In The Kingkiller Chronicles, Patrick Rothfuss provides some rather detailed explanation about how the arcanists' sympathy works.

Less background, but still some amount of framework, is provided for some related magics, such as sygaldry and naming.

Alchemy, on the other hand, so far has really been unexplained (I'm about halfway through A Wise Man's Fears).

All that I recall reading is some vague explanation by Simmon about "unbound principles" when discussing the plum bob that Kvothe was dosed with.

What explanation, if any, is provided for why or how alchemy works within Rothfuss' world?

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    Been a while since I read the books which is why I'm not offering this as an answer but I don't think Rothfuss has ever really explained alchemy. Based on the way most of his other "magic" works it would probably have pseudo-scientific principles and could be learned by anybody but what those are or how they work hasn't been discussed as far as I know.
    – sevvack
    Mar 19, 2014 at 20:40

4 Answers 4


The only examples of alchemy actually being performed (as they're performed, rather than after the fact) are in The Slow Regard of Silent Things.

Auri performs some alchemy to make a candle for Kvothe, but her thoughts show that she knows of a method for alchemy that even Master Mandrag is unaware of, and the whole thing is told through the lens of Auri's...unique perspective. So, it's possible that her way of performing alchemy isn't anything like what Simmon or Davi does.

I believe Rothfuss is intentionally keeping it vague, so he can have an ace up his sleeve whenever he needs something to "break the rules". Beyond alchemy, his only options for that are Naming, and fae magic...each of which are things that have to be used somewhat sparingly within the narrative; I suspect that we won't be learning many details of the alchemical process until late in The Doors of Stone, or possibly a spinoff book after the trilogy is concluded.


Say it along with Kvothe - "We know nothing about Alchemy".

Unfortunately Kvothe being our biggest source and viewpoint character, we don't get much view into something he clearly doesn't understand. Auri's viewpoint, brief and unique as it is, has more to do with feeling and less with steps and procedures. Sim's biggest contribution to our knowledge is just to say its not "chemistry with bits in", and he only stops to say so because Kvothe is being an idiot. The older Kvothe telling the story never comments with anything else learned, so its either irrelevant to his story, or only relevant at the proper time.

Rothfuss' one comment that I can find, is that it "involves the manipulation of an object's inherent principles." He may be joking, he may not; he follows it with the same saying, you know nothing about alchemy.

The most you can guess at is, given the vagaries, that they're not altering substances by mixing or reacting or any of that petty chemical stuff. Alchemy probably involves direct transmutation of substances, likely with Alar involved, so that it can react in vastly different ways than it originally could. Most of this can be drawn from the bizarre effects alchemical substances produce.

Its still all guesswork though. We know nothing about Alchemy.


Kvothe is the narrator, and he doesn't know anything about alchemy, so no explanation is offered. He does know a bit about the other forms of magic, but even naming is left as a bit of a mystery since he is less familiar with it than sympathy and sygaldry.

Perhaps in the third book we will get accounts from other characters that flesh out the alchemical theories, or perhaps it will remain a mystery forever.


In real life chemistry, 'principle' means the active chemical in a compound, the one that makes it work. It's complicated.

This is some guesswork on my part, but from what we can gather in the first two books:

Alchemy involves mixing chemicals, or "principles" and then performing something like a sympathetic binding on them. The binding nullifies the normal chemical properties of the materials and replaces them with the magical properties you'll get from using the potion.

However, the process isn't perfect. Some of the principles remain unbound and retain their normal chemical properties, which can impact the person consuming the potion. So you take the time to do some chemical processes that will neutralize the unbound principles, or in some cases, precipitate the undesirable elements so you can filter them out. And then you have to make sure the neutralizing agents themselves won't harm the consumer, and so on, so you might have to go through multiple purification rounds before it's actually safe to drink.

The amount of unbound principle remaining in your finished potion depends on a lot of things, like the Alar of the alchemist and the materials involved. For example, heavy metal compounds might be particularly resistant to binding, and an alchemist with a weak alar will get less potion and more unbound principles than an alchemist with a powerful alar.

So if you're trying to quickly brew up a potion to attack somebody you hate, you probably don't bother with purification, and the potion has a lot of unbound principles that can cause their own brand of havoc for the consumer.

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