Before we begin today’s post, let’s all take a moment to appreciate this comment by one Fibinachi, which pretty perfectly sums up a lot of the problems with these books.
Also you may notice I’m covering less material and writing these somewhat less frequently. This is due solely to the fact that the Adem section is so monumentally dull I’m actually having trouble writing these posts. But we’re nearing the end now! I will prevail!
CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED FOURTEEN
His Sharp and Single Arrow
My single arrow is the sharpest there is, if you know what I mean.
Anyway Kvothe is sad because he can’t play his lute (for like the fourth time) since the Adem think it’s vulgar to lay music in public. Why he doesn’t just play in his room in private isn’t explained.
All of this martial arts business is great and all but I feel like we’re forgetting something. Yes, Denna, but something else as well… something important, I just can’t…. quite…..
“Vashet,” I asked. “Do your people have stories of the Chandrian?”
Oh that’s right, the plot! How silly of me!
Vashet rebukes Kvothe for asking about things that aren’t relevant (oh Vashet, if only you knew how right you were) and Kvothe drops it because of course he does.
“What is the purpose of all of this?” I gestured between the two of us
You were the one who wanted to learn all of this shit, you tell me.
Vashet says she was assigned to teach him as a sort of convoluted method of exonerating Tempi- if Kvothe is fully Of The Lethani then he’ll retroactively be one of the Adem and Tempi won’t have taught their ways to an outsider, or something. Even Kvothe admits this doesn’t make a whole of sense.
Mercenaries are highly respected in Adem society, blah blah more world building. If Vashet thinks Kvothe is worthy she’ll sponsor him to take a test to go Full Adem but if he fails things will get “complicated”. They go and meet Shehyn again, who wants to tell Kvothe yet more world building regarding the origins of the Adem. I’ve said this before, but the plot of these books- as far as they actually have one- mainly consists of Kvothe bouncing around from place to place and being fed chunks of information.
Just a quick reminder, by the page count on my ereader edition we are currently on 1617/2140. In other words we’re coming pretty close to the climax here, and this Adem storyline doesn’t seem like it’s going to be wrapping up any time soon.
Anyway, the Adem back story. So they were founded by a dude called Aethe, which I guess makes them aetheists. Aethe was an archer who wanted to be the best archer, so he practiced archery until he was so awesome he could hit a piece of silk blowing in the wind. One day a woman named Rethe came to him and asked to become his student.
At first Aethe doubted she possessed the strength to draw the bow.
Gee I wonder why that was.
At this point the Adem were not Of The Lethani and so they fought each other lots, a way of life dedicated to ass kicking apparently acting to eliminate all internal conflict.
Eventually Aethe formed a school to teach more people how to be awesome at archery, turning out master assassins. Man, a society full of awesome archerssassins sounds way more interesting than the Adem. One day Rathe and Aethe disagreed on something and the argument became so heated that she challenged him to a duel. But when it came time to take their places Rethe didn’t bring a bow and sat on the ground, ensuring Aethe would hit her in the abdomen instead of going of going for a less dangerous leg shot. Enraged, Aethe totally pulled off a wicked shot to the heart.
“Still seated, arrow sprouting from her chest, Rethe drew a long ribbon of white silk from beneath her shirt. She took a white feather from the arrow’s fietching, dipped it in her blood, and wrote four lines of poetry.
“Then Rethe held the ribbon aloft for a long moment, waiting as the wind pulled first one way, then another. Then Rethe loosed it, the silk twisting through the air, rising and falling on the breeze. The ribbon twisted in the wind, wove its way through the trees, and pressed itself firmly against Aethe’s chest.
Aethe, near my heart. Without vanity, the ribbon. Without duty, the wind. Without blood, the victory.
I think someone’s been watching a few too many Wuxia films.
This is apparently so emotional and not at all fucking stupid that it makes Vashet weep. Rethe lived for three days with the arrow sticking out of her chest, during which time she dictated “nine-and-ninety” stories that laid down the foundation of the Lethani. She claimed there was one final story more important than all the others, but then died before she could tell it.
