Programming note: that busy period I mentioned a few weeks ago is now over, updates should come more quickly for the immediate future.
Through dangerous trial and error I discovered the proper way to slit a purse and pick a pocket. I was especially good at the latter. Locks and latches of all kinds soon gave up their secrets to me. My nimble fingers were put to a use my parents or Abenthy never would have guessed.
I actually quite like that Rothfuss has Kvothe resort to crime rather than insisting his protagonist must be as pure as newly fallen snow at all times.
I learned to run from anyone with an unnaturally white smile. Denner resin slowly bleaches your teeth, so if a sweet-eater lives long enough for their teeth to grow fully white, chances are they have already sold everything they have worth selling. Tarbean is full of dangerous people, but none as dangerous as a sweet-eater filled with the desperate craving for more resin. They will kill you for a pair of pennies.
Oh Rothfuss, you were so close. You clearly grasp the link between poverty and crime and the fact that many people are driven to the latter by the former, but I guess drug addicts are all dangerous psychopaths.
So “the bad parts” of Tarbean are presented as being almost supernaturally dangerous and maybe this is just my stunning middle class naivete speaking but it seems a little overplayed. We’re not talking an area ridden with crime so much as a city infested with murderous psychopaths who will fuck you up on sight for no real reason.
For example, a scene I won’t quote where a group of teenagers chases down a young boy and- as far as I can tell based on what’s described- rapes him. Apparently they got Kvothe a few months before this.
Again, I could be totally wrong here but to borrow a phrase from Ferretbrain this feels like poverty wanking. Rothfuss is determined to rub our noses in how awful Kvothe’s plight is and if he has to conjure gangs of roving child molestors and random cartoon bullies from the shadows so be it.
Okay on to chapter 25.
KVOTHE GESTURED FOR CHRONICLER to set down his pen
God damn it.
“It’s been a long time since I remembered that,” he said. “If you are eager to find the reason I became the Kvothe they tell stories about, you could look there, I suppose.”
Hey, Rothfuss? If you’re not great at writing complex characters (protip: you’re not great at writing complex characters) then you should maybe refrain from trying to psycho-analyze them because I can guarantee it’s going to sound fake.
Chronicler frowned. “You said yourself that there was nothing you could have done.”
“I could have,” Kvothe said seriously, “and I didn’t. I made my choice and I regret it to this day. Bones mend. Regret stays with you forever.”
…. How could he have stopped them? He says himself in the previous chapter that he was outnumbered and would have given away his hiding place if he tried to intervene.
“Why, Reshi?”The words poured out of Bast in a sudden gush. “Why did you stay there when it was so awful?”
Someone finally thinks to ask this. It only took what, ten chapters?
Kvothe nodded to himself, as if he had been expecting the question. “Where else was there for me to go, Bast? Everyone I knew was dead.”
“Not everyone,” Bast insisted. “There was Abenthy. You could have gone to him.”
See, Bast is just as intelligent and insightful as I am. We’re bros.
“Hallowfell was hundreds of miles away, Bast,” Kvothe said wearily as he wandered to the other side of the room and moved behind the bar
You know what you could have done? You could have found someone going there and asked for a ride. Or failing that, ask them to deliver a message. SOS, parents got super murdered in Hero’s Journey-related massacre, send help.
Or, you know, wait for Jake and Seth to come back and ask them to take you in. Remember those two? No?
“No. In Tarbean at least I could beg or steal. I’d managed to survive in the forest for a summer, barely. But over the winter?” He shook his head. “I would have starved or frozen to death.”
“Barely” my ass, the chapter about Kvothe’s wilderness survival adventure made it sound like a cakewalk. I continue to be baffled by the inclusion of this plot point and can only assume Rothfuss needed a certain amount of time to pass for reasons that haven’t been made clear yet.
Perhaps I even viewed it as fair. My punishment for not being there to help when the Chandrian came. My punishment for not dying when I should have, with the rest of my family.
Oh, fuck you.
Look I know survivor’s guilt is a real thing but “I feel guilty over this horrible event that I had no control over and couldn’t possibly have prevented” is one of the most annoyingly cliched character motivations in all of fiction. If you can’t think of a sensible for reason for Kvothe to spend years on the streets of Tarbean, don’t have him spending years on the streets of Tarbean.
“I needed to be reminded of things I had forgotten. I needed a reason to leave. It was years before I met someone who could do those things.” He smiled at Chronicler. “Before I met Skarpi.”
The Scrabble pieces fly from the shoebox and land in a heap on the floor. Rothfuss nudges one into place with his foot then sighs heavily and sits back down at his laptop, ignoring the strange looks from the other Starbucks patrons. Writing fantasy is hard work.
