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Literature / The Wise Man's Fear

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"There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man."

The second of three novels in The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss.

Kvothe, now a young man studying at the University, decides to take a few terms off and travel the world after a particularly eventful month leaves him on the outs with the Masters. Armed with a letter of introduction from a noble friend, Kvothe travels to Vintas, where he becomes embroiled in courtly politics, bandit attacks along the King's Road, a beguiling faerie enchantress, training from the legendary Adem mercenaries, and a troubling homecoming. All while trying to come to grips with his growing love for Denna, and trying to tease out information on the mysterious Chandrian, as well as the Amyr, a band of warriors who even the Chandrian still fear, despite the Amyr supposedly being disbanded hundreds of years ago...

See also The Name of the Wind.


  • A-Cup Angst: Devi can't stop expressing her envy at Fela's bust.
  • Affably Evil: Devi has a reputation as a ruthless loan shark who takes a vial of blood as collateral, giving her the power of life and death over her deadbeat clients. However, she's a young, attractive and perfectly courteous woman who even has a soft spot for Kvothe. It's eventually revealed that her willingness to harm her deadbeat clients with sympathy is mostly just a scare tactic. She uses it to gain favors, which is what she's really after.
  • Agonizing Stomach Wound: After Kvothe fights a group of bandits/kidnappers, one survives but has a horrible stomach wound. Kvothe specifically invokes this trope, and gives him a water bottle so that his death will last longer. Kvothe stills considers it the cruelest thing he's ever done.
  • Alchemy Is Magic: One of the courses taught at the University. It is very explicitly not "chemistry with a bit of magic," as shown when a fireproofing balm becomes extremely flammable when exposed to water — something that Kvothe thinks is a prank until he sees it with his own eyes.
    Simmon: Repeat after me: "I know absolutely nothing about alchemy."
  • all lowercase letters: Felurian's dialogue is written this way.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: Kvothe believes the Amyr might be this; his friends are skeptical.
  • And I Must Scream: Kvothe's response when he first sleeps with Felurian, trapped inside his own lusty body. He does eventually manage to overcome it.
  • Apothecary Alligator: Caudicus, who purports to be a healer, has one in his tower. It was actually his predecessor's. He admits he doesn't know why he had one, but kept it anyway. Kvothe is actually quite amused to see it.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism:
    • Kvothe at times. Sometimes he calls himself on it, as when he's complaining to Felurian that light acts like a wave, not thread, and then realizing how silly it is to argue over such a thing while sitting in the fae's realm watching one of their most notorious figures sew with light. Played straight with his reaction to the Lockless Box and the suggestion it's sealed with magic, however. It's made pretty clear this is a mix of his university training and disdain for Vintish superstition.
    • Inverted with Wilem. He will shoot down a lot of wild suggestions on any range of topics Kvothe or Simmon will put forward, especially Kvothe's speculation on the Amyr. Yet when Kvothe tells him he met Felurian, Wil accepts it readily, to Kvothe's surprise.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Most aristocrats are stuffy, elitist and selfish. Ambrose is a particular example, but Kvothe meets quite a number more like him. The Maer is selfish and used to getting his way. There are some aversions, such as Bredon and Simmon.
  • Armor Is Useless: The Adem don't wear armor. It apparently would just slow down their perfect martial arts moves. Armor also doesn't seem to be much use against them.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: Adem mercenary Carceret is a female version, her anger and arrogance are her defining attributes.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    • Kvothe makes an impression in Vintas as follows.
      I was one of those. I meddled with dark powers. I summoned demons. I ate the entire little cheese, including the rind.
    • "Oh perfect, a musician on top of everything else." The Adem, part of whose hat is being The Stoic, consider musicians equivalent with prostitutes because they express their emotions. To whole rooms. For money. Again and again.
    • "In order to survive, I begged for crusts, stole a man's shoes, and recited poetry. The last should demonstrate more than all the rest how truly desperate my situation became."
  • Artistic License – Martial Arts: The martial art practiced by the Adem mercenaries, the Ketan, runs on artistic license. It's based on moral clarity rather than strength, size or physical coordination. Women, being more moral, are better fighters. The style is so effective that Celean, a 10-year-old girl presumably trained from birth, routinely manhandles the much larger and stronger Kvothe. In real life, size, strength and athletic talent are major factors in fighting skill. There's a reason why all combat sports are divided by gender, weight class and age.
  • Attempted Rape: Implied rather strongly with Kvothe, in a flashback to his beggar-orphan days. He manages to fight them off, though he had failed to previously at least once, and the memory of it saves him from Felurian's mind control.
  • Barefoot Sage:
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: The plan to destroy Kvothe's mommet in Ambrose's room involves Devi setting the room on fire so Kvothe can have an excuse to burst into the room and search for it, all under the pretense of trying to put out the fire. Ambrose would have seen right through him, so Fela agrees to go out on a date with him to keep him distracted.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Don't accuse Devi of Malfeasance without proof. It will end badly.
    • Don't pretend to be Ruh and go around kidnapping and raping young girls. There won't be much left after Kvothe is done with you.
    • Hurting, humiliating or belittling Kvothe when Bast is around is also a poor idea.
  • Beta Couple: Kvothe witnesses Fela slowly falling for Simmon's gentle good nature Fela and by the time Kvothe returns from his half-year absence in the university, Fela and Simmon became a couple. Simmon is somewhat insecure about it when Kvothe returns since he knows Fela had a crush on him, but she quickly reassures him she's not interested anymore.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: "There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man."
  • Black Box: There are certain rare items that are usable in Kvothe's time, but cannot be manufactured since they require magic that has been lost. Examples:
    • Caesura, as well as other Adem swords, never get dull.
    • Kilvin possesses many such objects, and shows Kvothe a pair warding cubes that can create an invisible physical and thermal shield. In fact, Kilvin invokes the trope himself to explain why Kvothe's efforts on the Bloodless are useful despite the existence of the warding cubes: unlike the cubes, the Bloodless can be replicated.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Felurian. Kvothe specifically notes that she's not evil, it's just her nature. The Fae overall seem to play by a different set of rules. Bast seems to understand basic human morality, though he occasionally chooses not to follow it.
