The Slow Regard of Silent Things
Spend a week in one of the strangest, most lovely minds in fantasy today. (Alternatively: learn how to make soap like a wizard.)
The Slow Regard of Things opens with a warning from the author that this book is probably not a story for you. Reviewing it, I figured I should probably begin with a similar warning. This book is not for everyone. (All the Hipsters say, “Amen!”) It’s a side story set in the same world as the popular fantasy, The Name of the Wind. Its only purpose is to shed light on that world and one of its unique characters. If you are not already a fan of the series, this story will mean little to you, and even if you are, it’s written in a way that deviates from the source material in such fashion that there’s a chance that readers will find it boring, maybe even pretentious.
Oh well, I loved it.
If you’ve never heard of Patrick Rothfuss’ fantasy series, or if you simply haven’t read it yet, don’t start here. Do read them. It is one of the best fantasy series being written today. When you’re done, you might even like to come back to this strange little story. It’s a little off the beaten path, but like so many other places off the path, it has a special wild beauty all its own.
The Slow Regard of Silent Things focuses on the character of Auri, the strange, waiflike girl that Kvothe meets and befriends in his series. The novel follows her over the course of a week, allowing fans to see what her life in the Underthing is like, and what goes on in that unearthly mind of hers. This review contains a few light spoilers, but nothing that will ruin the story for you, should you choose to read it.
Auri as a character is fascinating, and the only reason the story works at all. She is mentally broken, so seeing the world through her eyes is a little like trying to see the world through the eyes of someone with a mental illness. She places all-important significance on objects you wouldn’t pick up off the street. Some of them become almost like friends to her. They almost (but not quite) become characters themselves in the story. Additionally, she suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Every room needs to be “just so.” She feels uneasy if something is “off” around her and needs to fix it in order to feel comfortable. She also shows characteristics of bipolarism, experiencing moments of great joy and then falling into inexplicable depression. She spends an entire chapter of the story weeping. Thankfully, the author does not belabor these episodes, so the writing never feels like angst, but it does shed some light on Auri’s skittish personality and how she does not relate to others very well.
Introverts and those that suffer from depression and other mental health issues might even find a kindred spirit in Auri. The book doesn’t celebrate or pity her condition; it’s just a part of who she is, yet she is never painted as anything less than a beautiful human being. The novel does however portray the character as mystical and otherworldly, something that would ordinarily be a turn-off for some (Oh joy, another magical disabled person….), but since this is set in a fantasy world, and the character is somewhat magical without her disability, I feel that the trope works in this case.
A lot of readers may say this story doesn’t have any conflict. That would be false. The principle conflict of the story is internal; Auri sees herself as a force for order in her world. It’s a burden that weighs on her, and she often condemns herself for falling short of whatever standard she has set for herself. More than once, she feels guilty for being “wicked” and wanting something for herself, or not doing things the “right” way. You can really see the OCD personality shine through in these cases. It makes you want to reach through the pages of the book to hug the character sometimes. She’s loveable, but also terribly hard on herself. One of my favorite passages of the story is this one, which encapsulates the character of Auri perfectly:
She’d strayed from the true way of things. First you set yourself to rights. And then your house. And then your corner of the sky. And after that…
Well, then she didn’t rightly know what happened next. But she hoped that after that the world would start to run itself a bit, like a gear-watch proper fit and kissed with oil. That was what she hoped would happen. Because honestly, there were days she felt rubbed raw. She was so tired of being all herself. The only one that tended to the proper turning of the world. (55)
The actual writing in The Slow Regard of Things tends to swing between simple and poetic, with some strange phrasing sprinkled throughout, thanks to Auri’s peculiar view of the world. It’s good writing, but also flawed. With a story like this one, something much more literary than his previous fantasy work, the prose needs to be something special. And it is, but it falls just a bit short of great. It’s not a huge complaint, but it’s noticeable. There’s also a brief instance of strong language, the only moment in the story that would raise the rating from PG to PG-13.
As I said, this story is not for everyone. This is a story told from the perspective of a mentally broken character in a fantasy world. It’s a story that spends eight pages carefully describing the character making soap, with all the detail of a magical ritual (60). It’s a story in which little happens, no one says a single word of dialogue, and the main story that overshadows this little writing experiment is not developed further at all.
It’s also a story that beautifully renders one of the series’ most beloved characters, giving her a world of her own instead of using her as a dramatic foil to show how kind Kingkiller Chronicle hero Kvothe is to shy waifs. I should mention here that even though he doesn’t make an appearance, Kvothe does haunt the story to some degree, because he’s important to Auri and the reader gets to see just how much his friendship and kindness mean to her. The Slow Regard of Things is a story that shows you so much about Auri’s world that you feel that you know her, yet doesn’t take away any of her mystery.
It’s not an adventure story. If I had to call it anything, I’d call it “a slice of life,” yet a slice of such a strange, wondrous life that it feels like an adventure. You feel like you’ve been somewhere after you’ve read it—not the labyrinthine passages of Auri’s underground home, but somewhere even stranger: an alien world built out of the pieced-together fragments of a broken but still beautiful human soul.
+ Beautifully written in places
+ You can never have too much Auri
+ It's basically as close to "literature" as the pop fantasy genre gets
+ Mostly positive portrayal of a mentally handicapped protagonist
+ Has a great how-to guide for making soap
- Not very accessible to mainstream readers (for some this may not be a negative)
- It does drag in places
- The writing is uneven, swinging from merely okay to absolutely beautiful