CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED TWELVE
Can we take a moment to appreciate what an enormous cliche “The Hammer” is as a nickname? Although given Rothfuss’ usual naming conventions we should be glad he didn’t try to come up with something himself and give us a character named The Dancing Wolverine.
As Vashet approached, the first thing I noticed was that she didn’t wear her sword on her hip. Instead she slung it over her shoulder, just as I carried my lute. She walked with the most subtle, solid confidence I have ever seen, as if she knew she ought to swagger, but couldn’t quite be bothered.
Most of the important Adem characters, including warriors and high ranking leaders, are women. I applaud the decision to include some women who aren’t meek blushing waifs, but I suspect the reason for the sudden influx of women is going to turn out to have an element of fail.
There were a few lines around the mouth and the corners of her eyes, so I guessed she was perhaps ten years older than
I’m ten years older than Kvothe and I don’t have “lines” around my eyes or mouth. Neither do any of my friends who are the same age. This is yet another indication that the book itself is not aware of what Kvothe’s stated age is.
Kvothe asks why Tempi isn’t teaching Kvothe and THE HAMMER points out that Tempi
barely speaks your language, has little experience with the real world, and, to be completely frank, he is not terribly bright.
To be fair this is pretty accurate. I had assumed Tempi’s naivete and general lack of awareness was due to him being an Adem but none of the others we’ve seen act like that.
“That is my name. Vashet. The Hammer. The Clay. The Spinning Wheel.”
Is there anyone in this fucking story who just has one name?
Vashet’s dialogue is also riddled with inane cod philosophy, although to a lesser extent than Shehyn’s which is a relief because I’m not sure how much more of that I could take.
“Now, go find a long piece of wood and bring it back to me. Then we will begin the lesson.”
I can’t say I’d find this very encouraging.
Can you guess what type of branch Kvothe brings back? Can you guess? Can you?
Eventually I found a willow tree
THE CONSPIRACY KNOWS ALL AND SEES ALL
Yeah so Vashet just starts beating the shit out of him with the stick.
“Here is your lesson,” she said matter-of-factly. “I do not think well of you. You are a barbarian. You are not clever. You are not welcome. You do not belong here. You are a thief of our secrets. Your presence is an embarrassment and a complication this school does not need.”
Vashet contemplated the end of the willow rod, then turned her eyes back to me. “We will meet here again, an hour after lunch. You will pick another stick, and I will try to teach you this lesson again.” She gave me a pointed look. “If the stick you bring me does not please me, I will choose my own.
“We will do the same after dinner. Then the same the next day. This is the only lesson I have to teach you. When you learn it, you will leave Haert and never return.”
Chances that this is actually a secret test of character that Kvothe will ace through plucky determination: ~100%
I’ve always hated this trope. If you set up a challenge designed solely to make people so miserable that they’ll give up, most of them will give up. This isn’t a failure of character because there’s actually nothing wrong with not wanting to be beaten with a wooden stick (the same goes for Elodin’s riddle bullshit). If Kvothe responded to this by concluding “this person is obviously an asshole who doesn’t want to teach me, I may as well just leave” what failing on his part would that actually represent?
The only area I can see this sort of “teaching” being employed is in the military, where as I understand it some special forces soldiers have to pass tests of extreme endurance. But in these situations the soldiers know they’re being tested and that they can prevail; here Kvothe is literally being told “if you keep showing up here I’m just going to keep beating the shit out of you for no reason so there’s literally no point”.
Kvothe goes back to the ninja cafeteria where Carceret acts creepy and weird.
“I heard you cry out,” she continued softly. She spoke slower now, as if talking to a child. I wasn’t sure if it was meant as an insult, or to ensure I understood her. “It was like a tiny bird.”
Kvothe naturally decides that this requires a Sick Burn in response:
I looked up at her. “You speak as a dog barks,” I said. “With no end. With no sense.”
This book is going to be the death of me.
The next day Kvothe decides to call Vashet’s bluff in a way that is actually fairly clever but has the potential to backfire horribly. Assuming (correctly as it turns out) that Vashet’s training from hell is indeed a secret test of character he pulls out a heavy wooden training sword when told to get a stick that would probably shatter his bones if she tried to hit him with it as she had done the day before. He also shows her his scars from the whippings he’d gotten at Wizard School and basically tells her to bring it.
Vashet acts as though she’s actually going to do it, but gives in at the last minute and admits she was just testing Kvothe, to make sure he wasn’t a wimp.
CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED THIRTEEN
Now on much friendlier terms, the two talk about some pointless Adem world-building fluff
“It hurts worse than the whipping ever did, I’ll tell you that for free.”
I somehow doubt that being whacked a few times with a wooden stick would be worse than getting several lashes with a real whip-each severe enough to leave permanent scars, although to be fair Kvothe was drugged up to the eyeballs at the time of the whippings.
Vashet is also super impressed at the answers Kvothe gave during his interview two days ago. When he tells her he has no idea what he was talking about and basically just said the first thing that came into his head she’s even more impressed presumably indicating that Kvothe is Of The Lethani as fuck. Vashet spends a lot of time talking about how the Lethani is super-complex and nebulous and can’t really be explained concretely, which is the sort of thing said about a philosophy or school of thought by people who haven’t actually made any effort to understand it.
Vashet leaned forward seriously. “Part of the problem is with your language,” she said. “Aturan is very explicit. It is very precise and direct. Our language is rich with implication, so it is easier for us to accept the existence of things that cannot be explained. The Lethani is the greatest of these.”
How exactly have the Adem managed to maintain such strong cultural and linguistic independence for so long? Unique, independent cultures that are wildly different from their neighbors tend to only survive in large numbers when they’re geographically isolated (which the Adem aren’t) or practice a high degree of self-imposed isolation (which the Adem don’t, since their economy is based on sending mercenaries out to other parts of the world). They’re a relatively very small minority with a unique culture in the midst of the as far as I can tell culturally homogeneous majority of the rest of Kvotheland. That’s not a situation conducive to long term survival- look at native American cultures, many of which all but vanished in a relatively short time period once European invaders reached a certain population density and assimilation became necessary or was forced on them (although in this case some cultures vanished because all of their members were dead, a problem that presumably doesn’t apply to the Adem).
The only way I can see this working is if the Adem way of life originated somewhere east of the Stormwahl mountains and was being kept alive through allegiance or reverence to the location of origin a la religions like Islam that heavily incorporate cultural and linguistic elements from the geographic location the religion was born in even after the faith has spread all over the globe (compare against something like Christianity, many strains of which could easily appear to an outside observer to have originated ex nihilo in rural America some time in the last fifty years). But there’s no sign that anything like this is going on. As far as I can tell the Adem culture was born way the hell back in the distant past before the proto-Ademre had any real contact with other cultures and then persisted more or less unchanged into the present day without ever being exported to other locations or blending with the cultures of neighboring…. kingdoms? Is Ademre a kingdom? Are they even politically independent? I have no idea. Vashet talks about different Lethani schools and “paths” with their own schools and towns devoted to them so I have no idea if the Adem even have a central government. Shehyn appears to be basically running the show in Haerte, the place Kvothe is in now.
Anyway, there’s a lot of inane bullshit where Vashet asks Kvothe to define love and I think this is all supposed to be very clever but comes across like the sort of thing fourteen year olds with no real life experience talk about. Which is fine if you’re fourteen, but I’m not.
“This is the nature of love.” Vashet said. “To attempt to describe it will drive a woman mad.
So this is somewhat interesting. The Adem- as far as I can tell even the male Adem- tend to speak exclusively using feminine terms, ie using “she” to refer to all people in the same way English speakers (and I’m guessing many other languages as well) often use “he”. First of all I’m frankly surprised it occurred to Rothfuss that gendered language like this is a sign of a patriarchal society and that creating a convincing matriarchy (spoiler alert I guess) would involve turning the tables, but more than that it’s a fairly subtle indication of how Adem society works that so far hasn’t been explicitly pointed out in the text, which is a fair bit more nuanced than I would have expected from this trilogy, where absolutely god damn anything that could even remotely be considered clever is covered in glitter and thrust up in front of a spotlight for all the world to see.
As to the actual substance of what she’s saying, I don’t buy that the Lethani is actually this complex. Mostly because it’s objectively not as presented in the text, but also because philosophies that are too airy fairy and filled with nebulous bullshit don’t tend to survive very long. Obviously there are many topics within philosophy, science, the humanities, psychology and what have you that appear to be very hard to understand and which an expert in those fields might have a lot of difficulty explaining them to a non-expert, but that’s just because the non-expert isn’t going to have the basic knowledge needed to understand and not because the idea itself is literally impossible to understand. This comes across like Rothfuss decided that the Adem were going to have an all-encompassing philosophy called the Lethani but then couldn’t be arsed to actually come up with what the Lethani should actually be, because writing is hard you guys. Whatever the characters need to be doing at any particular moment is “of the Lethani”, whatever words happen to come out of Kvothe’s mouth are the very essence of the Lethani distilled. The Lethani “comes from the same place as laughing”? What does that mean? I dunno, but it’s totally profound and deep!
