Patrick Rothfuss introduces The Slow Regard of Silent Things with a warning that it’s not a proper story. It doesn’t do the things a story is supposed to do.
And it’s wonderful. It’s unlike most anything else I’ve read and I treasured every word of it.
This isn’t a story so much as it’s a contemplation. Reading it isn’t an act of reading so much as it’s a meditation.
Even more so than in the novels of his Kingkiller Chronicle, this novella displays Mr. Rothfuss’ delight in language. He plays with words here in a way that’s both elegant and giddy. The book is lyrical, bursting with alliteration, homophones, and rhyme, but it never comes off as contrived or self-conscious. Rather, his language is a search to find just the right words for each thing that needs to be said.
There are moments when The Slow Regard of Silent Things reads as a tone poem as much as a story. There are moments when the language acts almost as a chant, initiating something akin to a meditative state in the reader.
This is beautiful writing.
In the simplest terms, The Slow Regard of Silent Things is the story of six days in the life of Auri, the mysterious girl who lives in the Underthing—the tunnels underneath the University—who Kvothe befriends during his time as a student and who we meet in the pages of The Kingkiller Chronicle. We follow Auri as she goes about her daily business, preparing for a visit from the man who gave her her name.
To talk about the plot of The Slow Regard of Silent Things feels almost irrelevant. This isn’t a traditional narrative, as Mr. Rothfuss takes great pains to make clear in his introduction and closing author note. The story isn’t so much about what Auri does during this time but rather why she does it, how she interacts with her subterranean world. It’s less about the geography of the Underthing and more about the geography of Auri’s mind.
This is a character study, a linguistic excursion, spelunking through an utterly fascinating part of an utterly compelling world that Mr. Rothfuss has created.
When an author creates a world as vibrant as that of The Kingkiller Chronicle, they undertake all sorts of world-building exercises, envisioning the environment in as much detail as possible to properly inform their characters’ actions and to make the world fully believable. Most of this world-building never makes its way into the finished work—it’s necessary for the author to know but not for the reader to see.
From a lesser author, The Slow Regard of Silent Things would be such a world-building exercise. Sharing it with readers would serve no useful purpose beyond stroking the author’s ego.
But Mr. Rothfuss isn’t a lesser author. He’s self-aware enough, exacting enough, to recognize a world-building exercise for what it is. This story called out to him as something more than that and he was wise enough to see that it was worth sharing.
Nate Taylor’s spare illustrations are pitch-perfect. They show just enough of Auri’s world, but not too much. They’re composed of as much mystery as explication, shadows revealing the light. They interact with the text in a way that heightens the whole narrative—visual poetry to counterpoint the poetry of language.
This story is sweet, gentle, and comforting. For all that Mr. Rothfuss protests that it’s not a proper story, it’s quite proper true for what it is.
I’m very happy that I got to spend a couple of hours living in Auri’s world. It’s a special place.
It’s worth noting that this book garnered rather a lot of bad reviews on social book sites. These bad reviews essentially boil down to the fact that many readers find it boring.
These bad reviews aren’t wrong. My personal favorite review of this work states:
There’s absolutely no plot, it’s just ~150 pages of a girl running around in the sewers doing Feng Shui and kissing inanimate objects.
That’s a concise and more-or-less correct (albeit oversimplified) summation of what little plot there is.
I completely understand why people don’t like this book. It’s slow, meandering, plotless. It’s about language, not story. It’s about place and feeling, not events. Of course some people find it boring.
But here’s the thing: Mr. Rothfuss tells everyone that this isn’t a normal, plot-driven book upfront, right in his introduction. He warns anyone looking for a normal, plot-driven story to walk away from this book, because it’s not what they’re looking for.
So, if you’re a reader looking for a plot-driven fantasy story like Mr. Rothfuss’ other novels—heed his warning in the introduction and understand that this novella won’t give you that.
The rewards offered in this work are very different.