Received wisdom dictates that Fantasy titles should be mostly be short and punchy. Literary tales are the ones with wafty, long-winded titles. But then, literary stories tend to focus on beautiful prose, striking descriptions, while pushing the envelope of exactly what prose can do. Genre fiction is too busy ploughing through a crowded plotline, peopled with a cast of characters bristling with dour intent to deceive, murder or seduce the innocent, wide-eyed protagonist who has unwittingly wandered into the middle of this eventful, threat-filled landscape. However every so often an author, like Rothfuss, comes along who totally upends these genre conventions. Does he get away with it?
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. This novella offers a chance to see the world through Auri’s eyes.
So, do you really need to have read The Kingkiller Chronicle to get The Slow Regard of Silent Things? Hm. There are a number of apparently throwaway references that have a certain resonance if you have read the book in which this novella is nested, but to be honest, I really don’t think you’ll be floundering all that much if you haven’t. For starters, there isn’t a huge cast to wrestle with, or a welter of events that has your head spinning. Auri lives in the dark places long forgotten and ekes out a sparse, solitary existence. She needs to move carefully, if sure-footedly through this landscape. So the pace is slow as we spend a week in her world alongside her.
Rothfuss has managed to build a painfully beautiful story, woven from her imagination and the events with which she fills her dark days. When the prose flows at its best, we are right in her head and caught up in the weird, discarded landscape she inhabits. I was rapt by the poetry of the writing and I felt the depth of Auri’s brokenness was fully conveyed without ever alluding to the events that caused her to flee and live such a solitary existence.
Any grizzles? Yes. Rothfuss every so often throws in comments about Auri’s appearance, referring to her ‘tiny feet’ and describing her eyes being ‘all softness and want’ while ‘her mouth grew firm and furious’. Which immediately yanked me out of her viewpoint and pulled me away from the story – such a great shame when most of the novella is so well crafted in deep pov.
This book has divided Rothfuss’ readership, as he recognised in his apologetic prologue – in fact skimming through the reviews on Goodreads, there are folks out there all set to go to war over this slim book. I really enjoyed this ambitious, beautiful story, but like poor little Auri, it is flawed.