Friday, May 28, 2010

The Wise Man's Fear - March 2011

It's going to be an exciting Spring '11 (interesting how that looks like an old date: it makes me think of the American West and bearded codgers rattling along dusty roads in hand-cranked cars).  In addition to a new book from Scott Lynch, and the finale of The Malazan Book of the Fallen from Steven Erikson, Patrick Rothfuss has just announced on his blog that The Wise Man's Fear, the eagerly anticipated sequel to The Name of the Wind will be published March 1st 2011.



My editor asked me if I could have the book done by September.
I thought about it. I thought about her 27 points and my ever-changing 50-60 points. I thought about who I can still use as beta readers, and how many drafts I’ll be able go through in four months. I thought about how many times I will personally be able to read the book in four months.
I said I was sure I could finish it by September.
She asked me if I was sure. Really sure.
I thought about it. Back in 2007, I was sure I’d have the book done by 2008. But I was hugely ignorant and optimistic back then. So I was dead fucking wrong. That caused a lot of grief.
I told her I was really sure I could have it finished by September.
~

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Briar King, Part II

[SPOILED: This post contains spoilers for The Briar King, by Greg Keyes]

"Dream as if you'll live forever.  Live as if you'll die today." -James Dean

I finished The Briar King, Book 1 of Greg Keyes' series The Kingdom of Thorn and Bone, and am very pleasantly surprised.  It's fairly standard fantasy stuff - an ancient evil awakes, there are stoic knights and a gruff old soldier, and a plucky princess - all familiar ingredients, for sure, but Mr. Keyes distinguishes himself in both the crafting of his tale and the roles he assigns to his female characters.  Keyes likes fairly short chapters, averaging 6-8 pages in my mass market paperback, which helps keep the story humming along.  He doesn't have Joe Abercrombie's organic sense of pacing (Abercrombie is a film editor, and as you read his books you can notice chapter ending with a beat - an audio cue or visual flourish - that is mirrored or echoed in the start of the next chapter), but he does know when to stop a scene in a way that will leave the reader tense and wanting to know more.   (There's an art to that.  Dan Brown, for example, author of The Da Vinci Code, does not have it.  He tries to create tension by ending a chapter at the apex of action - the character puts a key in the lock of the safe and turns it… The character stops mid-sentence, about to reveal who the conspiracy points to… - and it feels very artificial, as if he, or his editor, went through his novel with a meat cleaver, slashing at it every now and again to fashion it into chapters.)

Anyway, Greg Keyes knows how to construct his story beats in a way that feels natural and he also finds believable motivations for having his characters bump into each other.  Plot lines intersect in a way that not only expands the mythos and world building but also generates additional drama.  I particularly liked the way Cazio and Anne found each other in the same orbit.  And it doesn't hurt that Cazio is such a delight.  He has more than a bit of Nicomo Cosca about him - the likeable rogue - but can be very funny and charming - two traits that Cosca is too much of a battered, untrustworthy drunk to possess.  Cazio still has a profound sense of honour, whereas Cosca would sell the gold from his Granny's teeth to buy another bottle of hooch.  

When I began the book I was a bit worried that Neil MeqVren was going to provide yet another example of that hoary, old chestnut the naive farm boy who grows up to do great things.  And while, spiritually, he does have some of that about him - he is inexperienced in matters of the heart and the political exigencies of the court, and his honour is as thick as a whale omelette - but he can be a right bastard with a sword, which is both refreshing and endearing to me, and he is starting to develop in interesting ways.  Anne Dare, also, is on a path that requires her to dig deep into her reserves of will and strength, and I hope that book two or three finds her slicing and dicing her enemies, standing knee deep in the dead.  She had to cut her studies of assassination a bit short, so I worry about how she's going to learn to do what is required of her.  Perhaps just some good old fashioned practice will provide all she needs to to know.  I'm also very fond of Muriele, the Queen - she has a backbone, is whip smart and also a realist -  and while I hope she lives a long and happy life and retires to an orange grove, I think she may be headed for the bonfire of history.

