Long-time readers of my blog will know that I have been an enormous fan of Patrick Rothfuss since his first book, The Name of The Wind, was published back in 2007. The first part of an epic fantasy trilogy, I was breath-taken by his beautiful and poetic way with words and the way he combined so many disciplines of thought in his writing to create a story which was genuinely unique – a rare feat in this day and age. The second book, the even more epic thousand pager The Wise Man’s Fear was at least as good as his first novel, achieved huge critical and commercial success and has for years left many of us patiently waiting for the final part of this story.
In the meantime, he has released a novella called The Slow Regard of Silent Things, based entirely around the character of Auri. Auri is an unusual and mysterious girl who lives deep below the University in the Underthing, a huge maze of ancient tunnels and rooms unknown to most. We met Auri in the main trilogy, but very little light was shed on her there and she remained an enigma. In this book, Rothfuss reveals the sort of person Auri is and the way she thinks by following her around over the course of a week as she prepares for a particular occasion about which she is very excited.
The funny thing is, that’s about as complex as it gets. The book generally lacks plot, and Rothfuss himself confessed his insecurities when he wrote the story in the author’s endnote, saying “It doesn’t do the things a story is supposed to do…a story should have dialogue, action, conflict. A story should have more than one character.” But it doesn’t, and for me that’s just fine. This story actually is 150 pages of pure character development, but the detail is so carefully revealed, the scenes so perfectly painted, the writing so playfully crafted, that reading it is not a challenge but frankly an almost hypnotic pleasure.
Auri herself is utterly charming. Her view of the world, and her duty within it, seems so pure and untainted from the world itself. Despite living virtually alone, each day has its purpose – the first day is a “finding day”, where she searches out and finds items that become useful throughout the story. The second day is a “doing day” – no surprises what this entails – while later days focus on thinking, fixing, and so on. She constantly obsesses over making sure everything is in its right place and everything is doing what it is supposed to be doing:
“The fireplace was empty. And above that was the mantelpiece: her yellow leaf, her box of stone, her grey glass jar with sweet dried lavender inside. Nothing was nothing else. Nothing was anything it shouldn’t be.”
She often personifies the world around her, describing pipes as rude, over-eager and embarrassing in one moment, while she later describes the huge brass gear that plays an important role in the story as “full of true answers and love and hearthlight…beautiful.” She names everything that she discovers, and sees an importance in having names – “It was one thing to be private. But to have no name at all? How horrible. How lonely.” When she wants something that she feels taking would upset the balance of her world, she chastises herself, “She was a greedy thing sometimes. Wanting for herself. Twisting the world all out of proper shape. Pushing everything about with the weight of her desire.” And there is the constant repetition of one of her key principles: “She knew better than anyone, it was worth doing things the proper way.”
All this behaviour can seem eccentric at best, or pure madness from another perspective. But there’s something about it that intrigues you as a reader, pulls you into her world and makes you want to know her more. She is a caring, loving being who just wants to keep her world the way it is supposed to be and who feels absolutely no sense of entitlement to anything whatsoever. She also retains the childlike curiosity that so many of us lose and long for the rest of our lives – there’s something about this setting that seems bizarrely appealing in its own way. Most particularly, she is clearly a broken girl. She can fix herself quite easily and copes overall, but there is a darkness in her life that she doesn’t fully explain or show but into which we do gain a small glimpse. The most devastating chapter in the entire book is the chapter titled Hollow, which consists of just six words: “On the third day, Auri wept.” Why did she weep? We don’t really find out, but it does affect her next day substantially (or possibly we do find out and I missed it…I feel there is a lot to be gained from reading this book a second time). But it is this constant trickling of information without a need to explain itself that pulls us along so willingly. Not knowing all the answers, knowing there are secrets still untold – this is part of the magic.
One other aspect of this novella I cannot ignore is the beautiful illustrations by Nate Taylor. The drawings themselves are dark and intriguing, painting the perfect picture of many of the key scenes and moments throughout the story. They add another dimension to Auri’s world, showing us how Rothfuss himself sees aspects of it. More than anything, the drawings of Auri herself depict this wispy, fairy-like girl who looks like she only exists from her sheer exertion and energy alone, as if she is defying the world through her very being in some odd way. There is a melancholy atmosphere throughout the book that is only intensified through these drawings and which make them vital to the story.
This bittersweet tale of one of the most memorable characters in recent fantasy fiction is not for everybody, and Rothfuss himself was the first to admit that. If you haven’t read his other books, start there first as they provide a bit of a context to this book. Even if you loved them, you still might not like this book because it is so different to anything he has written. In his own words, this book is “for all the slightly broken people out there.” If my review interests you, you might like the book, but if it sounds totally whacky and weird it might not be for you. And that’s okay too. For me personally, I adored this book – an instant favourite!
If you have read this book (or anything by Rothfuss) I’d love to hear from you! What are your thoughts?