  • Book Ends: Bast reciting the "Elderberry" counting rhyme. At the beginning, it's to choose what bottles to pick for a mixed drink. At the end, it's to decide which of the soldiers to kill first, with which random implement about the camp. And, as before, the book begins and ends describing the silence of three parts.
  • Brick Joke: In the first book, Elodin asks Kvothe, "Do you know the seven words that will make a woman love you?" Several examples pop up: "I need you to breathe for me," "I was just wondering why you're here," "I guess I'm doomed to die loveless," "You know, I could have carried you," and "For all that, she lacked your fire," showing that the right words are based on context, as does Naming.
  • Butterfly of Doom: The Cthaeh, an entity unable to leave a single tree, has perfect knowledge of all possible futures, and whenever it speaks to someone, it manipulates them into causing the greatest possible harm with just a few words. Policy on handling those who speak to it is to shoot them dead from half a mile away, leave the body to decompose, and if a crow descends to eat the body, shoot the crow. And perhaps as a reference to the trope name, it spends its time setting up whatever little details it can so as to kill very specific butterflies that've come anywhere nearby.
  • Call-Back:
    • When Vashet tells Kvothe, "I will admit, I've never had a student offer himself up for a vicious beating in order to prove he's worth my time," Kvothe replies, "This was nothing. Once I jumped off a roof." This is a reference to Elodin's test of recklessness in The Name of the Wind.
    • In The Name of the Wind, Bast snuck into Chronicler's room at night and opened a discussion with the line, "We need to talk." Mostly, Bast talked and Chronicler listened. In this book, it's Chronicler's turn.
    • In the first book, when Chronicler finally convinces Kvothe to tell his story, Kvothe remarks "You'd hold my story for ransom. You'd use my own best trick against me." This book reveals that's how he convinced Felurian to let him go, so he could make his song about her much better and play it the world over.
    • After returning to Tarbean, Kvothe rattles off a few of the people who helped him during his previous stay, saying that he stopped in to pay them back.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Kvothe continues to have trouble confessing his feelings to Denna. It's implied that the inverse is also true, making this a case of Everyone Can See It and Twice Shy. Kvothe has started doing much as Denna is doing (slightly different in that she is mostly doing it to survive, and he doesn't do it for money/presents), i.e. having brief relationships that end when the other individual realises Denna/Kvothe will never actually commit. He and Fela have a conversation about this wherein this exchange occurs:
    Kvothe: I refuse to throw myself at her like every other man she's ever met. She hates it. I've seen what happens.
    Fela: Have you ever thought she might feel the same way? You do have something of a reputation with the ladies.
  • Can't Argue with Elves: The Adem are very confident about the total superiority of their culture over all others, and are very good at arguing it. Fore example, if pressed on why public music should be taboo, they'll counter by asking why sexual congress is taboo in "barbarian" cultures. But rather than just accept that different cultures have different norms, they continue to assert that their norms are the "civilized" ones, and the others are barbarous.
  • The Casanova: Subverted — Kvothe discovers that, as much as the ladies might be interested in him, their idea of what constitutes a working relationship involves more emotional commitment than he can offer.
  • Cassandra Truth: Kote tries to convince one of his friends in the village not to head off to war by telling him the truth about who he is and why Chronicler is there. He is not believed. It's implied that some of the other things the boy has been told (his mother is sick and his girlfriend is pregnant) have also been dismissed.
  • Character Development: One example of major character development is Felurian who was a narcissistic personality when she "met" Kvothe. Even after they came to a truce, her lessons and other nice things she did for him were motivated by how it helped her. However, after Kvothe's ordeal with the Cthaeh, Felurian was moved to genuine pity for Kvothe, something that was apparently so rare for her she hadn't any idea how to comfort him.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • As in The Name of the Wind, exposition and important future plot points get mentioned in stories the characters tell.
    • Kvothe works on an intricate and difficult bit of artificiery that uses a kind of chemical that can seep through the skin,note  and the text stresses the danger when, after getting a single drop on his sleeve, he cautiously lifts the cloth away from his skin with tongs and cuts it off with scissors rather than risk touching it. Later, he's drugged using that exact same method.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: As of book two, Kvothe Really Gets Around, but he's very careful not to make any unwanted advances, and he has nothing but disgust for men who treat women poorly.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Sovoy is a rare literary example. While popping up occasionally in the first book as one of Kvothe's school acquaintances, he's dropped completely out of the story in this book. In an interview, the author joked that he now "lives on a farm out in the country now. He's happy there. He has pleny of room to run and play." This is the stereotypical lie parents tell their kids about pets that have been put down. He makes a cameo appearance in, of all places, the Tak Companion Book.
  • Closer to Earth: The Adem believe that women are morally superior to men and that only women can teach the Lethani because they understand it better and are better fighters because of it.
  • Comic Sutra: Felurian has lots of colorful names for sex and/or foreplay acts: playing ivy, a thousand hands, waves upon lilies, etc. (Felurian once apparently administered waves upon lilies to herself, and quite well.) Kvothe gets in the act as well and invents swaying against the wind. Later, Kvothe observes that Vashet is so businesslike about sex that "it was more like seventy-five hands."
  • Connected All Along: While they were all introduced separately with no connection in the last book, it's revealed that Fela, Devi and Mola are actually good friends. Devi explains that there aren't that many women in the Arcanum, so they all tend to know each other.
    Simmon: Do all the women in the world secretly know each other? Because that would explain a lot.
    Devi: There's barely a hundred of us in the Arcanum. They confine us to a single wing of the Mews whether or not we actually want to live there. How can we not know each other?
  • Cool Old Guy: Bredon quickly befriends Kvothe by teaching him to play a strategy game and giving him advice on how to maneuver through court politics. Bredon doesn't seem to care what other nobles think of him, and might even indulge in pagan orgies.
