Patrick Rothfuss is in a tough position. Fans are clamoring for Doors of Stone, the long-awaited third book in his acclaimed “Kingkiller Chronicles” series, pestering him at cons and haranguing him on social media to get to work to finish the much anticipated novel. And in the midst of all this impatience he has released a new novella set in the “Kingkiller” world but with little to do with the main narrative. Sort of like George R.R. Martin, who also released a new book this week that isn’t the next volume of “A Song of Ice and Fire”.
In fact Rothfuss has been so concerned about the reception of The Slow Regard of Silent Things that he has taken to disclaiming the book in blog posts and on social media — advising that it isn’t a good place to start reading his work, expressing his nervousness over the reception in light of the anticipation for Doors of Stone. He even included a forward and endnote that were almost apologetic regarding the story.
He doesn’t have anything to apologize for. Slow Regard may not advance Kingkiller’s story of Kvothe, which was laid out in The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, but it does provide a lovely detour into the life and mind of one of his friends.
Auri is an eccentric urchin possessing strange, brilliant magical skills within her damaged mind. Slow Regard follows her through a week of her life and chores within the Underthing, an abandoned labyrinth of tumbledown passages, rooms and stairs beneath the University, where she makes her home. Auri wanders from room to room — exploring, tidying things, discovering new items and searching for the places they belong. She does this in anticipation of someone’s arrival at the end of the week.
And that’s the story. 150 pages of descriptions of rooms, knick-knacks, detritus and emotions, told in third-person, unlike the first-person driven “Kingkiller” novels. The only action sequences involve making soap and venturing out of the Underthing to a nearby farm in search of honey. There is no dialogue, and the only other characters are a baby skunk and child in the farmhouse window.
But it gives Rothfuss a chance to show why he is so beloved among fantasy authors and why his fans post constantly asking when Doors of Stone is coming. The writing is gorgeous, filled with witty wordplay and vivid descriptions, like this scene where Auri prepares for her guest’s arrival:
“Auri washed her face. She washed her hands and feet.
Soon. She knew. Soon he would come visiting. Incarnadine and sweet and sad and broken. Just like her. He would come, and like the proper gentleman he was, he would bring three things.
Grinning, Auri fairly danced. She would have three things for him as well.
First his clever candle, all Taborlin. All warm and stuffed with poetry and dreams.
Second was a proper place. A shelf where he could put his heart. A bed to sleep. Nothing could harm him here.
And the third thing? Well… She ducked her face and felt a slow flush climb her cheeks….
… Auri spun about three times. She smelled the air. She grinned. All around her everything was proper true. She knew exactly where she was. She was exactly where she ought to be.”
Praise must also go out to artist Nate Taylor, whose drawings perfectly accentuate Rothfuss’s elegant prose.
Rothfuss’s work can be polarizing. He is the sort of author that readers either love or hate. Slow Regard is the perfect example of why I love his work — its economy, its wordplay and its beauty. And though I believe Rothfuss would blush at the comparison, the only person to whom I can compare this story is Neil Gaiman. Slow Regard of Silent Things doesn’t strive for glory, but it dwells in the mundane and makes it extraordinary.
It is simply a beautiful, sad little story.