With that apparently vital information behind us Shehyn invited Kvothe to watch some Adem fighting.
I was thinking about secrets and how people longed to keep them. I wondered what Kilvin would do if I brought someone into the Fishery and showed them the sygaldry for blood and bone and hair.
Yeah that’s…. not generally how universities or knowledge in general work. Apparently how to do magic is some sort of closely guarded secret known only to the elite who are inducted into wizard school, even though if there was a magic formula that lets you melt people’s bones or whatever that shit would be all over the place within days. “Information wants to be free”, as the frequently mis-applied phrase goes.
Kvothe gets around to asking what exactly would have happened if he hadn’t been accepted into the Adem, how they would have kept him from teaching other people what Tempi had told him.
She took a deep breath. “You could be prevented from teaching by removing your tongue or putting out your eyes,” she said frankly. “To keep you from using the Ketan you might be hobbled. Your ankle tendon cut, or the knee of your favored leg lamed.” She shrugged. “But one can still be a good fighter even with a damaged leg. So it would be more effective to remove the two smallest fingers from your right hand. This would be …”
So the Adem are violent assholes? Yes? No? The fact they’d so casually maim someone just to preserve their secrecy doesn’t seem to prompt any reaction from Kvothe beyond “gee I’m glad that didn’t happen”. Note that it’s fairly heavily implied this is still on the table if Kvothe doesn’t pass his fighting exams. And I thought my college finals wee stressful.
Then, coming over a hill, I stumbled almost literally onto a naked Adem couple tucked away in a grove of trees.
Ah, there’s that supposed Adem free-spirited sex having. Given how Vashet described it I’d have expected them to be going at it in public and walking around naked all the time but as actually described they come across more like some sort of dour monastic order.
Kvothe is lining up at the fantasy cafeteria when he noticed a mercenary and a ten year old girl staring at him (apparently kids go to Lethani School along with the adults, I guess?) and he realizes he’s been humming under his breath nervously while trying to get the image of Vashet cutting off his fingers out of his head, which is of course a big faux pas.
He considers running away to prevent any finger chopping then sits with his Shaeaeaeaead around him and has a good mope. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but Kvothe is so fucking passive most of the time I can’t help but roll my eyes at him becoming even more passive.
CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED FIFTEEN
Storm and Stone
Kvothe awakens from a troubled sleep realizing that the only way out of his predicament is to become awesome at Ademing, so he throws himself with gusto into training.
But first we need to get more long-winded descriptions of Adem-town!
In most parts of the Commonwealth, or anywhere in the Four Corners for that matter, a family living in a small cottage with only a few sticks of furniture would be viewed as unfortunate. One step away from paupers.
Pretty sure in the sort of technological level this book takes place in that would have been the norm.
Anyway the Adem all have nice houses with glass windows and metal stoves for heating. Apparently mercenary work pays very well, who would have thought?
A lot of Adem houses are actually built straight into cliff sides or hills, with only windows or doors indicating their presence which I guess means the Adem use the same building principles as Minecraft players.
Vashet adjusted her sword on her shoulder, then eyed me speculatively. “Sit and listen,” she said formally. “And I will tell a story of a time long gone.”
But we just got a story
Why is so much time being spent on the Adem? Kvothe is just going to end up leaving to return to not looking for the Chandrian, this is completely pointless.
Thankfully this one is pretty short and just says that the Adem were uprooted from their homeland a long time ago and came to present day Ademre because they had nowhere else to go. The land was rugged and barren and so they became hella mercenaries to make a living.
After this mercifully brief story time Kvothe and Vashet head off to watch some Adem fighting in a meadow.
She explained how each school had standing accounts with the Cealdish moneylenders. That meant far-flung mercenaries could deposit the school’s share of their earnings anywhere people used Cealdish currency, which meant anywhere in the entire civilized world.
So apparently the four corners is the entire “civilized world” according to the people living there. I wonder what exactly Kvothe means by that- in the extremely narrow way that Europeans through much of modern history would have used it, disparaging even technologically advanced nations as “uncivilized” if they’re not culturally and racially European, or are the four corners literally more advanced than anywhere else? I want to know about some of the other parts of the world.