  • Cool Sword:
    • Besides "Folly" which is still hung on the wall of the Inn, Kvothe gets an ancient sword he calls "Caesura" during the story. Kvothe mentions they are not the same sword.
    • When Kvothe makes up a story about Chronicler, he claims he has a sword of paper that can cut you from anywhere if he writes your name on it.
  • Country Matters: When Simmon and Fela act out Ambrose's argument with Fela, Simmon substitutes the word "bint" for what Ambrose called Fela, saying that the actual word shouldn't be repeated even under friendly circumstances.
  • Cruel Mercy: What Kvothe did to Alleg with the waterskin.
  • Darker and Edgier: Than the first book. YMMV, but Kvothe kills a lot of people in this book, and in some pretty nasty ways. Also, a lot more sex. The author got complaints about the sex, but violence and torture? Apparently fine.
  • Deadpan Snarker: "That's us," Sim said agreeably. "We are chock full of arcane secrets." "We tinker with dark forces better left alone," Wil said nonchalantly.
  • Don't Explain the Joke: When Elodin asks his class for examples of things that can't be explained, one student supplies "humor," saying that if you have to explain a joke, it's not longer a joke.
  • Door Stopper: Parodied in this Goblins strip/ad for the book. It has one hundred and fifty two chapters, clocking in at nearly 1,000 pages.
  • Dope Slap: Many of the Adem do this, namely Shehyn, Vashet and Tempi. Kvothe notes this and laughs when Shehyn does it to Vashet.
  • Double Meaning: When he meets the Ruh impersonators, Kvothe makes a series of misleading statements to them that all have a chilling double meaning.
    • When Kvothe persuades Anne to let him try the stew while it's cooking, she says it won't be her fault if his stomach starts aching. He laughs and says, "No, Mother, it won't be your fault." It will be his own fault, because he is secretly adding poison to it.
    • Kvothe declares, "Anyone who does not enjoy this fine stew is hardly one of the Ruh in my opinion." The false Ruh who eat the stew will not enjoy it, because it is now poisoned.
    • He asks them if they know how to play "Piper Wit." When they don't, he picks up his lute and says, "Let me. It's a song every one of us should know." A real Ruh would have known the song.
    • When they ask how long he will travel with them, he replies, "Until no one objects to my leaving." After he kills them all, he asks their corpses if any of them object to his leaving. They don't.
    • He declares, "I swear on my mother's milk, none of you will ever make a better deal than the one you made with me tonight." None of the fake Ruh will survive to make another deal.
  • Do You Want to Copulate?: The Adem are like this. They consider sex to be nothing particularly special, to the point where Kvothe's teacher asks the question almost verbatim when she realizes he is Distracted by the Sexy. Kvothe delicately states that her lovemaking is as blunt and utilitarian as her offer.
  • Dramatic High Perching: Kvothe likes to sit on roofs of the University at night and play his lute. That's where he meets Auri.
  • Dramatic Pause: When singing his song to Felurian, Kvothe pauses to get her to attention right before serving her with a Backhanded Compliment.
  • The Dreaded: The Cthaeh, a being that can see the future perfectly and is one of the most evil things in existence. It specializes in creating butterflies of doom by acting as a malicious oracle, telling visitors whatever truths will cause the most damage. And if that weren't enough, the flowers that surround it act as a panacea so there's always someone trying to talk to it. Bast says that he would rather fight all the Chandrian together than exchange ten words with the Cthaeth. There is an ancient order of immortal Fae, wielding bows that can kill a man with perfect accuracy from half a mile off. Their only purpose is to make sure no one speaks to the Cthaeth, and no one even goes near anyone who went near it.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: This book ends on a slightly brighter point of Kvothe's story, with him surrounded by friends, able to study freely at The university, and moderately wealthy for the first time in his life. However, Kvothe mentions that going forward a bit, things get darker real quick, so this is just a Hope Spot.
  • Eccentric Mentor: Master Elodin was a child prodigy mage who went mad. By the present time, he's gotten better, but he's still an odd mix of Cloud Cuckoolander, Bunny-Ears Lawyer and Absent-Minded Professor. He's also the one professor at the University who Kvothe is determined to study with the most... even in the face of Elodin's cryptic interactions and outright discouragement.
  • Eloquent in My Native Tongue: Subverted with Tempi. He speaks with broken grammar, yet seems to be very wise and knowledgeable. When Kvothe gets to Ademre, he finds out that most Adem can speak Aturian fluently; Tempi is an exception.
  • Escalating War: Kvothe deliberately tries to avoid antagonizing Ambrose more after the events of Name of the Wind so as to not escalate things between them even further, but Ambrose is still on a personal crusade against him, using his wealth to make sure Kvothe can't get a patron and drugging Kvothe's on the day of his admission and even making a mommet of Kvothe to torture him. To the point that when Kvothe is believed to have died on a trip in the sea, all of Kvothe's friends at the university believe Ambrose was somehow involved with it.
  • Everything Sounds Sexier in French: Kvothes says that the Modegan accent "practically sweats sex".
  • Exact Words: Many of Kvothe's statements to the Ruh impersonators have a Double Meaning, with the implied meaning being a False Reassurance and the Exact Words being a threat.
  • Failure Hero: Kvothe believes this about himself, which is why he is hiding out as an innkeeper.
  • The Fair Folk: Felurian, The Sithe, The Cthaeh, Bast... we hear about a few more, as well.
  • False Reassurance: Several of Kvothe's statements to the false Ruh sound like he's completely on board with their behavior, but his words have a dangerous Double Meaning.
  • Famed In-Story: Kvothe, partly due to his own efforts.
  • Fantastic Racism: Various ethnicities have stereotypes against each other. People think the Cealdim are obsessed with money, due to the abundance of Cealdish moneylenders and the strength of their currency. A lot of people hate the Edema Ruh, believing them to be thieves and kidnappers, which is actually untrue. Kvothe tells a story that portrays several nationalities by their stereotypes, then lionizes the Edema Ruh. It offends his audience.
