Note: the following consists of two posts edited together after the fact. I decided I wasn't happy with what was going to be part seven, so I deleted half of it and combined it with post eight to make up the difference. Please enjoy this one-time offer of 50% extra Kvothe for the same great price.
Skipping over a few more chapters of sympathy lessons and an interlude back to the framing story that I'll talk about later, we're almost at Kvothe's tragic orphaning. But first, his wise mentor Ben needs to exit the story. He does so in an odd way.
After an extensively-described going-away party, complete with some songs and yet more world-building mythology, Ben gives Kvothe a note wishing him well at the University (something that Kvothe at this point has not consciously decided to pursue) and then takes his leave. He hasn't shown up again since.
I say that this is odd, because I wonder why Ben makes this rather abrupt departure rather than getting caught in the Chandrian attack that will occur soon. The most obvious answer is that he was going to come back at some point, but as of the end of The Wise Man's Fear that hasn't happened, and it's hard to see where Doors of Stone could fit him in as anything other than a brief cameo.
Several months later, Kvothe goes off for an evening wander and comes back to find his parents and the entire troupe murdered. I'm going to quote a few sections of this chapter, because parts of it are quite well done:
Like I said, it's pretty well done. But it's let down by Kvothe's massive self-importance (and since he's the one telling us the story, the self-importance of the story itself).
If this was a Star Wars-esque Bildungsroman taking place in a whimsical fantasy world, it would be easy to buy that Kvothe, as the tale's protagonist and narrator, is the center of the universe and that the murder of his family is The Most Important Thing That Has Ever Happened. But these books only sporadically present themselves as adolescent fantasy adventure; most of the time, they want to be serious, deep literature taking place in a gritty, grounded setting that subverts the tropes of high fantasy.
In the war-torn, unjust world that Kvothe lives in, children must be traumatically orphaned by violence every day of the week (Kvothe himself meets two young women who suffer a far worse fate in similar circumstances). The only reason Kvothe's story is different is because his parents were murdered by the Chandrian and not soldiers or bandits. And as I've explained already, the Chandrian are barely a factor--this is their only direct appearance, they don't seem to be active at all in the plot as of the end of The Wise Man's Fear, and Kvothe only sporadically bothers to put any effort into looking for them.
But the death of his troupe is treated as The Most Tragic Incident Ever. His sorrow and pain are The Most Important Sadness. Everything in the story is like this--the unrequited crush he spends way more time and energy on than the Chandrian is A Most Tragic and Lamentable Tale of Woe, rather than two awkward teenagers making moon-eyes at each other for years on end. In the framing story, when he gets depressed over (essentially) not being famous anymore, this too is treated by both the narrative and the other characters as hugely important.
But enough about Kvothe's parents. What about the Chandrian, the supposed villains of this whole trilogy? What are they like?
This is Cinder, the Chandrian who Kvothe latches onto the most strongly as the target of his revenge-quest. He's the one who (sort of) makes another appearance in The Wise Man's Fear, and he's the closest that any of the Chandrian come to being an actual character, rather than a mostly-incidental background detail.
Cinder is about to kill Kvothe with his ice sword, but he's stopped by his master and the leader of the Chandrian, Lord Haliax.
Yes, that name is distractingly close to "Lord Halifax".
(I can't get Squarespace's quote feature to portray it properly, but all of Haliax's dialogue is in italics for some reason)
Reading this again knowing what the rest of the books are like, I'm struck by how out of place all of this is. It feels like it came from a different series entirely. Villains like Haliax haven't shown up again in the nearly 1500 pages separating this scene from the end of The Wise Man's Fear; Kvothe instead runs afoul of bandits and people who hate him out of petty jealousy, and the handful of Fey beings who do make an appearance are a lot more mysterious and not prone to villainous monologues. The fact that Haliax even exists in a story that's mostly about the intricacies of student finances and low-stakes political maneuvering (unfortunately, that is not a joke) seems absurd.
But the best thing about Haliax is his appearance, which, if you stop to think about it, makes him look utterly absurd:
Haliax's face is constantly in deep shadow. This comes off appropriately menacing when he's sitting around a spooky camp-fire at dusk, but his face is always like that, even when he doesn't have a flappity hood on, even in broad daylight. Can you imagine this guy walking around in the noon sunshine, or, I don't know, sitting in a well-lit house?
To be fair, this is a problem with most menacing fantasy bad guys. Picturing Darth Vader or Voldemort going to the toilet (or even just sleeping in a bed) immediately makes them seem ridiculous. But Haliax takes this a step further by being a villain who only works in one very specific setting, as though he was invented solely for this one scene (which he very well might have been, since he hasn't shown up again).
After Haliax finishes villain-ing at Cinder, Kvothe is once again mere moments from death. However, Haliax senses something and declares that they must flee, sparing Kvothe's life. We won't get an explanation for what this is about for some time, but Haliax drops a clue in his big monologue to Cinder:
I don't think we know yet what "the singers" are or why the Chandrian fear the Sithe (a faction of faeries), but we do find out who the Amyr are later on.
In case it wasn't clear: the Chandrians' sole known activity consists of hiding from people. They're being hunted by the Amyr and threatened by whatever the singers are, and the fairies seem not to like them for some reason, and so they hide. Somewhere. If people look too deeply into their identities, they show up and blast them, and then they vanish and hide some more.
There's nothing inherently wrong with this--there's no rule of good writing that says your villains can't just be trying to save their own lives--but it's not terribly interesting, and it contributes to the growing sense that the Chandrian really aren't all that big a deal. By the end of The Wise Man's Fear, it seems as though they've been supplanted on the villain stack by an honest to god evil tree.
With that brief interlude over, Kvothe is now orphaned and ready to start his grand adventure at the University. Unfortunately, it takes him three years to get there.