There was some vague, smoke-and-mirror-type stuff that happened with Aspar - why wasn't he killed by the big ugly?  And apart from the Briar King, and his environmentalist message (it looks like he's awake and grouchy 'cos people haven't been taking care of the natural world), I am still unclear on who the Human enemy is in the plot.  Some people have been aiding the evil that is growing, and there are murmurs of a war brewing and an attempt to seize a crown, but I still can't tell who's doing what.  Mostly though, things didn't turn out the way I was expecting.  Keyes sets up genre conventions and then knocks them down quite effectively, which keeps things fresh.  I'm still waiting for someone I really care about to die, but I'm connected to these people and the plights they find themselves in.  I began the sequel, The Charnel Prince, right away and am anxious to see where I am led.  In fact, I was so impressed by this book that I immediately ordered the novel Greg Keyes wrote which takes place in the Oblivion  universe.  I'm an huge Elder Scrolls fan but tie-in books are often such a let down that I avoided this one.  I'll report back when I've dipped into it.  

Have I missed anything?  Well, there's no magic…yet.  Which is okay; I don't need magic to have good time.  There is definitely an afterlife.  There's an ancient Being that lives in is imprisoned in the basement, and is guarded by a ghost.  And whomever is sitting on the Throne may go down and ask the ancient Being for their horoscope.  The Being is quite grumpy and obtuse and never has good news to share.  Also some of the spirits of dead people seem to be able to communicate with the living (although when it's inconvenient for the plot the dead are puzzlingly silent [Hello?  WIlliam of Crotheny?  How did you die?  Operator, we've been cut off!], so perhaps only the ones that get a real burial are on speed dial.)   Oh, and there may be some undead.  I have a good feeling about the King's brother and how exactly he managed to survive a mortal wound.  Hopefully he'll spend his time in book two deliquescing and waving a sword around threateningly.  I do love it when the dead come on all martial.  Hey, what are the odds that he is the famed Charnel Prince?  


~

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Republic of Thieves U.K. Cover Art

We've been waiting a while for Scott Lynch to finish The Republic of Thieves, book three of his excellent Gentlemen Bastard Sequence, and we're going to be waiting a bit longer, but Speculative Horizons has been allowed to reveal the U.K. cover art for the book.



Gorgeous, no?  I wonder if that figure in front is the mysterious Tabetha?  We've been teased with her character for two books now, it's about time she stepped into the narrative.


Anyway, that's a lovely cover - it reminds me a little of Assassin's Creed II - but I think, if anything, these books were an influence on those game developers and not the reverse.  (If a game did inspire Scott Lynch it might have been Thief: The Dark Project.  Perhaps one day he'll tell us about his gaming habits.)


~

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Crippled God - Delayed

Pat (of Pat's Fantasy Hotlist) has discovered that - The Crippled God - the 10th and final book in Steven Erikson's magnificent series The Malazan Book of the Fallen is being delayed until January 2011.  /sad panda


And in related Malazan news, Ian C. Esslemont's third Malazan book - Stonewielder - is being copyedited and is still on course for a Fall 2010 release.


~

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Distant Voices, Miniature Lives

"In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love." -Mother Teresa
Sula and I have played World of Warcraft, on and off, since it launched in 2004. We were part of an exodus of about 400 players from the Midgard faction of the Percival server, in the online game Dark Age of Camelot. We loved DAoC. We were obsessed with that game for almost five years. It was the first MMO for both of us and there was something really special about the community on that server. We made friendships that have endured to this day, with people whom we fly to visit and who come to visit us. But by the time WoW launched, the bloom was well off DAoC and we were ready for change. We packed up our wagon, sold our cottage on the shore of Lake Carlingford and struck out for Kalimdor.


We played pretty solidly for the first year, or 18 months, but for us, there just wasn't the same magic. WoW didn't have the tools DAoC had for managing guild alliances and the community we moved with splintered into several fractious groups. Plus, we really enjoy PvP (Player vs Player combat) and, despite Blizzard's best attempts, the WoW PvP system has, in our minds, never been as engaging as the realm warfare in DAoC. So, we play for six months at a time, then we quit for six months. (We're currently on hiatus. We went back for the Lich King expansion, and enjoyed it enormously. The questlines were interesting and engaging, the new skills fun to use, and I think since much of the landscape looked like where we live [we're Canadian] we just felt right at home. [And if you think there aren't fearsome and bloodthirsty Orcs roaming around Toronto, try visiting the Eaton Centre on a Sunday.] We'll probably return for Cataclysm [the next WoW expansion], but there's only so much endgame raiding Sula and I can take before it starts to feel like a job and we find something else to do with our evenings.)