  • Fantastic Slurs: Ravel is a slur against the Edema Ruh. As Kvothe puts it, "its use makes light of the systematic slaughter of thousands of Ruh." Shim seems to be a slur against Cealdish people, as it denotes a low-value piece of their currency; Simmon mentions that Ambrose called Wilem this at one point.
  • Fetish: Kvothe finds it extremely erotic to see a woman playing an instrument.
  • Flipping the Bird:
    • When Kvothe is in the process of trying to connect with Tempi, the two stop at a tavern and accidentally start a bar fight. One of the patrons makes a gesture "that you didn't need to be Adem to understand," shortly before Tempi makes short work of both the patron and their crew.
    • Kvothe makes a gesture that is "not Ademic" at Carceret that causes her to narrow her eyes.
  • Foe Cooties: Kvothe gets in a very dark mood once he sees Ambrose and Denna together in a date.
  • Foreshadowing: Full of this.
    • The researching on the Adem and Denna's letter about meeting a mercenary lead up to Kvothe's training with them. Learning about playing a "beautiful game" of tak from Bredon hints at the philosophy of Lethani.
    • An offhand reference to the persecution of the Edema Ruh begins at the start and eventually culminates in the encounter with Lady Lackless.
    • Bast's strange reaction to Kvothe being mugged is a sign that he paid the soldiers to rob the inn.
    • "There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man." Kvothe runs afoul of all three.
    • The rhyme regarding the rings worn by Kvothe can be considered this; he acquires rings of wood, bone, and iron (at least) in his travels.
    • Invoked at the same time as Brick Joke in universe by the Cthaeh:
      The Cthaeh: The Maer has already come close to the Amyr, though he doesn't realize it. Stick by the Maer and he will lead you to their door. [thin, dry chuckle] Whatever else you might forget, remember what I just said. Eventually you'll get the joke. I guarantee you'll laugh when the time comes.
  • Forest Ranger: The Sithe are Fae archers who stalk the forest surrounding The Cthaeh to kill anyone who talks to it, since it's omniscient and picks the ending to every conversation that causes the most chaos in the world.
  • For the Evulz: Why the Cthaeh brings misery on people. It's "perfectly malicious." It admits as much when talking about why it kills the butterflies around it.
  • Genre Blindness: Rather perplexingly, given how Genre Savvy he usually is, Kvothe does not realize that Elodin's inane and pointless requests are not designed to directly give answers, but to enable a person to find the answers themselves, until long after he has left the class. This directly ties back to his Fatal Flaw: impatience.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: Bast panics when he realizes Kvothe spoke to the Cthaeh. The Chronicler snaps him out of it with a slap, which is the opposite of their usual interactions.
  • G-Rated Sex: The Adem culture considers music to be an incredibly intimate experience. When explaining this to Kvothe, his Adem friends compare their regard for music to most cultures' regard for sex. (The Adem have plenty of sex: it's just not a very big deal, compared with, say, a song.) Unfortunately for Kvothe, a trouper and musician at heart, they also equate musicians with prostitutes.
  • Gratuitous Iambic Pentameter: Kvothe ends up spending some time in the Fae world, where most conversations seem to be carried out in rhyming couplets. It's implied that this is a somewhat whimsical form of amusement, rather than a natural speech pattern.
  • Hand Signals: The entire Adem culture uses hand signals to denote emotions instead of facial expressions.
  • Hard Light: The shaed Felurian makes for Kvothe uses shadow for cloth and light for thread.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Denna rescues a runaway girl forced to play prostitute to make ends meet from a violent client, then has a long talk with her. Denna Discusses and Deconstructes this. If this girl is going to be a prostitute, this best way to do it. But it's ultimately still prostitution: it still means being bribed to endure sex with men you don't desire.
    Denna: [grimly] No. Don't lie to yourself. Even the fanciest horse is still a horse. That means sooner or later, you're going to get ridden.
  • Idiot Ball: Shehyn, the wise master of an Adem school, assigns Carceret the role of safely dueling Kvothe as part of his stone trial, in spite of the fact that Carceret has been flamboyantly hostile to Kvothe at every opportunity and is monstrously offended that he has been given her mother's sword. Sure enough, Carceret swears to cripple Kvothe if she can get the opportunity.
  • I Know Your True Name:
    • Kvothe gets the upper hand on Felurian this way.
    • He fakes this with Dedan when he gets too unruly, as well.
  • Impostor-Exposing Test: Kvothe casually asks a band of Ruh if they know the song "Piper Wit." The fact that they do not confirms to him that they are not who they say they are.
  • Insult Backfire:
  • Insubstantial Ingredients: Kvothe's shaed cloak the Felurian gifts him is woven — or perhaps grown — from moonlight, shadows, and magic. About what you would expect when a thousand-year-old Fae does your tailoring.
  • Intoxication Ensues: Ambrose attempts to sabotage Kvothe's admissions exam by slipping him a dose of "plum bob", an alchemical concoction that completely strips him of his inhibitions and moral grounding, but otherwise leaves them seeming clear and coherent. This includes slapping Simmon when Kvothe asks for his help and telling Fela he'd always wanted to see her naked. When asked if he would consider murdering his mortal enemy in cold blood worse than stealing a pie, he asks whether it's a meat or fruit pie. Because Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil, however, he still considers the act literally unthinkable.
  • Ironic Echo: Kvothe chastises Ambrose about the danger of candles after he anonymously burns Ambrose's room, echoing Ambrose's comment in The Name of the Wind when Ambrose tricks Kvothe into bringing a candle into the Archives.
    Kvothe: Candles are dangerous things. Honestly boy, I don't know what you were thinking. You'd think a member of the Arcanum would have more sense.
  • "Just So" Story: Elodin asks Kvothe during his exams. "Where does the moon go when it is not in the sky?" It was the one question he genuinely did not know. Cue several chapters later, a companion of his tells a childhood story explaining how a young boy learned the moon's name and trapped part of the name in a box. Later events show that the Just So Story is essentially true (except it was a Master Namer, not a boy, and the "box" was actually Another Dimension where The Fair Folk live).
