I am aware that this review has been a long time in coming. I've been receiving a lot of emails and messages asking me when I'd review Patrick Rothfuss' The Slow Regard of Silent Things since a few weeks before the novella was published. Trouble is, at first I had no intention of even reading the book. Don't get me wrong, like countless SFF readers I love Rothfuss. And I'm eagerly awaiting any news pertaining to the release of volume 3, The Doors of Stone.
The first red flag appeared when the author himself posted his "You might not want to buy this book" foreword online. Rothfuss warned readers that this was a bit of a strange story. Moreover, we were warned that it was different, that it didn't do a lot of the things a classic story is supposed to do. Hence, I was a bit apprehensive at the thought of reading this new novella. Then I finally received my copy and the author's endnote did nothing to reassure me. If anything, it well nigh convinced me that The Slow Regard of Silent Things wasn't for me. You know me. I'm a plot kind of guy. Always have been, always will be. And this novella didn't really have a plot to speak of. The closest thing to an action scene it features is a description of Auri making soap. All in all, it didn't seem to bode well for me. So I elected that for the good of everyone involved, I should refrain from reading and reviewing this one.
Not unexpectedly, readers' reviews have been rather mixed. Some have loved everything about it, while others have accused Rothfuss of milking his popularity for all it's worth by releasing a weird work that should have remained buried somewhere deep in his computer files. Knowing how hard to please I can be and reading those mixed reviews made me realize that this was the right course of action for me. Yet for some reason, even though everything hinted at the fact that I would in all likelihood absolutely hate everything about The Slow Regard of Silent Things, I kept thinking about the book and whether or not I should give it a go. The Holiday season was just around the corner and I wanted a quick read, so I finally caved in and decided to read the novella. And I'm glad I did!
Here's the blurb:
Deep below the University, there is a dark place. Few people know of it: a broken web of ancient passageways and abandoned rooms. A young woman lives there, tucked among the sprawling tunnels of the Underthing, snug in the heart of this forgotten place.
Her name is Auri, and she is full of mysteries. The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a brief, bittersweet glimpse of Auri’s life, a small adventure all her own. At once joyous and haunting, this story offers a chance to see the world through Auri’s eyes. And it gives the reader a chance to learn things that only Auri knows…. In this book, Patrick Rothfuss brings us into the world of one of The Kingkiller Chronicle’s most enigmatic characters. Full of secrets and mysteries, The Slow Regard of Silent Things is the story of a broken girl trying to live in a broken world.
The tale focuses on Auri, the mysterious girl that Kvothe befriends at the university, and her life in the Underthing. Forewarned by Rothfuss, one quickly realizes that there is indeed no structured plot moving the story forward. The third person narrative follows the point of view of Auri and we immediately discover -- not that we needed any confirmation -- that there is something special about this strange girl. In the main book sequence, Auri comes across as an incredibly shy, innocent, and enigmatic girl. But there is something hauntingly whimsical about her and the way she perceives the world around her. Every object and place has a special name and is even attributed feelings. Her life seems to revolve around finding a proper place for every object she comes across.
The Slow Regard of Silent Things features a story that drifts somewhat aimlessly as it follows Auri's life in the Underthing. She somehow knows that Kvothe will be visiting her in seven days and she must find a suitable gift for him. The better part of the book pretty much has to with her quest to find the appropriate place for all the inanimate object she finds, a place that suits them and won't hurt their feelings. Hence, the narrative meanders and often doesn't seem to go anywhere. Things don't necessarily make any sense, but in a way that's the beauty of the novella.
As I mentioned, there is something hauntingly whimsical about Auri's POV. At times, she's sweet and fragile. At others, she's driven and stronger. There is an innocence about her that I found absolutely charming. Her sweetness reminded me of my goddaughter Angélique. I remember watching her interact with the world around her while she was growing up, and then participating in her often odd adventures as she grew older, trying to understand what the heck was going on inside her head. Auri is a bit like that. Her sweetness and vulnerability draw you inside her world. And although there is indeed no plot to speak of, I found myself letting go of what a story is supposed to be about and all of a sudden I was just along for the ride. A weird and fanciful ride, no doubt about it!
Few speculative fiction authors could have managed to make a story with no plot, a story that often basically goes nowhere, something so interesting to read. But Patrick Rothfuss' prose makes this a joy to read. His evocative depiction of the Underthing as a dark and atmospheric place sets the mood perfectly.
The novella also features a number of black-and-white illustrations from artist Nate Taylor. Each help depict Auri and the various rooms of the Underthing and its many corridors, capturing the often claustrophobic feel of those places. In a strange way, the Underthing almost becomes a character in its own right throughout this book.
So no, if you are looking for more about Kvothe and the Kingkiller Chronicle, this novella is not for you. Nothing much happens and chances are that you won't enjoy it. But if you want to read something different, something special, about a broken girl making her way through a broken world, then The Slow Regard of Silent Things might be for you.