Now, I'm still a big fan of the WoW universe; the artwork, the lore, the gleeful embracing of the staples of role-playing: swords, dungeons, quests, etcetera, so I continue to look for ways to be involved with that realm. I had a brief dalliance with the WoW Trading Card Game, and while it has an easier entry point than Magic: The Gathering (a game whose rules have become so byzantine one needs to keep a talmudic scholar handy to figure out if you actually did any damage to your opponent) there was still something…bewildering about the system. My opponent, Kaiser Phred, and I both felt like we never really got a solid grasp on the rules; often things didn't work the way we were anticipating so we kept second-guessing what we were doing which made us feel a bit like we were losing our minds. (Which is fine for a game like Arkham Horror, where thematically you're supposed to be going bonkers, but not the vibe we look for when playing a collectible card game where you need rules to tell you how you're doing.)





Endgame


Then one day, during a spasm of boardgame buying I found World of Warcraft Miniatures (WoW Minis). (I also came home that day with a copy of Runebound, which I'll write about another time.) WoW Minis is a collectable miniatures game in which players fight on a board for control of victory point locations. It can be played with four people but I've only played 1-on-1. Each player chooses a faction - Horde, Alliance, or Monsters - selects a team of three units and begins rolling dice, moving about the board and trying to destroy the other player's characters. It's best to pick three units that support each others strengths and weaknesses. You'll probably want some combination of a healer, tank and DPS (Damage Per Second: a class like a mage or hunter that does lots of direct damage) and, if possible, classes that have some interdependencies. For example, some classes have auras that affect other friendly units that are near them. Each unit also has two cards that are chosen by the player that can represent additional class abilities - a particularly strong attack or a group heal, for example - or the cards can be potions for health or mana, or even a pet that will fight alongside your unit. These action bar cards add additional tactical depth as choosing the right moment to deploy them can mean the difference between winning and losing.


What I find particularly compelling about this game, the reason I keep returning to it over and over, is the way it models the concept of time. The board has a counter running along one edge that represents the current turn, or 'tick'. It starts at 1 and goes up to 10. Each unit has a rotating bezel on it's base that also represents ticks and it also runs from 1-10. At the start of a game every unit's personal tick counter is set to 1. If, on my turn, I only move my unit, and do nothing else, I move it's personal tick counter ahead by 1, so now it reads 2. And now that unit won't be able to take another action until the turn counter on the board matches the turn counter on that unit. In this case, turn 2. Each player moves their units, alternating back and forth until all have moved or taken an action, and then the turn counter on the board moves ahead one tick and the next round begins.


There's not much to do on turn 1 as the units begin on opposite sides of the board, but after a few turns it starts to get really interesting. If I do more than just move (which costs 1 tick), if I take an action with a unit - such as attacking or healing - that action will have a tick cost associated with it. Let's say it is turn 3 and that I make my warrior attack my opponent's priest. The warrior's attack has a tick cost of 5 and so I make my attack, the damage is calculated and the priest's hitpoint counter is adjusted, and I now set my warrior's tick counter ahead by 5 ticks, so that it reads 8. (It was 3 when this turn began because we are on turn 3 and all I'd done up to now was move her across the board, which only costs 1 tick.) So, now my warrior's personal tick clock reads 8 and she cannot do anything except defend - she may not move or attack - until the counter on the edge of the board - the main turn counter - also reads 8. It's a fascinating system, and a brilliant way of modelling the concept of a cooldown (the length of time it takes for a special skill to be ready for use again), which is so ubiquitous in the online game of WoW. If the units always had their abilities available to them they would just take turns hammering each other into pulp until only one was left standing. By placing a cooldown cost on an action it demands that players think tactically about how they are moving their units across the board, where their units are in relation to each other, and even asks the player to consider concepts like focus fire (concentrating your attackers on one enemy at time in an attempt to destroy them before they can counter attack) and line-of-sight (whether or not your unit can see another unit so that it may attack it).


The winner is the first player to earn a set amount of honour. Each unit has an honour value associated with it (more powerful units have more honour) and the sum total of your three unit's honour is the amount you must achieve to win the game. You earn 1 point for each unit that is standing on, or adjacent to, a victory point location, at turns 5 and 10 on the main counter. (When the main counter reaches 10 it returns to 1 and starts over.) And you earn four honour for killing an enemy unit (the unit that is destroyed has it's personal tick counter moved ahead by 2 ticks, and when the main counter matches that amount it re-enters the board).