  • Lame Pun Reaction: When challenging Bast to break into his storage chest, Kvothe tells him to "crack this chestnut." Bast chastises him for punning.
  • Least Rhymable Word: Kvothe is interrupted in the middle of a song, right after he sings a line that ends in "silver." We never do find out what on earth he was planning to rhyme it with.
  • "Leave Your Quest" Test:
    • The beautiful Fae woman Felurian seduces travelers and adventurers and makes them stay with her as her lovers for as long as she desires (they eventually die or go mad either as a result of sexual exhaustion or because Felurian simply bores with them and sends them away). The protagonist Kvothe was the only one who managed to evade this fate by using his cunning wits.
    • Deconstructed in Hespe's story about a man called Jax who fell in love with the Moon. While chasing after her, he met a wise old hermit who was a skilled Listener, and the hermit invited Jax to stay with him and learn the art of Listening. Jax refused and managed to make the Moon come to him instead, but in doing so, he tweaked the basic laws of the Universe and caused the Creation War (and the Moon still slipped away from Jax sometimes, since he didn't managed to capture her fully). The story implies that staying with the old hermit would have been the better option.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Two thugs stop in to rob Kote's inn. Kote attempts to fight them. He loses.
  • Little Miss Badass: Kvothe is paired with a fighter of a comparable level of skill to his own. This turns out to be Celean, a little girl no more than ten years old. She wins. Over and over again.
  • Living Aphrodisiac: The Felurian's innate magic makes her supernaturally desirable to people she wants to seduce, and she seems to have control of this power. Kvothe does note that even without she's still a Headturning Beauty and a Sex Goddess without it.
  • Magic Music: It's implied that the "true names" of faeries sound like musical notes. The Adem, who consider singing indecent, mention "songs of power" in one very old story.
  • Matriarchy: Adem society is a Patriarchy Flip. The Adem all believe that women are morally and physically superior to men. One female Adem says with some pity that men have absolutely nothing to contribute to the world.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Considering the way sympathy works, some of the audience wondered what's stopping you from using a person or a corpse as a mommet. The answer? Absolutely nothing. There's a reason they used to burn sympathists at the stake.
  • Meaningful Name: In-world, names are very important to say the least. Many (possibly most) of the names in the story are inspired by words in various Real Life languages.
  • Mirror Character: Kvothe and Denna. Both stay somewhere where they're abused because it's the only place they can learn what they want to learn.
  • Mook Horror Show:
    • Near the end of the book Kvothe dispassionately hunts down and kills the false troopers who have kidnapped and raped a pair of girls while pretending to be Ruh. Recognising the brutality of what he has done actually gives him nightmares wherein he sees himself as a pitiless monster hunting down his actual family.
    • When Kvothe and the Maer's mercenary group track the bandits who stole the Maer's tax money and attack their camp, Kvothe uses sympathy to systematically and mercilessly kill most of the bandits.
  • Mr. Fanservice: During the entire expedition in the woods of Vintas, Tempi usually wears his skin-tight mercenary reds. Except the time that he spends most of the day stripped to the waist, or the times when Kvothe and Hespa discover that the Adem have no nudity taboo.
  • Ms. Fanservice: The Felurian is a supernaturally beautiful Fae who is nude for all of her appearances. Kvothe keeps describing how gorgeous she is during his whole time with her.
  • Muggle in Mage Custody: Felurian, a magical Fae being, seduces and enslaves human men with her charms, bending them to her will. Eventually they either die of sexual exhaustion, or are driven mad by lust after she abandons them.
  • Muscles Are Meaningless: A discussed trope. Vashet states to Kvothe that women are better fighters than men because they are more moral and therefore understand their fighting style better. He asks about men's superior reach and strength, which she dismisses as irrelevant, asserting that strength has very little to do with fighting ability. Since the Adem are far and away the most skilled warriors in the world, their views are apparently justified.
  • Mysterious Employer: Denna is working for a mysterious patron who Kvothe nicknames "Master Ash", who hires her to research ancient events and recast a mythical villain as a hero for unknown reasons.
  • Named Weapons: Kvothe receives the 2000-year-old sword Saicere by the Adem once he becomes a member of the school and is required to memorize the names and deeds of its 236 previous owners. He renames it Caesura, a word for the jarring break in a line of perfect verse.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Kvothe states that Elodin launches into a blistering string of curses that goes on for minutes, but never reveals any of the curses uttered. He also never describes the rude gestures made by various characters, nor explicitly states that they're vulgar.
  • The Needs of the Many:
    • The Amyr's credo is Ivare Enim Euge, which translates to For the greater good.
    • The Duke of Gibea, thought to be an Amyr in hiding by Kvothe, killed tens of thousands of people in medical experiments that resulted in "the most thorough [work] ever done" on the human body and physique, and the research has likely saved ten times more people than he killed.
  • Never Bring a Knife to a Fist Fight: Kvothe profoundly disappoints his Adem Proud Warrior Race Guy friend Tempi by pulling a knife during a Bar Brawl. The Adem practice a combined philosophy and Fantastic Fighting Style that emphasizes knowing and doing what's right, which is at odds with Kvothe's Combat Pragmatism.
  • No Guy Wants an Amazon: Notably averted by the Adem. The women are thought to be stronger fighters, yet they're screwing so often that no one, over the course of several thousand years, has figured out that sex has something to do with reproduction. That's a lot of screwing.
  • Noodle Implements: One version of the tale about Kvothe saving the girls from bandits involves him requesting an egg and several nails from a tinker. He doesn't mention how the tale has him using these items.
  • Noodle Incident: "Chapter Fifty Two: A Brief Journey." Also, Kvothe's trial in Imre, which he skips because it bores him.
  • Oblivious to Love: Kvothe is completely oblivious to Fela's obvious crush on him, something both Simmon and Wil tease him about. After his half-year absence from the University, he becomes more aware of it, but by that point, Fela has already moved on with Simmon.
