Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Slow Regard of Silent Things Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Publisher: DAW
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Novella
Series: Kingkiller Chronicle Novella
Pages: 159

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It Was In Startling Disarray

(Contains minor spoilers from the Kingkiller Chronicles).

The Slow Regard of Silent Things was everything I wasn’t expecting.

Patrick Rothfuss’ new book focuses on Auri, which is one of the most enigmatic characters from The Kingkiller Chronicles. I was expecting to find some answers to some of the questions I had about this character, such as what was Auri’s name before Kvothe started calling her Auri, how did she end up living below the university, and how did she lose her mind?  None of these questions get answered, but that didn’t stop me from immensely enjoying this story.

When I think of the artistic process, one of the most commonly used phrases I hear is “make your own rules.” It’s an expression that really gathered steam with the modernists in the early 20th century, and it’s led to a lot of unique works of art being created. However public opinion on those works was divided during that time, and even today there are still works of art from that time that the general public has never really come to embrace.

Despite rejection from the general public there is still audiences for these works of art. I’m reminded of the musical compositions of Arnold Schoenberg who was famous for being credited as the first composer to write atonal music and for developing twelve tone serialism. To this day his music still gets played, but the concert going public, even the classical music one, generally does not buy into the man’s music. Listening to the short fifth piano piece from his op. 23, Schoenberg’s first published work that uses his twelve tone technique may sound like a random assortment of notes.  In fact it’s the exact opposite. It’s one of the most tightly structured compositions you could listen to.

The point here is Rothfuss’ new 160 page novella does things that are atypical to a fantasy story.  There is only one character, there is no dialogue spoken at all, and the most stressful conflict faced by our protagonist is making soap. Like the Schoenberg composition above, this is clearly going to be a divisive work amongst fans of fantasy and the Kingkiller Chronicles. It also explains why Rothfuss opens this book with a forward that begins like this:

“You might not want to buy this book. I know, that’s not the sort of thing an author is supposed to say.  The marketing people aren’t going to like this. My editor is going to have a fit. But I’d rather be honest with you right out the gate.

Besides the concept, what makes The Slow Regard of Silent Things so good is the prose and the emotional attachment Rothfuss gets the reader to feel towards Auri and a number of inanimate objects that Auri possesses.  In all seriousness, I found myself caring about Auri’s blanket, her leaf, her soap, and her Foxen more then a number of actual human characters I’ve read from the stories of other authors. Rothfuss even has a nice little tribute to the “My mother is a fish,” chapter from William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

Although Rothfuss didn’t answer a number of questions I had about Auri outright, he does imply some new things that could be important to the unreleased installment of the Kingkiller Chronicles. Above all though, the reader will definitely get a sense for Auri’s feelings of loneliness, some glimpses into her thought process, and even a few thoughts on how Auri see’s herself and her role in the world.

Rothfuss has pulled a novella off here that’s quite unlike any I’ve read before. It’s bold, and that’s something I really respect.  By working with such a tight structure, it certainly offers some unique challenges to the writing process. This story set in the parameters of these writing challenges is something that maybe only handful of genre fiction authors could have pulled off as well as he has. I tremendously enjoyed The Slow Regard of Silent Things.  I would certainly recommend it, but only if you’re open to trying something different.

Score: 9.6

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