It’s not often an author feels the need to caveat his story in the foreword and afterword. But as Patrick Rothfuss notes (repeatedly), his novella The Slow Regard of Silent Things “doesn’t do what a normal story is supposed to do,” and probably isn’t for everyone.
Rothfuss’s anxiety stems from the fact that the plot is essentially just a week in the life of Auri, a supporting character in his epic fantasy series The Kingkiller Chronicle. Auri lives in the Underthing, a network of forgotten rooms and tunnels beneath the University, the school Kvothe, the series’ protagonist, attends to learn magic. In the main books, Kvothe befriends Auri by playing his lute and exchanging small gifts with her. He recognizes she’s a bit addled—likely due to dabbling with magic, which drives some people mad. But he doesn’t know the half of it.
Auri is adorably insane.
She spends much of The Slow Regard of Silent Things preparing for her next visit with Kvothe, and searching for suitable gifts to give him. The Underthing is full of old sundries left behind as the University built above it over the centuries: bottles and gears and keys and clothes and all sorts of other objects that deserve to be happy, to be in their proper place, surrounded by just the right companions, in just the right spots. The rooms of the Underthings have personalities to accommodate as well, as do the days themselves—Auri determines her course of action each morning based on what she hears, sees, or senses upon waking.
I loved this characterization, and the beautiful writing that sustained it. But the story didn’t always hold my attention, primarily because there’s very little tension or conflict aside from Auri’s struggles with anxiety. And with no real conflict, there’s no real resolution. Yes, we find out a bit more about what she can do (although not how she came to be as she is). But I wish Rothfuss had given Auri a more compelling problem to solve—maybe an intruder in the Underthing—and relegated the gift-finding to subplot status.
Even so, his affection for her kept me going. While Rothfuss probably enjoys telling Kvothe’s tale, he clearly loves Auri, and how she knows “her everything” is “canted wrong,” and her head is “all unkilter,” but presses on anyway. I doubt many authors have cared so much about one of their characters; she’s certainly worth writing and reading about.
Just maybe not in such low-stakes fashion.
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