  • Oh, Crap!: Many, many times. But probably the most notable was when Bast hears that Kvothe has spoken to The Cthaeh.
  • Old Master: Shehyn of the Adem looks like a grandmother but leads her village's school of legendary fighters as a teacher. Downplayed in that when she battles one of her much younger students, the student much more energetic vs Shehyn's measured movements - Shehyn loses. Kvothe wonders if this means the one who beat her is the leader now, which the member he's talking to finds amusing. Not only would it be ridiculous to base their leadership off of who wins a single fight, but Shehyn is very old. It's not realistic to expect her to always beat someone with much more energy. Of course, Shehyn is still extremely good.
  • The Omniscient: The Cthaeh, who can see all possible futures perfectly, and is "perfectly malicious." It knows the exact outcome of every single possible action it could ever make, and always chooses the one that will cause the most harm to the world. Bast describes people who come into contact with it as "plague ships sailing for a harbor," because their actions will set up terrible events to occur. Bast describes it as infinitely more dangerous than even the apparent Big Bad of the series, the Chandrian. In fact, Haliax himself turned evil after a meeting with The Cthaeh. Chronicler, however, isn't quite as convinced that it can have as much influence as Bast believes. The Fae in general however are so afraid of it that they kill anyone who talks to it from out of hearing range. And then shoot the crows that come for the body, too.
  • Omniscient Morality License: Averted with The Omniscient faerie oracle The Ctaeh, who is regarded by the Fae as the most malicious being in existence. It uses its omniscience to guide whoever converses with it to their doom (and normally to cause massive chaos in the outside world). An entire faction of Sidhe exists just to keep everyone away.
  • Out of Time, Out of Mind: Kvothe spends a vague amount of time in the Fae world, and when he finally comes back to his time to his companions, it's explained to him that he was gone for only a couple days, but he looks older and has an unshaved beard. His own theory is that he was gone no less than a month and probably at least a year.
  • Personalized Pledge: The series contains many whimsical and original vows. It seems to be part of their culture to swear by features of the natural world, such as the moon, stone, or trees. Not all unique vows are deeply personal, but some are.
    • When discussing how to help Auri, Kvothe extracts this promise from Elodin.
      Elodin: I'm not going to send anyone to take her in. Haven is the proper place for some folk. It's the only place for a lot of them. But I wouldn't wish a mad dog locked there if there were a better option.
      Kvothe: That's not good enough. I need you to promise.
      Elodin: I swear on my mother's milk. I swear on my name and my power. I swear it by the ever-moving moon.
    • The most important one in the series is this:
      Kvothe: I'll swear it, if that will set your mind at ease.
      Denna: What would you swear it on? What's important enough that it will hold you to your word?
      Kvothe: [...] I swear it on my name and my power. I swear it by my good left hand. I swear it by the ever-moving moon.
Kvote is a talented lute player. When a right-handed person plays a stringed instrument, the right hand does the comparatively simple task of strumming while the left hand does the more complicated job of forming notes. This oath is not explicitly stated to be a Magically-Binding Contract, but it's sure implied that it is, considering that the Framing Device is this story being told by an older Kvote — one without powers and going by a different name.
  • Playing Cyrano: Kvothe is asked to help the wealthy Maer Alveron court Lady Meluan Lackless. He succeeds and they get married, but afterward he's quietly sent away when Meluan learns that Kvothe is an Edema Ruh. Of course, she hates Ruh because her sister ran off with one, and it's no stretch to conclude her sister is Kvothe's mother.
  • Politeness Judo: Kvothe spins this into a respected position when he visits the Vintish court. As an outsider enjoying the Maer's hospitality, courtly etiquette suggests that the nobles treat him as an equal until they can determine how his pedigree compares to the Vintish ranking system. He draws this out until his assumed rank settles somewhere in the middle of the noble hierarchy, and the court remains none the wiser that he's a penniless commoner in his homeland.
  • Precision F-Strike: Bast delivers the only instance of the f-word as of yet after Kvothe gets done talking about The Cthaeh.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Any Adem mercenary. Played with in that they are extremely practical in terms of doing what it takes to win.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: When Kvothe gets drugged with a poison that completely removes his ability to judge morality, he can't figure out which is worse, killing a man or stealing a pie. But when it's suggested he might ravage Fela if he saw her naked, he just says, "I could never do that. Just like I couldn't eat a stone or walk through a wall."
  • Rapid-Fire "Shut Up!": Bast does this as Kvothe tries to convince him that he did in fact speak with The Cthaeh.
  • Really Royalty Reveal: Kvothe is heavily implied to be a slightly inverted example. Turns out his mother may have been a Vintish noblewoman who eloped with a Edema Ruh. Unfortunately, the implications come when his prospective patron is about to marry his aunt, who now has a serious grudge against the Edema Ruh.
  • Remember When You Blew Up a Sun?: Kvothe references his past experience with Master Elodin after convincing Vashet to be his teacher.
    Vashet: I will admit, I've never had a student offer himself up for a vicious beating in order to prove he's worth my time.
    Kvothe: That was nothing. Once I jumped off a roof.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: After Kvothe's involvement in a shipwreck, everyone at the University thought he was dead.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: Kvothe notices that almost all hard fact concerning the Amyr has been either removed or muddied, creating a consistently inaccurate mess. Later, the Maer corroborates this.
  • Rewriting Reality: Invoked by Kvothe, who tells Old Cob a fib that Chronicler has this power.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Felurian often speaks in rhyme, and Kvothe lapses into it when he's with her. He and Denna also engage in some of it as repartee. Simmon can compose verse on the spot as well.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Caudicus's motive for trying to poison to Maer. After he's caught, Kvothe asks about it, but Stapes refuses to discuss the matter.
  • Right Makes Might: The Adem claim that being morally superior and having more self-control makes women better fighters.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: This is apparently Elodin's Berserk Button. He's rumored to have started a Bar Brawl with a man who wouldn't stop saying "utilize" instead of "use." Another version of the rumor is that the man wouldn't stop saying "moreover."
