Rothfuss has two big bestsellers to his name: The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear. The novels follow the journey of Kvothe, a sharp-witted, good-hearted bard / mage / warrior / student. Think magical trials, school rivalries, political intrigue, and the ever-present threat of ancient evil forces. All in all, a highly entertaining world to live in for a while.
The Slow Regard of Silent Things takes place in the same universe, but doesn’t have anything to do with Kvothe. Instead, we find ourselves in the life of Auri, a girl who appears only briefly in the other two books. She’s not exactly in her right mind – once she was a student, as Kvothe is, but something inside her snapped under the power of the magic she studied. Now she is lives in the storm drains, sewers, and catacombs under the university, afraid of strangers and the open sky. From Kvothe’s perspective, Auri is a broken girl – childlike, naive, and in danger from the world around her.
Slow Regard says otherwise.
The slim volume represents a week in the life of Auri – her day to day duties, cares, and worries. More than anything, she is filled with purpose: each day has a specific use and need, which she interprets and fulfils. Some days are for finding, some are for making, and some are for weeping. Everything fits in place according to a strict set of ever-evolving superstitions: the blanket can’t touch the floor, nothing may be taken without being replaced, and she must not look at the black door. She imposes emotions on her belongings and becomes immensely attached to a giant brass gear with a missing tooth.
More than anything, Auri’s intense dedication to upholding her superstitions reminds me of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle – small totems that keep the world together. On one hand, her superstitious structures are strange, irrational, and more than a little crazy. They’re also compassionate and heartfelt – guidelines she follows to improve the world without leaving a mark. No matter how you choose to look at it, it’s heart-breakingly clear that these funny little rituals are the only thing keeping Auri in one piece and functioning.
The novella reads almost like a fairy tale: the prose is gentle yet sturdy, poetic but not flowery, simple without hitting boring. There is no dialogue and no conflict except between Auri and herself all the same, the story is gripping and tender. By building such a lush world on such bare bones, Rothfuss proves that stories don’t have to be complicated to be excellent.
In the back matter, Rothfuss apologises profusely for delivering such an off-beat little creature of a book – especially to the ardent fans clamouring for the next book in the Kingkiller chronicles. But I think apologising for Slow Regard does it a disservice. Even if you know nothing about what’s happening in Rothfuss’ main world, this small tale stands well enough by itself – complementing the other novels without leaning on them, and shining with a small and sturdy brilliance of its own.
The header image for this post is an image from the novella, which is illustrated by Nathan Taylor.