Speaking of world building, here’s a lesson in Adem economics:
“It is not so much, when you think of it. For years, the school feeds and clothes you. It gives you a place to sleep. It gives you your sword, your training. After this investment, the mercenary supports the school. The school supports the village. The village produces children who hope to someday take the red.” She made a circle with her finger. “Thus all Ademre thrives.”
The question that obviously comes to mind here is how much does it cost to raise an Adem child and train them to the point that they’re ready to go out and start making money. That’s obviously a concern with having kids in real life, except in real life the parents work to support their children rather than expecting the offspring to pay them back in adulthood. What would happen if the newly minted mercenary couldn’t find work, or was killed on their first assignment?
“Knowing this, perhaps you can begin to understand what you have stolen,” she said. “Not just a secret but the major export of the Adem. You have stolen the key to this entire town’s survival.”
Okay, if literally their entire economy was based on martial arts I can see why you wouldn’t want it getting out the rest of the world but I still contend that keeping information like this a secret would be impossible. You’d get nobility kidnapping an experienced Adem and forcing them to teach their troops how to be awesome at fighting.
Kvothe watches some Adem teens fighting. He is somehow now good enough to be able to expertly critique their skills.
“They fight like puppies. They are young, and boys. They are full of anger and impatience. Women have less trouble with these things. It’s part of what makes us better fighters.”
Welp, here we go. To summarize the following conversation:
Kvothe: “woaoah women are better at fighting? But men are bigger and stronger!”
Vashet: “Ah ha ha, but you see, men are hot headed and get into fights easily whereas women are calmer and more controlled.”
Back in the real world a gnome-hatted figure takes the stage to accept his Real Feminist reward as confetti rains down.
Right then. First of all, this doesn’t excuse the fact that most of the women in the trilogy are helpless blushing waifs, nor does it excuse the fact that Rothfuss has engineered a society in which women are forced to make an independant living either through prostitution or cheating men out of their money with the promise of sex. Secondly, “women are wise and calm and serene” is blatent gender essentialism and is the root of a lot of negative stereotypes. It also (to me at least) veers very close to an idea male writers seem to have of a matriarchy necessarily consisting of elitist women casting men as brutish oafs (I’m looking at you here, Robert Jordan). Note that Kvothe’s society is blatantly patriarchal and yet you don’t see men constantly referring to women as weak and helpless; the way Adem society (or the Aes Sedai or what have you) is presented reeks of a fear of demasculization dressed up in the guise of progressiveness.
Eventually Shehyn steps up to fight.
Her frame was more delicate, too, her small face and shoulders making her look almost childlike. But the pronounced curve of her high breasts and round hips beneath her tight mercenary reds made it obvious she was no child.
OH PATRICK ROTHFUSS NO
Seriously. Why? Why all of the child-like women? What is going on here?
Anyway after a long and impressive fight the younger woman just about manages to win. Kvothe, who as we’ve established is a fucking idiot whenever it’s convenient for him to be, asks if this means Shehyn’s opponent will take her place as head of the school but Vashet points out Shehyn is old and you can’t really expect her to always win against radical teens.
Back at the fantasy cafeteria Vashet sits next to Kvothe, which she doesn’t normally. Kvothe asks to fight someone on his level.
“That is like throwing two virgins into a bed. Enthusiasm, passion, and ignorance are not a good combination. Someone is likely to get hurt.”
Wait, what? Has the idea of non full contact sparring never occurred to them? And this is a catch 22, he can’t fight someone his own level until he gets good enough not to hurt them but he’s unlikely to actually improve to that stage just by getting his ass handed to him by more experienced fighters. I’ve dabbled in multiple martial arts and in all of them I was paired up with other newbies to spar by the end of the first lesson.
Eventually Vashet relents and offers to find someone on Kvothe’s level for him to fight. Now I happen to know where this is going and let me tell you, we’re in for a serious treat in the next chapter. This is going to be awesome, just wait and see.
But you’ll have to wait till the next post. LOSERS.