The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss – Extensive Review
|Book Name:||The Slow Regard of Silent Things|
|Publisher(s):||Gollancz (UK) / Daw Books (USA)|
|Formatt:||Hardback / Ebook / Audio Book|
|Release Date:||October 28th 2014|
Picking up The Slow Regard of Silent Things you are greeted by a number of warnings from the author:
“You might not want to buy this book.”
“I think it’s only fair to warn you that this is a bit of a strange story.”
“I don’t go in for spoilers, but suffice to say that this one is… different. It doesn’t do a lot of the things a classic story is supposed to do.”
Patrick Rothfuss, 2014
Yes. Going into The Slow Regard of Silent Things I’d heard all the warnings from Patrick Rothfuss – that this story might not be for me, you or anyone else. However, if you’re a fan of Rothfuss I’m not sure that even a ‘radioactive hazard’ sign could stop you picking up this book.
For those who don’t know: the story goes that Rothfuss began writing this story initially as a submission for George R.R. Martin’s Rogues anthology, but it spiralled into something that was too long and completely unsuited for such a collection.
From there it sat half finished for a while and Pat wasn’t sure whether he should take the time to finish it. However, fascinated by its ‘strangeness’ and ‘odd sweetness’ Pat found he couldn’t leave it without a suitable ending – I guess he felt he owed it to Auri, one of his favourite characters. So, he got back to work and once completed showed it to some friends. All agreed that it was beautiful and that they liked it, but also concurred with Pat’s assessment: that it was weird. So, again, Pat considered leaving it at that – an exercise of exploring the inner workings and experiences of Auri. Eventually though Pat showed it to one of his editors who loved it and told him that he needed to ignore his anxiety over what people ‘may’ think and just get it out there for those who ‘will’ like it. And that’s what Pat did.
The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a novella that focuses on Auri and her life down in the Underthing (the abandoned underground floors of the university we visit briefly in The Kingkiller Chronicles).
As you will know, Auri is a character of mysterious origins. In The Kingkiller Chronicles we hear from Elodin (a teacher at the University) that he has seen Auri sneaking in and out of the university for a number of years. She is petit, sweet, innocent and almost faery-like. Although Elodin was never able to approach her, Auri is attracted to Kvothe’s mastery of the Lute and her fondness of watching him play eventually allows him to draw her from the shadows and build up enough trust that they interact and become friends. Despite the bond that they form – a true, loving one – Auri will not answer personal questions about her past and is very uncomfortable even being asked.
Entering Auri’s point of view, we instantly recognise that we are not following a ‘normal’ person. Something in Auri is perhaps broken or perhaps fixed in a way that is very different from your typical POV. Every inanimate object and space that surrounds Auri is personified by her: given a name, a place to live and even attributed feelings. This ranges from the small green light that she fondly calls Foxen – sometimes brave and sometimes scared when faced with the dark – a brass gear – full of true answers and love – and the sitting room – that has a ‘strange wrongness’ that stops it being ‘circle perfect’.
I won’t go too much into theories and such for this review (there will be so, so many read-alongs that will do that, if that’s what you’re looking for), but you will pick up a bit more understanding of alchemy – or at least how Auri is able to know the name of things – that may help you get the ‘naming’ of things a little better. Certainly, it’ll add fuel to the numerous theories that Auri is either a princess, something Kvothe created as a result of his naming talent, part of the Amyr and so on.
The writing by Patrick Rothfuss is exquisite as ever. The number of beautiful metaphors, the authenticity of Auri’s voice and the emotions that the story invokes are as strong as you would expect. Despite being in the third person, we truly feel connected to Auri as she wonders through the Underthing hunting for a gift to give to Kvothe. Indeed, from the moment we meet Auri it is made clear that of everything Auri does, choosing the ‘perfect’ gift for Kvothe is the most important part of her life during the time we follow her – timeline-wise, a point during Kvothe’s stint at the university.