  • Screw The Rules, You Make Them!: Meluan Lackless tells the Maer Alveron this, after Kvothe confesses to the vigilante murder of a band of false troupers who had kidnapped and repeatedly raped a pair of teenage girls. She believes that what Kvothe did was right (although her own prejudice towards the Edema Ruh plays a huge part), and that the Maer should grant Kvothe lands and title, but the Maer argues that no man, including himself, is above the law. He states that if he were to regard himself as this, anarchy would result.
    Maer Alveron: My dear, I don't care for them much more than you, but law is law. When—
    Meluan Lackless: Law is what you make it!
  • Sex Goddess: The Felurian is a infamous Fae considered the most beautiful and insatiable woman in the known worlds. Her sexual prowess is such that her lovers are known to die by exhaustion or sheer pleasure. The few who escape are driven mad them because they will never experience anything like it again. Kvothe manages to survive the experience with his sanity intact by charming her with his songs, and while singing a song about her, he deliberately understates her sexual prowess which leaves her indignant but he argues that he wouldn't know better since he was a virgin before they coupled and thus Felurian agrees to let him leave so he may experience the love of other women, and return to her when he is able to accurately describe Felurian's skill. But not before teaching him several of her "lovemaking arts" as she also doesn't want him to bring shame on her by being a poor lover, thus turning Kvothe into a Sex God of his own.
  • Sexual Karma: The Adem consider themselves to be on a higher moral level than "barbarians," and part of that is their total lack of sexual inhibitions. However, Felurian is completely amoral, and has terrific sex as well.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Kvothe introduces the mercenaries he's traveling with to this trope, with a story of a child born with a golden screw for a belly button, who goes in search of why he was born that way. It takes an entire page to tell, and the end of the story is that he finds the screwdriver that fits the screw, and when it's unscrewed, his rear end falls off. As none of his companions have ever heard a shaggy dog story before, their reactions are... amusing. Kvothe actually intentionally told it to them so they stop asking him for stories.
  • Shock and Awe: There's a thunderstorm when the mercenary band confronts the bandits. Kvothe puts this to good use in a terrifying display of Sympathy and physics.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Caudicus, the Maer's arcanist, has a stuffed crocodile hanging from his ceiling.
    • Kvothe's "I don't believe in faeries" line upon meeting Felurian is a Shout-Out to Peter Pan.
  • Simple, yet Opulent: The Maer Alveron opts to display his wealth with a simple set of clothes that always looks like new. The implication is that he is rich enough to wear nothing but new clothes. Kvothe is amazed at this understated display of wealth.
  • So Proud of You: Tempi explains how the Adem language works, giving an example that instead of saying "you are beautiful" to a woman, one might simply say the word "beautiful". Shortly afterward, he says "Proud" to Kvothe in this manner, clearly showing that he's proud of him.
  • Speak of the Devil: The Chandrian know when you speak their true names. This is how and why they tracked down and killed Kvothe's family.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": The Cthaeh. It's not clear if this is a name, or a title, or both.
  • Spontaneous Generation: The Adem culture believe that babies just sort of happen and are completely unable to accept the idea that men have anything to do with their creation, to the point of openly mocking and logically (for a given value of logic) rejecting Kvothe's assertion to the contrary.
  • Standard Royal Court: The court of the Maer of Vintas. Since we're seeing this story from Kvothe's point of view, it comes off as a bit of a Decadent Court.
  • Starving Student: Kvothe's struggle to come up with his tuition money continues to drive the plot.
  • Stealing from the Till: Kvothe's arrangement with the University's bursar allows them both to embezzle money from the Maer.
  • Stealth Pun: Part of the theory that Kvothe's mother is Meluan Lackless's (Lockless's) sister is based in a song written by Kvothe's father that Kvothe sings in The Wise Man's Fear. One of the lines is "It's worth my life to make my wife not tally a lot less". Meluan's sister's name was revealed as Netalia. Therefore, Kvothe's father wrote "It's worth my life to make my wife Netalia Lockless.
  • The Stoic: The Adem believe that showing emotion in public is unseemly. They're so committed to maintaining stoic expressions that they instead use hand signals to express emotion and add subtext to their words.
  • Sublime Rhyme: Felurian speaks almost entirely in rhymes. As mentioned above, Kvothe and Denna also get into the act when bantering. More easily noticed in the audiobook.
  • Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: Sympathy and Alchemy, analyzed to the point that they aren't even considered magic anymore by those who are familiar with them. To the rest of the world however, they are still just as arcane.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Downplayed, Kvothe enters a Friends with Benefits relationship with his Adem mentor Vashet. She just views it as a way of keeping his mind on the training instead of on finding her distracting.
  • Their First Time: Kvothe loses his virginity to the mythical Felurian, a Fae seductress know for fornicating her lovers to death by exhaustion. The fact he was a virgin actually contributed to the fact he managed to escape her alive and sane, since he argued to her that he couldn't tell how good she is at sex since he had nothing to compare it to. So she lets him to so he may experience other women.
  • Too Clever by Half:
    • Invoked by Elodin as a reason he's not keen on teaching Kvothe.
    • Kvothe, in turn, thinks this of the Maer after he's sent on what appears to be a suicide mission, realizing that the Maer stands to gain in any eventuality.
  • Took a Level in Badass: After Kvothe studies with the Adem.
  • Tranquil Fury: Kvothe's reaction towards Denna's patron beating her.
    It wasn't hot and furious, as some of my flashes of temper tend to be. This was different, slow and cold.
  • Training from Hell: Kvothe's time among the Adem, which leads to whippings, being constantly belittled and humiliated for being a barbarian, and on several occasions being tossed around by a 10-year-old girl.
  • Undressing the Unconscious: When Kvothe faints at the fishery from the heat (caused by a a Mommets), he wakes up in Medica next to Mola with all of his clothes gone and under a Modesty Bedsheet. He's actually far more distressed that she undressed him because it means she noticed all the injures he got when he fell off the roof while escaping Ambrose's room at the inn. He and Wil eventually convince her to keep it a secret.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Elodin decided to enter the Masters' Hall one night by climbing on the rooftop, then knocking on the glass window like a door. Lorren responded to this by unhinging the window and saying hello. (He's probably seen Elodin do much stranger things.)