I've played this game with both Sula and Kaiser Phred and everyone agrees that the mechanics are sound and interesting and no one feels like they've been steamrolled by an opponent, which makes us think it's well balanced. (We did have one game where The Kaiser chose a team of three rogues, which ended badly for him, but one of his pieces was the infamous Zomm Hopeslayer! A rogue of such poor skill and ability that he exudes an aura of deficiency which infects the other members of his team with malaise, resulting in massive failure. Zomm's main problem is he doesn't hit very hard, plus you apply your damage value against your target's defence value, so if the dice are feeling capricious you may not even hit them. He also has a special ability that allows him to sneak up on someone, attack them, and then retreat one space, like he's melting back into the night. However, since he does so little damage his attacks always played out like this:


Zomm (springing from a bush in surprise): "ha-HA!"


Zomm attacks - doink - and hits for no damage.


Zomm (springing back into a bush, muffled): "BLAST!"


I suppose it's possible that a team of three rogues could work but you'd really have to concentrate your attacks and find a way around the lack of healing. And have one of them not be Zomm :p)


There are some game units which are called epic pieces. They are usually well known WoW heroes, have very powerful abilities and are worth twice as many honour points when they're killed. And because you buy your units in booster packs, not knowing what you're going to receive, we've had an epic Horde unit for quite some time, but never used it because we feel it's an unfair advantage.


We ramped up slowly, playing without action bar cards for the first dozen or so games, and now we're comfortable with them I thought it time we got stuck in with some epic units. So, having bought a few more booster packs and not received a single Alliance epic (although I did get another Horde epic) I went to Ebay and bought two new units.


Highlord Bolvar Fordragon, a Human paladin, and High Priestess Tyrande Whisperwind, a Night Elf priest. The Fordragon piece is beautifully rendered, but Princess Tyrande has a bit of a messy paint job, which is a pity, because with very few exceptions the WoW Minis pieces are lovingly crafted, and a bit larger than is usual for this sort of thing, so you can really see and appreciate the detail.


I'm a bit nervous about how their presence will affect WoW Minis. Up to now, each game has played out in about an hour, or ninety minutes, which feels to me like the porridge that Goldilocks ate: it doesn't take so long that people start to get itchy (hello Runebound) and it's not so short that you can't put your tactics into action, and try different combinations. The games are always (with that one disastrous Zomm episode) quite close matches, often coming down to that one tick which distributes victory location points or a final decisive kill. So I worry that these super units will somehow topple this delicate construction and we'll come away with one person feeling like they got the short end of the Spear of Judicious Maiming. I hope not. There's something about these matches that is very satisfying - it feels to me like just the right combination of boardgame, tactical war-game, and fantasy fiction - existing in a weird half-light between collectible card games and role-playing games. Hopefully the epic pieces will deepen the experience and not reduce it, boiling it away so that the energy and excitement of the system vanishes like Zomm melting back into a bush.


"BLAST!"
~

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Heroes - New Publication Date

Joe Abercrombie, author of the wonderful First Law Trilogy, and Best Served Cold, has just announced on his blog that his new book The Heroes has a U.K. publication date of Jan 20th 2011.  NA release is scheduled for March 7th.

I have no patience for the staggered release schedule and always order books I'm excited about directly from Amazon U.K., which is lovely.    (An interesting side effect of ordering only fantasy novels from Amazon U.K. is when they send me targeted emails - You purchased this, so you might like this - they're usually spot on, because my buying history with them is so narrowly  focused.)  The site is still listing The Heroes with a big question mark, but no doubt that will change once the marketing peeps at Orbit notice and send the proper data.

I've heard that some characters from Abercrombie's other novels will be making an appearance in The Heroes, like Shivers from The First Law being a major presence in Best Served Cold.   I love that kind of continuity and connection.  It adds depth and breadth to the world, making the mythos richer and somehow more authentic.  Any guesses about who we'll meet again?  I wonder if we'll ever get to read about Colonel Glokta before his capture by the Ghurkish?

~

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Briar King, Part I

[Spoilsport: This post contains mild spoilers for The Briar King, by Greg Keyes.  Oh, and The Lord of the RIngs, too, I guess.]
"God, sometimes you just don't come through.  Do you need a woman to look after you?" - Tori Amos
I'm always terrified when cracking open a new fantasy novel.  I want to be transported.  I want there to be swords and stone and a sizzling castle siege conducted with lightning under black skies.  I want there to be people I care about and betrayal and drama played out across rolling, green dales.  I want crypts and rain and interesting geography and, if you can fit them in, some undead.  I want all that, and more, but mostly I want the author to like and respect women.  There's little in literature more disappointing to me than discovering an author who has a great sense of pacing and world building; who writes characters with wit and gravitas, but who doesn't care about women.  If that's not in place I have to set the book aside, because that's not a world I want to read about and spend time in.  