The view of the Underthing is atmospheric, claustrophobic and enlightening. This isn’t some kind of magical place that Auri retreats to (as I initially thought), it is a dark and creepy place that no young girl should have to live. The pictures that accompany the novella vary between shots of objects Auri sees (such as pipes or footprints), areas of the Underthing and detail-less sketches of her in various poses. They don’t hold up to the kinds of illustration you will find in Subterranean Press novellas, such as the stunning artwork in the ones they have published by Peter V. Brett, but for Rothfuss’s aim – he didn’t want to show too much of Auri in order to keep her and the Underthing mysterious – they are probably about right. In terms of style, most are sketches, but some are kind of silhouetted – as if black card has been placed against a light source. Finally, on the topic of presentation, I’d like to point out how absolutely beautiful the Gollancz (UK) cover was. The US one was kind of cool and kind of creepy, but the UK over – in my opinion – knocked it out of the park.
The problem with this novella is that that from here there isn’t too much more about the story or occurrences that I can tell you. We follow Auri around for a while as she finds certain objects, wonders whether they are good enough for Kvothe or not, decides they are not and puts them back or puts them somewhere new. Auri feels that everything has a place and if something is where it shouldn’t be it leaves her feeling very uncomfortable – it feels similar to OCD.
I think the ‘thing’ that is missing from this story is a clear: a logical destination. For example, when we pick up a Sherlock Holmes novel there will be a body on the floor, and a killer to find. Around page 80 of The Slow Regard of Silent Things I began to wonder what the plot was and it wasn’t until I flipped over the final page that I realised there wasn’t going to be one. As Patrick Rothfuss said, this truly is just a few days in the life of Auri, a secondary character, through her eyes. Going back to our Holmes analogy, without a body being found on the floor there is no killer to find. Without a killer to find, a story about Sherlock Holmes will just feature an eccentric guy being eccentric at home or wherever he chooses to go and that’s kind of how this novella felt.
As a result, reviews on Amazon and Goodreads have been mixed. Diehard Rothfuss fans have thanked Pat for a chance to spend a day with one of his characters whereas other fans, some furious, have accused the author of cashing in on a piece of work that should have stayed in the ‘research’ folder of his computer.
So, my review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things is what it is. It is a snapshot of Auri’s life when she isn’t with Kvothe. The author has said that you may not want to buy it if you are expecting something more than that and I think that is sound advice.
So, my review wasn’t overly positive, but for those who have read the book or those who have been put off I feel it unfair to leave it there, because I truly feel there’s something more going on with this release. Firstly, I’d like to ask you to consider this: is Patrick Rothfuss capable of writing a short story without a point? Patrick Rothfuss has a B.A. in English and is now a teacher of University level students. Having studied for my own B.A. in English I can tell you that it is drummed into you constantly during such a course that a short story is not so much about the words on the page, but about what is beyond them and what they leave your reader with.
After the novel there is an afterword by Patrick Rothfuss. Again, a number of reviewers have reacted negatively to this, thinking it is pretentious, but I don’t think it is meant that way at all. Rothfuss writes:
If you’re one of the people who found this story disconcerting, off-putting, or confusing, I apologize. The truth is, it probably just wasn’t for you. The good news is that there are many other stories out there that are written just for you. Stories you will enjoy much more.
This story is for all the slightly broken people out there.
I am one of you. You are not alone. You are all beautiful to me.
It leaves me wondering whether Auri and her pursuit of perfection is an allegory for Patrick Rothfuss’s pursuit of perfection with The Kingkiller Chronicles. Being a writer is lonely job. You spend the vast majority of it in a world that no-one else can see or share. Around you the world is going by, mostly unaware of your struggles, whilst you are far removed from it. Once you get to the editing stage, like Rothfuss is, everything that surrounds you is roughly in place, but not quite. Like the toy soldier Auri finds on the floor, a sentence may be OK if left in one location, but until you put it in its correct place, in the correct paragraph – or the toy soldier on the correct shelf, in the correct room – it will bother you. Again, when you consider the immense pressure that Rothfuss must be feeling having now racked up over a decade editing these books, trying to put everything in its rightful place, is there any wonder that he has:
a special place in my heart for this strange, sweet, shattered girl.
As the book currently stands I think 6/10 people we ask will be disappointed with what they get out of it. However, I think 9/10 people will say that they are glad they got to read it, because if Pat had said he’d written this book and wasn’t going to show anyone then we’d all feel cheated, right? What I believe is that this story should enter a collection of Pat Rothfuss short stories in the future and be a standout tale in that collection. Coupled with other stories about other characters I think this will be truly appreciated and, with hindsight, earn the author some sympathy as to his battles with the OCD-like perfectionism he is experiencing whilst working on book 3.