Magic. Some books are shipped with it. Some earn it after years of moving from reader to reader, absorbing a fraction of their awe and wonder.
And then there are books that are written with it. The magic is woven into the language, into the story, so that I feel it the moment I read the first sentence. The Slow Regard of Silent Things is one such book.
Rothfuss has been touted for his poetic prose, the lyrical quality his stories have, and I didn’t really get it until I read this novella. Sure, The Name of the Wind had its poetic moments, and so did The Wise Man’s Fear. But nothing that really stood out to me. Nothing that made me stop and reread lines so I could be hit by them again.
Auri’s story is full of such lines. Lines that took my breath away and begged for me to read them out loud. To feel them. Taste them. Know them.
Every single line evokes Auri herself. They’re thin and agile, and graceful too. They spin and twirl through the unknown guts of the world beneath the university, confident and sure. And they help make sense and bring peace to everything they touch.
The actual plot, the story of what Auri is doing over the course of 148 pages isn’t what I came away with. It was her routine, and the glimpse into how she functions that really entranced me. That and the thoroughly enchanting illustrations of Nate Taylor.
But, to do this proper, I must now warn you of the spoilers.
The story begins, not with Auri, but with Rothfuss. A short foreward, in which he explains that this story might not be for everyone. That it’s strange and doesn’t do what good stories should. But, “if you love words and mysteries and secrets. If you’re curious about the Underthing and alchemy. If you want to know more about the hidden turnings of my world… Well, then this book might be for you.”
Only then do we meet Auri, on the first day of the story. We follow her through her day, learning a little about her world. About the things she’s grown attached to, and her purpose in the Underthing. The Underthing, by the way, is a series of rooms, all in various states of ruin, that are underneath the University Kvothe attends.
She names everything. The rooms, the things she discovers, the things she keeps and uses. First we hear of Mantle, which is the room Auri sleeps in. There her bed and blanket, her shelf, and her beloved source of light Foxen. Foxen lives in a glass jar, and gives off a pale greenish blue light.
We’re never explicitly told what Foxen is, but none of Auri’s named things are living creatures, so I assume Foxen isn’t either.
She wakes on this first day and knows that “he” is coming in seven days. She has to prepare. Now, if you haven’t read the other novels, you’re going to be really confused during Auri’s story. So stop reading this and read The Name of the Wind, right now!
She never says the name of this man who is coming in seven days, but we know that it’s Kvothe. So the story, in its barest bones, is a story of Auri preparing to see Kvothe in seven days time.
If you’ve read the other books, you know that when Kvothe calls on Auri they always exchange gifts. Now, they’re not your typical gifts. They’re clever, odd. And must suit the person for some reason. She spends her days finding the right gift for Kvothe’s visit.
She encounters her fair share of trouble through the story. She makes her own soap, and finds that the eight cakes she’d stored had been eaten by some “rude” creature.
At one point she thinks she hears the sweet music of Kvothe’s lute filtering down into the Underthing. She scurries, finds the first most suitable gift and hurries to The Top of Things. She waits, hidden behind a chimney, but he doesn’t come.
I was sad for her at first, but Auri understands the way of things. He isn’t supposed to come until the seventh day. If he’d come on the third it would be wrong. This way she still has time.
So we follow her. Through the days, good and bad. We learn to see the Underthing as she does, in the lilting, tilt of names and words. Mantle, Wains, Tumbrel, Trees, Pickering, Crumbledon, Woods, Delving and Rubric.
And we fall in love with her friends. Foxen and Fulcrum. The tiny stone Amyr. They all become characters.
But it’s not until the sixth day, and through a startling heartbreak, that Auri finds the right gifts for Kvothe. Despite the fear of the moment the breaking of Fulcrum, the brazen gear Auri finds in the beginning of the story, holds the answers. And she also discovers that she was wrong. Kvothe isn’t coming on the seventh day, but the sixth night.
She scampers around, the world finally making sense, and puts everything to rights. She washes her face, her hands and her feet. And she finds the perfect three gifts for Kvothe.
And then, the final line of the story tells us that she hears his music faint and flowing through the Underthing.
Rothfuss follows his magical story with another. About the hard work and perseverance required to bring Auri’s tale to the masses. He doubted the story. A lot. And was worried about its reception with fans. And it seems he was right to worry.
The folks over at Goodreads either gave it 5 stars, or 1. There’s no real in between. And those who gave a one star are angry, and vocal about it. One woman called the book drivel, and was furious that Rothfuss had wasted his time writing it instead of finishing the third book in the Kingkiller Chronicle.
Her angry, flippant, and entitled comment left me with a physical ache. How could she say such hurtful, mean, and just plain rude things about Auri? Her story isn’t like the others, we knew that going in. He expressly told us that we might not like it. But, even if you don’t like the plot, which is admittedly thin, how could you not be pleasantly tangled in the words? In the character development and word building?
I closed this book for the last time, grinning. Sleepy-eyed and calm, sighing my contentment. I flipped through the pages lazily, remembering the peaceful tangle and rhythm of my week spent in the Underthing.
This book snagged at something inside me, something that’d been left askew. And Auri put it to rights.
I’m truly sorry if you read this and don’t find yourself tangled up too.