Bloody Hands Into Stinging Fists
If this isn’t the name of a low budget 90’s martial arts movie I’ll eat my hat.
Kvothe and his ride arrive at a large city named Tarbean. I don’t think tar beans would taste very nice.
Seth, the cart driver who picked him up last time, somehow only now realizes that Kvothe is in a spot of bother and drops some fairly obvious hints that he wants Kvothe to come and live with him and his son at their farm but Kvothe awkwardly refuses, afraid that accepting a new home will mean facing up to the reality of what happened. Daaaawwwwww. Although this just makes the six month time skip from the previous chapter even more out of place.
I know we’re supposed to see Seth as a kind-hearted sort but it doesn’t reflect well on him that he didn’t just make Kvothe stay with them. He’s only twelve and clearly not alright psychologically, so letting him go off on his own in a large city feels like a huge mistake. I know this is ye olde gritty fantasy times where men are men and social services don’t exist, but even still.
Predictably, Kvothe gets lost among the poorly described winding alleyways and roads as wide as rivers and is accosted by two older boys.
“I’m looking for the Woodworks,” I muttered, slightly stunned.
Pike’s expression turned murderous. His hands grabbed my shoulders. “Did I ask you a question?” he shouted. “Did I say you could talk?” He slammed his forehead into my face and I felt a sharp crack followed by an explosion of pain.
These guys remind me of the over the top bullies in Ender’s Game. Maybe this just reflects my limited life experience but irrationally violent thugs seem to be way more common in genre fiction than they are in real life.
The boys go to steal Kvothe’s lute and one of them gets all scared because they use Tehlu’s name in vain, and I guess Tehlu is the local God or zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Sorry, I had an attack of fantasy world-building narcolepsy. This entire sequence is just so cliched I’m having trouble staying awake.
Anyway the religious guy and the dude holding Kvothe start fighting, giving Kvothe a chance to attack the one who stole his lute. I was afraid Rothfuss was going to have Kvothe pull out improbable fighting skills and kick his ass, but nope. He gets in two surprise attacks before the older boy begins smashes his head against a wall and throws him to the ground, crushing the lute. The three of them kick Kvothe around a bit more before the city watch shows up and they have to run off.
But none of them pay much attention to Kvothe and after confirming that the lute is broken beyond repair he limps off to go find Seth and Jake and take them up on their offer. That a boy, Kvothe! You’re only, like, five hours late but at least you got the right idea eventually.
Unfortunately Seth has already left by the time he gets there and so Kvothe resigns himself to spending the night in the city.
That was the first night of nearly three years I spent in Tarbean.
…..or he first of several nights, I guess. We better get a good explanation for why Kvothe would choose to stay in a city when he seems to be remarkably adept at surviving in the wilderness. Once again, the six month time skip is causing narrative problems and I don’t understand why it was included.
Despite the stereotypical Saturday morning cartoon bullies this was undoubtedly the best chapter in the book so far. Stuff is actually happening, there are real emotional and physical stakes and Kvothe is as far as he’s ever been from the Renaissance Ubermensch he’s been since the start of the story.
We open chapter twenty-one a month later, with Kvothe begging on the streets of Tarbean:
I was begging in Merchant’s Circle and so far the day had profited me two kicks (one guard, one mercenary), three shoves (two wagoneers, one sailor), one new curse concerning an unlikely anatomical configuration (also from the sailor), and a spray of spittle from a rather unendearing elderly man of indeterminate occupation.
I once again have to wonder why he doesn’t leave the city and put those excellent wilderness survival skills to the test. In the previous chapter he claimed it was “too far” with too much farmland in between the city and the forest. Apparently it’s harder to find food and shelter in cultivated farmland? That seems a little dubious to me. Once again Rothfuss runs up against the completely unnecessary problem Kvothe’s survival skills have created for the story.
Or here’s another idea, why not hang around the place where Seth and Jake were to see if they come back? They probably come into the city to sell stuff all the time.
Kvothe sees some other beggers running off excitedly somewhere and decides to follow them. They enter the basement of a house and emerge with fresh bread, prompting Kvothe to head down as well.
I don’t know what I expected, but it was nothing like what I found. Two ancient lamps burned fish oil, throwing dim shadows against the dark stone walls. There were six cots in the room, all occupied. Two children that were hardly more than babies shared a blanket on the stone floor, and another was curled up in a pile of rags. A boy my age sat in a dark corner, his head pressed against the wall.
One of the boys moved slightly on his cot, as if stirring in his sleep. But something was wrong with the movement. It was too strained, too tense. I looked closer and saw the truth. He was tied to the cot. All of them were.
Well that’s…. pretty creepy. And an abrupt change of tone.
A creepy old dude comes out of a side room spouting nonsense.
I felt the tension slowly spill out of me. Whatever was going on here, it didn’t seem nearly as sinister as I had originally thought.
I beg to differ.
Turns out the old guy, whose name is Trapis, just wants him to pump water in exchange for bread. The kids tied to the bed are “Palsied, crippled, catatonic, spastic”. I’m getting more fantasy history dissonance here, how much do these people understand about mental illness and psychological disorders? I had the idea that even up to quite recent times conditions like that weren’t very well understood, although I could be wrong. The fact that they’re condemned to a squalid basement being cared for by a single dedicated man is sadly probably accurate.
Trapis regularly gives homeless children food and water in exchange for doing odd jobs for him, which earns him a good degree of loyalty.
Kvothe explains in a few paragraphs that he gradually came to think of Trapis and the children he looks after as something approaching a surrogate family. Naturally we don’t actually get to see any of this important character development. Rothfuss seems to have a major problem prioritizing what he’s going to spend time on; many of the chapters so far have felt extraneous and padded out, while others are rushed. I know pacing issues are common in long fantasy novels but usually it’s a case of long stretches of nothing happening. This is the first time I’ve seen a book where too much happens in too short a time.