Lightning Tree by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This novella is exquisite in its storytelling from its playful yet careful dialogue to its near-poetic descriptions. Not surprisingly, Rothfuss wrote it on the heels of penning The Slow Regard of Silent Things which was itself startlingly beautiful. The 2 tales emerge from the same world as The Kingkiller Chronicle, each taking a deep look at a minor character.
This frolicking tale centers on Bast, showing a single day–albeit a full one–in which the mysterious student of Kvothe’s learns some minor lessons and dispenses others to the village’s children [and one adult]. Charged with the simple tasks to collect some eggs and carrots and to get some reading done, Bast takes off on a long, winding adventure with each step informing the next.
Unbeknownst to the adults in town, Bast has been trading truths, lies, charms and curses to the children to receive favors and secrets which he employs cleverly to his advantage. The interactions can be riotously funny one minute, especially in dealing with precocious Kostrel who’s selling the pertinent details of where and when winsome Emberlee bathes:
Bast raised an half-interested eyebrow. “Is that so?”
Kostrel grinned. “You faker. Don’t pretend you don’t care.”
“Of course I care,” Bast said. “She’s the sixth prettiest girl in town, after all.”
“Sixth?” the boy said, indignant. “She’s the second prettiest and you know it . . . I want a favor and information,” the boy said with a small smirk. His dark eyes were sharp in his lean face. “I want good answers to three questions. And it’s worth it. Because Emberlee is the third prettiest girl in town.”
Bast opened his mouth as if he were going to protest, then shrugged and smiled. “No favor. But I’ll give you three answers on a subject named beforehand,” he countered.
Kostrel nodded in agreement. “Three full answers,” he said. “With no equivocating or bullshittery.”
The tale can also veer heartbreakingly somber, especially when visibly bruised Rike worries about both his mom’s safety with his father’s drinking and his own self-worth.
Bast opened his mouth, then hesitated and closed it again. He looked up and saw the first of twilight’s stars emerge. He looked down at the boy. He sighed. He wasn’t good at this.
So much was so easy . . . Fooling folk was simple as singing. Tricking folk and telling lies, it was like breathing.
But this? Convincing someone of the truth that they were too twisted to see? How could you even begin?
It was baffling. These creatures. They were fraught and frayed in their desire. A snake would never poison itself, but these folk made an art of it. They wrapped themselves in fears and wept at being blind. It was infuriating. It was enough to break a heart.
The Lightning Tree appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas: 2015 edited by Paula Guran and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in Rogues, eds. George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois (Bantam).
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