of here--is much wilder and more mysterious, drawing from folklore and mythology, and is closer to what you'd think of as "traditional" magic (or maybe witchcraft as practiced by modern-day spiritual groups, with some high-fantasy stylings thrown in). It's also by far the more interesting of the two, so guess which system gets more time in the spotlight?

Most people either don't believe in the second type of magic (Kvothe spends a good chunk of the story in this camp, although clearly by the time he ends up tending to the Waystone Inn he's left his skepticism behind) or misinterpret its source, as it's shrouded in multiple layers of superstition and history, some of it deliberately obscured. This could serve as the basis for a really cool fantasy narrative, with Kvothe as a sort of adventurer-anthropologist tracking down the real occult power behind the fairytales; and the books do take the occassional stab at telling that kind of story, but...well, we'll get to that.

Chapter two opens with our third main character, a man identified as Chronicler, being relieved of his possessions by some wayward soldiers:

The whole process was surprisingly civilized. Chronicler lost all of his needles but one, both extra pairs of socks, a bundle of dried fruit, a loaf of sugar, half a bottle of alcohol, and a pair of ivory dice. They left him the rest of his clothes, his dried meat, and a half-eaten loaf of incredibly stale rye bread. His flat leather satchel remained untouched.

One of the things we will come back to repeatedly is Kingkiller's problem with tone, and its inability to decide where exactly it wants to fall on the Fantasy Grittiness Scale. Here, we have very polite deserters basically forcibly exchanging their goods for Chronicler's (they take his cloak and blanket and give him their old, worn-out ones), while otherwise leaving him entirely unmolested--as opposed to just murdering him to prevent him from reporting them to anyone who might deign to come and track them down, which is frankly much more realistic (the histories of most major wars are replete with hair-raising stories about the ways real deserters prey on the civilian population).

This isn't necessarily a problem. The world contains both puppies and Donald Trump simultaneously, you can have dark and light co-existing, so it's not as if the setting must choose one single tone and stick to it religiously. But it becomes a problem much later on when the exact same events are retroactively recast in a far darker tone, and even here it seems to undermine how dire the situation with the war is meant to be. If deserting soldiers can afford these small acts of mercy, than it doesn't seem as if things are really all that bad.

Granted, it turns out that Chronicler got the better of them by, er, hiding most of his money in his boots and pants (see boys, that's why you just kill him and search the body at your leisure).

Losing the horse and saddle was hard, but he could buy another in Abbott’s Ford and still have enough money to live comfortably until he finished this foolishness and met up with Skarpi in Treya.

Another sign of the not-so-desperate times is the fact that Chronicler can be robbed and shrug it off. Horses must be remarkably cheap in this war-wracked land.

Back with Kvothe, another mystery presents itself: 

Kote drew back the cloth and looked underneath. The wood was a dark charcoal color with a black grain, heavy as a sheet of iron. Three dark pegs were set above a word chiseled into the wood.

“Folly,” Graham read. “Odd name for a sword.”

I bet you're wondering how Kvothe got this sword, aren't you? You'll have to wait a long time, until the second half of The Wise Man's Fear, and then you'll probably wish you hadn't.

(If I seem cynical now, wait until we get to the box with three locks).

A drunk patron seems to recognize who Kvothe is (based--somewhat incredulously--on his hair. Are red-haired people really that rare in this world?) and we get yet another mystery:

“I saw the place in Imre where you killed him. By the fountain. The cobblestones are all shathered.” He frowned and concentrated on the word. “Shattered. They say no one can mend them.”

I assume this is referring to the king Kvothe is meant to have killed, although since the books haven't gotten around to describing that yet, it's really anyone's guess. 

But enough of these mysterious plot hints, eventually the actual story needs to start. Kvothe spends the rest of the chapter dealing with the customer and his troublesome hair-recognizing abilities, and then he, Chronicler and some Scrael have a date with destiny:

They came into the light, moving low across the ground: black shapes, many-legged and large as cart wheels. One, quicker than the rest, rushed into the firelight without hesitating, moving with the disturbing, sinuous speed of a scuttling insect.

Chronicler goes down quickly from a blow to the head, unaware that the mysterious red-haired man fighting beside him is the very person he's traveled all this way to find.

Yes, that's right: we don't discover it just yet, but Chronicler is researching tales of the legendary hero Kvothe, and he's come to the Waystone Inn chasing up a rumor that the man behind the myth is somewhere in the area. Of course, he turns out to be right. Chronicler will be the one writing down Kvothe's memoir, thus kicking off the bulk of the plot as Kvothe narrates his backstory to both him and us over the course of three nights.

It takes a while longer for Chronicler to convince Kvothe to actually sit down and tell his story, so the next post is going to accelerate a bit and get to the beginning of the flashback--and by extension, the plot proper. And if you thought these two posts were nit-picky, just wait until next time, when the book takes a trip on some wagons and comes down with a severe case of Edema.