“The Lightning Tree” appears in the anthology Rogues; it’s a novella, 58 pages long, and it’s about Bast. The idea of an anthology of stories about rogues is fascinating—rogues themselves are such an interestingly ambiguous kind of character. A rogue isn’t a villain—or isn’t necessarily a villain, but is inherently up to something. What we have here seems to be a story about a delightful charming person who is doing some things for mysterious reasons.
It’s interesting to consider how “The Lightning Tree” would appear to somebody who hadn’t read The Name of the Wind or The Wise Man’s Fear, and who was discovering Rothfuss for the first time with this story. It would be such a different reading experience that it would be hard to say whether somebody doing that would even have read the same story I did. For them, it would be the story of a young man who works in an inn and who is powerfully attractive to and attracted to women. He also helps out children in a complicated system of exchanges, all of them fascinating and some of them obviously magical.
What would they think of it? I’d be intrigued, I think. One of Rothfuss’s real strengths is his way with evocative details, and this is on full display here in the bargains Bast makes with the children. What I wouldn’t see is Rothfuss’s skill with story. This almost isn’t a story—it’s a day in Bast’s life before The Name of the Wind—it could be the day before that book starts. It’s the record of some incidents, told charmingly, almost artlessly, but without any narrative urgency, or even all that much narrative. There’s a thin thread of connection, and everything happens in one afternoon. It’s charming, Bast’s charming and loveable and only a tiny bit scary, and the trick he plays is clever and effective, I think I’d like it and be drawn in and want more.
It would be an odd place from which to approach the books, but not a bad one. It will be interesting to talk to people who discover Rothfuss this way and see what the experience is like for people who begin reading knowing this much about Bast and nothing about anything else.
What I read, in the full context of the novels. was a story that answers some questions but raises far more. I kept wanting to jump up and down and point things out to everyone—don’t worry, I’ll be doing a spoiler review as soon as the book is out and doing precisely that. Meanwhile, you can rest assured that this is a fascinating novella about a normal day in Bast’s life in Newarre before Chronicler shows up, in the mode of the Interludes, with fascinating hints about the world, if not about Kvothe.
And you can have the vorfreude, or joy of anticipation, both of the story, and of a long spoiler post once everyone else can read it.
Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published three poetry collections and nine novels, including the Hugo and Nebula winning Among Others. She has just published a collection of her Tor.com posts, What Makes This Book So Great. She has a new novel My Real Children coming out in May. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here irregularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.