Meanwhile off-screen, Atlas Shrugged.
I HAD BEEN IN Tarbean for years at this point. Three birthdays had slipped by unnoticed and I was just past fifteen.
Kvothe was twelve when he learned sympathy and the going-away party for Ben was also Kvothe’s birthday party, which means he would have been thirteen. If three birthdays have passed in Tarbean he should be sixteen now.
Anyway, Kvothe has built up a small stash of money from begging and stealing but still survives day to day with no real future to look forward to.
But that had changed a few days earlier in Trapis’ basement. I had heard a young girl speaking in an awed voice about a storyteller who spent all his time in a Dockside bar called the Half-Mast. Apparently, every sixth bell he told a story. Any story you asked for, he knew. What’s more, she said that he had a bet going. If he didn’t know your story, he would give you a whole talent.
What a remarkably convenient turn of events!
Kvothe wants to go check this out but can’t because Dockside is dangerous. A year prior he spotted Pike, the cartoon bully who beat him up on his first day in Tarbean, in the area and followed him back to his makeshift hideout.
It took me several minutes with flint and steel to get the fire going. The violets were good tinder and soon greasy clouds of smoke were billowing high into the air. I stood by and watched as everything Pike loved went up in flames.
You show him, Kvothe. Also that’s kind of a long time to hold onto a grudge but whatever.
Unfortunately Pike came back and was understandably aggrieved at this, so he stabbed Kvothe in the thigh with a piece of glass and beat him up.
How come no one in fiction ever has to worry about their injuries getting infected? People can get skewered with rusty nails on tropical islands in the middle of the Pacific ocean thousands of miles away from antibiotics and they just slap a dirty bandage on their gaping wound and keep trucking on. Problem solved! As long as blood isn’t pouring out of your arteries everything is a-okay.
In reality septicemia can occur even in a perfectly clean setting (hell even in a hospital) never mind a filthy slum where no one has bathed in years. Kvothe would probably have died of gangrene from this even assuming the shard of glass didn’t give him tetanus.
Anyway, in order to get Pike off his back Kvothe doused him in alcohol and threw a match on him in the apparent belief that all of life’s problems can be solved by setting things on fire. It failed to kill him and Kvothe now avoids Dockside like the plague.
Kvothe has the idea of asking the storyteller dude for the real story of Lanre, which is the one his father had been working on prior to his evolution into a fantasy hero motivation device. I can’t remember if Lanre is a person or a place or what and I’m too lazy to go back and check.
The first thing I saw on entering the Half-Mast was Skarpi. He was sitting on a tall stool at the bar, an old man with eyes like diamonds and the body of a driftwood scarecrow
are you serious
I don’t know what sort of imagery Rothfuss was trying to create here but I can assure you that’s not what I’m picturing right now.
Scarecrow McGee is sitting in the Half-Mast tavern with a group of whimsical children sitting at his feet listening to wholesome stories in the middle of this savage crime-ridden slum.
Skarpi cleared his throat once or twice in a way that made me thirsty.
Then, with ritual significance, he looked mournfully into the clay mug that sat in front of him and carefully turned it upside down on the bar.
Apparently he’s charging homeless orphans for telling stories, which is a bit of a dick move.
The kids start requesting their favourite stories for Scarecrow Man to tell them in exchange for their last few scraps of financial security. Kvothe asks for the story of Lanre, silencing the room immediately.
Two things are notable about this scene. The first is how weird and inconsistent any piece of description involving Skarpi is:
His voice was deep and rough, almost hypnotic.
“Did I,” his voice rolled out slowly, like dark honey, “hear someone say Lanre?”
He was thin and weathered with thick white hair on his arms and face and head. The whiteness of it stood out from his deep brown tan, making him seem splashed with wave foam.
He’s like the ocean! And honey! And a scarecrow and also diamonds!
The second is how much Scrabble-shoebox fantasy naming bullshit is in this one scene:
“I want a faerie story!”
“… Oren and the fight at Mnat’s …”
“Yes, OrenVelciter! The one with Baron …”
“Illien and the Bear!”
“Lanre,” I said, almost without meaning to.
How much of that shit could have been pulled straight from an Elder Scrolls game unchanged? The answer is all of it.
“I want to hear about the dry lands over the Stormwal,” one of the younger girls complained. “About the sand snakes that come out of the ground like sharks.
Have you guys ever read Dune? I just thought I’d ask.
“So, Lanre and the Creation War. An old, old story.” His eyes swept over the children. “Sit and listen for I will speak of the shining city as it once was, years and miles away . . .”
But we just had a long pointless mythology intermission! Screw this, it can wait for the next post.
To summarize: the mean streets of Tarbean are dark and edgy until it’s story time at the Inn.