My, my, Patrick Rothfuss, aren’t we a little defensive about this book?
First you include a brief foreword, in which you warn us against buying this book, because this book is different. And fair enough. It’s centred on Auri, a minor character from your series, and one who is rather odd. The story itself is bound to be odd, as you warn us.
But then you add an afterword, in which you feel the need to relate a story about how Vi Hart (whom I adore, incidentally, as everything a mathematician and educator should be) told you that you need to publish this story. You go on about the genesis of this story and your agonizing decision to publish it that you have to relegate the story behind the illustrations to a blog post. (I didn’t go look up the post, no. The illustrations by Nate Taylor are lovely, though.)
We get it, Rothfuss: The Slow Regard of Silent Things is different. Stop going on about it.
So I’m not going to waste my time sitting on the fence, saying, “Well, you might like it or you might not.” That’s a silly way to write a review, because it’s true for pretty much every story. I liked it, and here’s why.
This might actually be the best story of Rothfuss’ I have read so far. The Kingkiller Chronicles are everything a sprawling fantasy opus should be—and therein lies the problem. Rothfuss is a master storyteller but not always a great writer. (He is similar to George R.R. Martin in that respect, I think.) He has such an awesome command of worldbuilding and plot, but his characterization often suffers, bogged down by those former two points. The resulting product is something like The Wise Man’s Fear, where Kvothe appears to be ascending to Ultimate Mary Sue Apotheosis. It’s a damned shame, because this is the sort of fantasy I tend to like.
The Slow Regard of Silent Things is definitely different—and in being different, it fixes a lot of the problems with Rothfuss’ novels.
Auri is great. In the novels, of course, filtered as she is by Kvothe’s narration, we don’t get a full sense of her personality. Kvothe tolerates her and feels a kind of filial affection for her, but he doesn’t understand her—the condescension that is part of his self-pride prevents him from trying to empathize with her worldview. As far as he is concerned, she is “broken,” he can’t “fix” her, so he just leaves her be. And exchanges gifts once in a while.
Auri is so much more than that, though, and here Rothfuss has a chance to show that. Yes, Auri is a little broken—but we are all broken, right? So Auri is just a little more obvious about it. Yet even in her altered state, there is a beautiful layer of order and harmony to her life-style and her behaviour. She is not predictable. But she seeks what she would perceive as a sense of stability.
There is no dialogue here. Rothfuss can indulge in his desire to describe and illuminate as much as he wants, and it’s not going to get in the way of dialogue. (I never thought dialogue was the best part of his novels anyway, so I don’t miss it.) What results is a tapestry of story, made from rich and luxurious fabric. Expressions are no longer moments related just after a character speaks; now they are a paragraph’s worth of processes. I know that might sound like a drag, but it’s not; I assure you. It actually creates a much more melodic and comfortable pace than any of the novels.
Rothfuss also uses a lot of words that don’t make it into everyday conversation any more. Again, I like it and think that works. It’s part of the whole aesthetic, working as a way of narration as characterization.
The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a completely unnecessary book. My dad asked me if he would enjoy the third Kingkiller book less if he didn’t read this. No. This isn’t going to expand your knowledge of that world, or give you insight into a key issue that will define the third book. It is something entirely on its own, sharing that world only because they share Auri. And it’s great, and while it might not be you, I am not going to get all defensive about it (but then again, it isn’t my baby). Then again, the nice thing about novellas is that they are short—and this one has pictures. So even if you don’t like it, that’s what, less than an afternoon? Spend an afternoon hanging with Auri for seven days.