This genre, historically, has not been a fan of women.  Perhaps the most famous of all fantasy series' - The Lord of the Rings - has little to no use for them.  They are either serving wenches, like Rosie Cotton (whom Samwise rescues from her life of drudgery by marrying and getting her pregnant O.o) or they are untouchable, perfect beings, like Galadriel.  And really that's the same thing: a cipher that the author has no idea about or interest in filling up with life and agency.   (On one level, it could be argued that the entire arc of LOTR is an attempt to get back to a more pastoral, blissful time in a young boys life;  a time of scrumping and bunking off school; a time of paper boat races along the banks of the Wye; a time before vaginas.  Or perhaps it was just that Tolkien was so mortified by World War II that he escaped into Middle Earth and wished away the world.  Both of those things can be true.)  

So anyway, female characters in fantasy have frequently been just that: fantasy.  Props, with no more animus than a shield or a shovel.  Princesses that need rescuing, frail and sickly daughters that are not fit to inherit the kingdom from their Father, painted trollops that wink slyly and give the thickly muscled hero a freebie 'cos he just  slew a cadre of Ettins, or wives, sisters and daughters of the recently conquered enemy waiting to be subjugated and raped.  Female characters were trusted to carry six pints of ale, or a basket of freshly shorn wool.  And if they were to be charged with something as heavy and unwieldy as a plot point, then they were evil and villainous.  Witches that spread fear and corruption.  Duplicitous spinsters ('cos there's nothing more likely to turn a woman to evil as getting old and not having a man) who scheme on the margins of the court to bring down its most popular and shining members.  Basically, women were empty vessels intended to receive a man's semen or absorb his scorn.  Occasionally at the same time.

What joy then, what relief, to find authors who are interested in investing their female characters with a full range of human expression.  Writers like Ursula K. Le Guin, Steven Erikson, Mary Gentle, Joe Abercrombie, Iain M. Banks, Karen Miller, and Scott Lynch, to name a few.  And now, I think I'm ready to add Greg Keyes' name to that list.  I'm halfway through The Briar KIng, the first book in his 'Kingdom of Thorn and Bone' series and it's a delight.  

~ Quite early in the book, a religious leader returns to town to discover that, in his absence, the King has passed a resolution decreeing that his daughters will be eligible to inherit his mantle.  Yay emancipation!

~ We meet Erren, bodyguard to the Queen and member of a group of female assassins, trained by the Church.  Oh my.

(Mea Culpa: I have a thing for assassins.  A thing which, at times, may veer crazily across the border into Fetish Land, where I keep a summer home.  While my natural character is that of a rogue - Sula would say a bard is more accurate - I'm really in love with the rogue's taciturn and thorny cousin: the assassin.  Both are skilled in stealth, both are lithe and acrobatic, and most importantly, both wear a dark cloak with a hood.  And while Kalam, from The Malazan Book of the Fallen, can get me all kinds of excited about taking out seven men by himself, it is female assassins, like Apsalar, the Shadowdancer (also from MBOTF) who really make my socks roll up and down.  There's a lovely moment in The Bonehunters when Aspalar is in a tavern and one of the servers tells her those men over there have noticed how lightly she moves and they want her to dance for them.  Aspalar, without menace, with sadness really, replies: "They don't want me to dance for them".  

Were my heart blacker, were it grown over and calloused from lack of use, I would play the assassin more often than I do.  Alas, while I am happy to steal into Bafford Manor and relieve the Lord of his fabulous jewelled sceptre, I'm unlikely to leave a trail of bodies behind me.)  


~And, one of the Royal daughters, Anne, is quite headstrong and independent, giving her chaperone the slip and refusing to ride her horse side saddle, and just lately has been told she's to attend the same coven that trained Erren.  


I was overjoyed when it became clear Anne is going to be an assassin, and not married off to some foreign Prince to support the long-term strategic and diplomatic goals of the Kingdom.  Hopefully, Anne will become a central player in the sequels.  