Anyway Kvothe protests that he couldn’t understand the Lethani on such a deep level if he doesn’t actually know what it is.
“You obviously understand the Lethani,” she said. “It is rooted deep inside you. Too deep for you to see.
Vashet starts to teach Kvothe more Ademic and the Adem’s hand language.
“Right now you speak like this.” She got to her feet, waved both hands over her head, and pointed to herself with both thumbs. “I want to make good fight.” She gave a wide, insipid grin. “With sword!” She thumped her chest with both fists, then jumped into the air like an excited child.
This is pretty much how I’ve been picturing Kvothe for the entire series.
After this we get along, tedious explanation about the language that comes across like Rothfuss dumping the contents of his world bible across the page. It does prompt me to wonder why and how the Adem actually came up with the sign language, though. Its function is basically to more or less replace facial expressions and emotional speech patterns, but for what purpose? Way back when Tempi said that Adem children don’t do this and have to be taught to consciously to reign in their emotions as they grow up. And this isn’t just a warrior class or anything, it’s every single Adem. It just seems like a society-wide suppression of hard wired human behavioral patterns would need more of an actual justification and would be harder to pull off.
Kvothe tells Vashet he’s a musician and she calls him a whore. Um. Okay? Apparently this is to demonstrate the huge cultural divide between the Adem and the rest of Kvotheland, or something.
“I noticed,” I said. “You don’t seem to have a nudity taboo for one thing. Either that or Tempi is a bit of an exhibitionist.”
We might as well address this now rather and later. The Adem have no cultural taboos against nudity and we’ll learn a bit later that they’re totally into having sex with no baggage attached. Now, I’m all for a healthy attitude to sex and the human body. People should be able to prance around naked if they want to, and consenting adults should be able to have as much sex in whatever permutations and combinations they desire as long as everyone involved is happy with it. However. We have to ask ourselves whether this is here to cast a critical eye at the taboos of our own (or at least Rothfuss’) society or just so Kvothe can have lots of sex with hot naked warrior women?
If we didn’t just get done with a sub-plot where Kvothe spends weeks boning a hot naked sex fairy I’d be more inclined to give the book the benefit of the doubt.
“Your folk view certain things as intimate. Naked skin. Physical contact. The nearness of a body. Loveplay. To the Adem, these are nothing remarkable.”
And yet apart from Tempi swanning around the camp nude we’ve seen none of this- no Adem walking around Ademtown without clothes, no higher degree of physical affection between friends or family members, in fact the Adem as actually describe come across as ultra chaste emotionless robots because they do most of their communication with hand signals.
After that there’s yet more long winded discussion of Adem society that I’m going to skip. I would like to point out that we’re now more than 75% of the way through this thing. Really hoping all this world building is going to go somewhere.
Anyway she called Kvothe a whore because the Adem suppress their emotions (but are also ultra open and free spirited and oh my head) and nothing carries more emotion than music, so, Kvothe plays music to an audience for money instead of in private, so he’s a whore.
Yeah I don’t know either.
“A family might sing together if they are close. A mother might sing to her child. A woman might sing to her man.” A slight flush rose on Vashet’s cheeks as she said this. “But only if they are very much in love, and very much alone.
“But you?” She gestured to me. “A musician? You do this to a whole room full of people. All at once. And for what? A few pennies? The price of a meal?” She gave me a grave look “And you do it again and again. Night after night. With anyone.”
But wait, she’s equating music to both romantic sexual love and also platonic love, so wouldn’t that just make Kvothe seem like someone who, I don’t know, gives out hugs for money or whatever?
Then Kvothe think about whores some more, because fantasy.
“And surely you know there is nothing inherently wrong with having sex with three people in a row on the broad hearth of a busy inn.” She looked me in the eye pointedly.
“I imagine the stone would be rather rough….” I said.
She chuckled. “Very well, assume they had use of a blanket too. What would you call that person?”
A whore, I thought silently to myself. And a cheap and shameless whore to boot.
If you say the word “whore” enough times in your fantasy novel Tolkien appears in your living room and tells you what a radical person you are.
BLAH BLAH BLAH WORLD BUILDING OH MY GOD GET TO THE STORY FOR FUCK’S SAKE
Then the chapter ends, thank God. I’ve only done two but this is almost at 3000 words already so let’s just end it here for now.