  • Urban Segregation: Severen is both vertically and horizontally stratified: the rich live in Severen-High, which is up a cliff face called The Sheer, while the lower classes are confined to Severen-Low, near the docks.
  • Vestigial Empire: The Aturan Empire, is still sizable in Kvothe’s time, but it used to be much larger and more powerful. The entire land of Vintas used to be part of it.
  • Villains Never Lie: The Cthaeh possesses perfect knowledge of possible futures and absolute malice toward everything. While all the advice it gives to heroes is absolutely true, it will always steer the listener toward disaster.
  • Violin Scam: Denna's foolish boyfriend Geoffrey falls for a variant known as "the weeping widow". In this variant, a woman stands weeping outside a pawnshop and when questioned by an apparent Good Samaritan claims that the man who was helping her sell her valuable wedding ring pawned it for a fraction of its value and ran off with the money. The woman and the "Good Samaritan" agree to meet the following day at noon to get the ring out of hock and sell it together. Usually, the "Good Samaritan" buys the ring on his own before the woman comes back, and the woman and her accomplice the pawnbroker spilt the money. Geoffrey, however, was one of those rare men who show up right on time. Denna, who has run this con herself, finds it dishonorable of her fellow conwoman to keep a decent guy's money.
  • Virgin Power: An interesting variation: When Kvothe meets Felurian, a faerie seductress who is so skilled in lovemaking that men either die by exhaustion or are driven mad. He's never been with a woman before she seduces him and she takes his virginity. Afterwards, his plan to escape her involves exploiting his inexperience: he composes a beautiful song about her, but she's rather offended when he sings of his experience with her being "nice" and that her "skills suffice". So he explains that that was his first time and he has no basis for comparison. As such, she ought to let him go so he can gain enough experience with women and compose a song that will do her justice. It works.
  • The Voice: The Cthaeh at first appears to be a talking tree, but it's actually some sort of entity that lives in the tree that is never glimpsed. It's unclear if it even has a physical body.
  • Voodoo Doll: Mommets, a key component in Malfeasance. Ambrose makes one of Kvothe as part of their escalating "prank" war. Though an actual corpse serves this purpose later on in a grisly and disturbing fashion. There's a reason people used to burn arcanists at the stake.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Skarpi has yet to reappear, and we haven't heard anything about his fate.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Marten is rightfully freaked out when Kvothe kills the bandits using sympathy with a corpse.
    • Quite a few people are alarmed at the fact that he killed the fake Edema Ruh.
  • Wise Tree: The Cthaeh is an evil Wise Tree, though it might be a being sealed within the tree, not the tree itself.
  • Worth It: When Kvothe returns to the University after a half-year absence, during his readmission interview, Master Hemme declares that he had heard Kvothe was dead (in tones that implied he wished it was true). Kvothe responds by saying he heard the teacher wears a racy red corset as proof that one shouldn't believe everything they hear. He's immediately charged with Improper Address of a Master and fined for his insolence. He declares it money well spent.
  • Wrong Assumption:
    • When strange things start happening with Kvothe (fainting from heat, feeling unbearably chill, feeling being stabbed by invisible knives) him, Wil and Sim comes up with a variety of plausible theories before they finally narrow it down to Mommets.
    • When Kvothe is investigating who created a mommet of him, he accuses his money lender Devi of being the culprit, since she takes samples of blood from students (necessary to a mommet of someone) of The University as collateral for her loans. This turns out to be false, as Ambrose is revealed to be the true perpetrator, but this creates a feud between Devi and Kvothe for a while. Thankfully for him, Mola intervenes to patch things up between the two.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Maer of Alveron's scheme to send Kvothe after bandits would result in either the bandits being removed or severely weaken the Maer's debt to Kvothe. It also gets Kvothe out of the way so as not to interfere with the Maer's courtship.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: When Kvothe enters the Fae realm with Felurian, he lives there with her through months of experiences. When he returns to the mortal world, he finds only three days have passed.
  • Your Mom: Tam attempts to pick a fight with Tempi by suggesting that Tempi's mother was a whore. This falls rather flat as (a) Tempi is unfamiliar with the Aturan word for "whore" and (b) Ademic culture does not have a stigma against prostitution.
  • You Need to Get Laid: Elodin says this to one of his students after the latter tells him a long and complex bit of trivia:
    Elodin: Wow. Uresh. Your next assignment is to have sex. If you do not know how to do this, see me after class.
  • You Owe Me: Near the end of the book, Kvothe deduces that Loan Shark Devi's true business scheme is to purposely get people indebted to her so they would owe her favors, and she actually cares very little for money itself.
    Devi: Money is nice. But the world is full of things that people would never sell. Favors and obligation are worth far, far more.
  • Your Normal Is Our Taboo: The Adem. They have no cultural taboos about nudity or sex but are horrified if anyone were to even think about performing any kind of music in public. This stems from their belief that displaying emotion in public is uncivilized and should only be done in private with those you are closest to, as such their language involves intricate hand signals to get the meaning of your words across. Just raising your voice is extremely rude but showing your emotions with music, with just anyone, night after night for just a few coins would make you the equivalent of the cheapest, most tawdry kind of whore imaginable.
  • You Remind Me of X: Denna rescues a runaway girl forced to play prostitute to make ends meet from a violent client. Then she takes her to a tavern and has a long hard truth talk with her. The girl reminds Denna of her own younger self.
    Denna: You poor, silly thing. Meeting you is worse than looking in a mirror. […] [I'm helping you] because someone helped me once when I needed it. And because if you don't get some help you'll be dead in a span of days. Take it from someone who's made her own share of bad decisions.

This thing happened, though it was years and miles away. I have heard it from the mouths of the Edema Ruh, and thus I know it to be true.