70 pages 2 hours read

Patrick Rothfuss

The Wise Man's Fear

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2011

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Summary and Study Guide


The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss is the second novel in The Kingkiller Chronicle. Written stylistically as The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day Two, it continues to tell the story of Kvothe, an expert lutist and arcanist who is searching for the legendary beings who killed his family. The Wise Man’s Fear is a heroic fantasy novel, which means it prominently features magic while modern technology is absent. Published originally in March of 2011, it was a New York Times bestseller and won the David Gemmell Legend Award for Best Fantasy Novel of 2011. Rothfuss studied English at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point, then completed his master’s degree in arts and English at Washington State University.

This guide uses the First Mass Market Printing 2019 edition for all page numbers.

Content Warning: Please be advised that The Wise Man’s Fear contains violence, nonviolent efforts to do harm such as nonconsensual drugging, references to sexual assault, classism, racism, and sexism. Kvothe is Edema Ruh, a nomadic culture well-known for their theatrical and musical performances. While this race is fictious, it is a strong parallel to ethnic groups such as the Romani.

Plot Summary

At the Waystone Inn, Kvothe continues to tell his life story to his student/apprentice Bast and the scribe known as Chronicler. In the past, Kvothe continues to pursue his education at the University, where he learns both practical skills and magic. Secretly, he searches for information about the Chandrian, the legendary figures who were responsible for his family’s death. He infrequently interacts with Denna, the beautiful girl he has feelings for although she rejects every man who attempts to get close to her. Kvothe also engages in his long-standing feud with fellow student Ambrose, a feud that evolves into Ambrose drugging Kvothe, using Kvothe’s blood to attack him, and Kvothe breaking into Ambrose’s rooms. This culminates in Ambrose turning Kvothe in to the authorities for breaking his arm the previous semester, claiming he consorted with devilish powers. Although Kvothe is released and cleared of charges, he follows the advice of one of the University masters and defers for a semester.

Kvothe’s advocate Count Threpe receives word that a foreign dignitary, the Maer Alveron, is in need of a musician. Kvothe travels to the city of Severen and meets the sickly Alveron, only to realize that Alveron’s personal arcanist is poisoning him. Kvothe outwits the arcanist and saves Alveron’s life. He then helps Alveron win the affections of Meluan Lackless, the only woman suitable to marry Alveron. During this time, Kvothe reunites with Denna and their relationship flourishes until they fight over a song Denna has composed, which references a member of the Chandrian in a positive light. The same day as this fight, Alveron asks Kvothe to lead a group of mercenaries to track down bandits that have been killing his tax collectors. Kvothe meets the mercenaries, among whom is an Adem fighter named Tempi. Because they are known for their skill in combat, Kvothe bonds with Tempi, learning his language and following his daily meditative stretches called the Ketan. The group tracks down the bandits but are forced into a fight. In desperation, Kvothe uses clever but exhausting sympathetic binding to kill all the bandits except for their leader, who escapes.

After Kvothe recovers from his use of magic, the group hikes through the woods to return home. They stumble across the mythical Fae woman named Felurian, who kills men through sexual overexertion. Kvothe chases her into the Fae realm, where they have intercourse and bond. Felurian agrees to release him from her realm if he promises to return after singing her praises to the broader world. To aid him, she makes him a magical cloak called a shaed. While she is working on it, Kvothe wanders too far and encounters the Cthaeh, a malicious tree oracle who taunts him with information about the Chandrian and Denna’s violent patron. This information causes Kvothe to have a mental health crisis. When he recovers, he departs the Fae realm to find only three days have passed. He reconvenes with the other mercenaries. As they continue to Severen, they are stopped by other Adem warriors who have observed Tempi teaching Kvothe. Kvothe travels with Tempi to the Ademic town of Haert, where to save Tempi from exile he is trained in the Ademic tradition. Upon the completion of his training, he is given a sword, which he renames Caesura.

He departs and begins his trek back to Severen. While en route, he encounters a group of false troupers who have disguised himself as Edema Ruh and have kidnapped two young girls. Kvothe poisons and kills the false troupers, then escorts the girls to safety. The townspeople are grateful, but he flees before the law can put him on trial for murder. Back in Severen, he relays his successes to Alveron. As a show of gratitude, Alveron and Meluan show him the Lockless chest, a box that no one has been able to open for 2,000 years. During their conversation, Kvothe defends the Edema Ruh from Meluan’s disdain, and in doing so, reveals his heritage. He argues with Alveron. The next day, Alveron asks him to leave his estate but grants him permission to perform in his lands and a certificate promising to pay for Kvothe’s tuition to the University.

Kvothe returns home, where he reunites with his friends who believed he died at sea. He resumes his studies from a place of financial stability, including private lessons with Elodin (the University’s Master of Naming) that expand his ability to name the wind. He returns to the city of Tarbean, where he visits scenes from his memory and reconnects with Denna. Despite their reconciliation, they experience tension that Kvothe does not understand. The story concludes with his celebratory dinner with friends.

In the frame narrative, there are several interludes during the telling of the tale, including Bast’s outburst at Kvothe’s interactions with the Cthaeh and two soldiers who rob Kvothe, beating him savagely. As the novel ends, Bast takes vengeance on the soldiers as Kvothe grapples with the silence of his inn, waiting to die.

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