The characters are all warmly drawn and the plot is deftly handled - an ancient evil, the titular Briar King, is waking and terror and fear stalk the land like two great stalky things.  Story beats have been well motivated (apart from a weird moment when two characters spontaneously decide to have sex up on the ledge above a valley, while being pursued by enemies) and I'm growing particularly fond of the young monk Stephen Darige (rhymes with carriage) and his journey.  In his studiousness, he reminds me a bit of Malacus Quai from The First Law Trilogy, except Stephen is less dour and sulky.  Although I do worry that, by joining the monastery, Steven has fallen in with a bad lot.  I'm beginning to doubt the intentions of the wise and benevolent Fratrex, who leads the monks.  Something about him is just a bit off.  Maybe he needs a woman?

To stab him through the kidneys.



Spoil(er)s of War

“O daughter of my people, gird thee with sackcloth, and wallow thyself in ashes: make thee mourning, as for an only son, most bitter lamentation: for the spoiler shall suddenly come upon us.”  -Jeremiah 6:26
There are going to be spoilers revealed on this blog.  This is not a review site and I'm not interested in being vague about whatever it is I'm reading or playing.  I want to get in there, up to my elbows in it, splashing around in the muck.  I want to write about the things that interest me and if that means I undo plot points and character arcs, then so be it.  I will be tagging any posts that I think contain spoilers, so you can avoid them if you wish.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Woz All Dis?





"There are two kinds of people, those who finish what they start and so on."  -Robert Byrne

I need to develop good writing habits.  A few years ago I made a career change and was thrilled it meant I could stop writing.   I felt like I had set down a burden I'd been lugging around with me for years.  I was crippled by it; weighed down by expectation and guilt.  And my new career filled me with joy.  Weightless.  Nourished.  Every day, eager to get in to work.  I love my job and feel very fortunate that I get to do it.  But in the corner of my mind, in a blindspot I constructed specially, I began to make lists.  Nothing serious, just lists: interesting names, a calendar system, a religious structure, rough geography.  Sketches really, doodles, in the margins of my life.  Notes on a fantasy novel I would never write.  

Running alongside that distraction - or, on top of it - is my love for fantasy fiction and role-playing games, and boardgames, and the need I have to talk about those things, to be absorbed, to get inside them and examine all their little moving parts.   I have read fantasy books just for the weather.  The Godless World trilogy, by Brian Ruckley, is a series I was ambivalent about but still burned through, just because it contains so much snow and rain and rocks and wind.  I might have a disorder.  Perhaps there is some medication I could take.

So, I thought I could serve a few of my needs by mounting a blog on which I would write about the fantasy books I'm reading, the boardgames my bride and I are playing, and the role-playing games that are stopping me from making my work deadlines.  And at the same time, get back in the habit of writing again.  I hesitate to call these word experiments reviews because a) The Internets are already full of critics and reviewers, both capable and otherwise, and b) It's all so bloody subjective, and who do I think I am to pronounce this or that book good or bad.  Just because I thought the story smelled like a gerbil's armpit doesn't mean it won't work for someone else.  So I'm not going to do that.  No ratings.  No stars.  I'm going to write about the elements that interest me most.  Which means I might spend all my time writing about the weather, or the Milanese plate, or the broken windlass on the crossbow, or the character I cannot get out of my head, even though we only met her for five pages, or Quick Ben talking to Pearl up on the rooftop in Darujhistan.  Whatever draws my interest.  I'm aiming for a tone that is more conversational than critical.  

Imagine you've just eaten, night has fallen and it's raining out but you can see warm, yellow light in the windows of The Crooked Crow, and you fancy that's the sound of laughter, so you button and take a walk up the hillThe tavern is maybe half-full and smoky, and I'm sitting with a few others in good chairs pulled close around the big, flagstone fireplace.  You hang your coat, gesture to Kvothe for a pint of his best bitter, and come over to join us.  A window shutter is rattling and we can hear the rain dancing on the roof and running down the eavestrough.  As you settle you nod to Isthmus, the cooper, getting her yellow pipe going, and Calleach, the Blue Jacket, finishing a plate of rabbit stew and wiping his mouth on the shoulder of his surcoat.  Kvothe drops off your pint and pats your arm before moving away to collect some empties from a nearby table.  You take a long pull on your ale, savouring the rich, hoppy flavour.  You pull out your tobacco pouch.  What are we talking about tonight?

What would you like to talk about?