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 series, 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 Chronicles. 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. It’s about language and not story, it’s about place and feeling and not events.
When an author creates a world as vibrant as that of the Kingkiller Chronicles, 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.
About the Author
John Keogh is the Digital User Specialist for the Digital Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. He grew up in Fargo, ND, (too small) and lived in Chicago for several years (too big) before he moved to Kansas City. He calls KC his "Goldilocks town" because it's just right.