Readers of Rothfuss's prior Kingkiller novels know Auri as a minor character who is reclusive and a bit odd. After this short story, it becomes clearReaders of Rothfuss's prior Kingkiller novels know Auri as a minor character who is reclusive and a bit odd. After this short story, it becomes clear that she is (in today's language) obsessive-compulsive and probably autistic. In truth an exciting inspiration for a story.
"Some places had names. Some places changed, or they were shy about their names. Some places had no names at all, and that was always sad. It was one thing to be private. But to have no name at all? How horrible. How lonely."
Don't worry, Rothfuss didn't break that primary rule of writing: show, don't tell. Names are important in his world (and are the subject of much discussion in his two previous books). This idea is long established in the fantasy genre (so don't credit Rothfuss with any new idea or implementation here). In this book, place names are very important (that's why he tells you so there on page 30). But he doesn't have to tell you, by page 30 he has shown this idea with a lot of important names: Mantle, Port, Van, Rubric, Umbrel, The Twelve, Withy, Darkhouse, Clinks, Vaults, The Yellow Twelve, Tenners, Dunnings, Bakers, Black Door, Wains, Throughbottom, Crumbledon, Sit Twice, Faceling, and Tumbrel. I may have missed a few in these first 30 pages. But any reader can see how important place names are ... there are so many.
I must admit I was most intrigued by some unnamed stairs (it's important for the reader to know they are unnamed as the fact is mentioned more than once). How deliciously horrible! I'm hoping the stairs will turn out to be very important!
To the author's credit, (autistic) Auri is probably trying to exert control over her world (the names are clearly her names for these places). And the excessiveness of the prose is meant to reflect the obsessive-compulsive nature of the sole character in the story. Kvothe in the prior books magically controls the wind by knowing its name. Auri is trying to control her chaotic (but void of people) world. Kvothe knows one name; Auri knows dozens.
The story is intriguing, atmospheric -- with language more like a prose poem than a traditional story -- but somewhat a mess. Not so much a mess in the way Rothfuss discussed in his Endnote. The unusual structure, tone, and plot (such as it is) are beguiling.
Rothfuss is honest in his foreward: "You might not want to buy this book." [Too late!] "First, if you haven't read my other books, you don't want to start here." [Because you might never spend money on another book of his.] "It doesn't do a lot of the things that a classic story is supposed to do. [Like use the English language well.].
It's a sad day for the English language when readers keep insisting that Rothfuss is a great writer and a perfectionist. He himself promotes this label by admitting in the Endnote that he revised this story "roughly eighty times." But if he had to pay me $1 for every time he demonstrated his lack of understanding between "to lie" and "to lay" ... his payment to me would exceed the price of a copy of his book. You'd think once in those eighty revisions, he'd fix this glaring and repeated error. Given how upset she is when things are not exactly right, Auri would probably hate to read her own story. I guess the English words "great" and perfectionist" have changed their meanings (to what I haven't a clue).
"The angle of the light was perfect, and Auri saw the first pipetangle clear as anything. Minnow-quick, she turned and glided smoothly through, not letting any of them touch her."
I read this sentence over and over again, desperately trying to figure out who/what "them" might be. After a four more paragraphs, he finally used the word "pipes" for the first time. Aha ... that's what she didn't touch!
And what is this complex network of pipes, some small, some large, buried under the city? We know what they are not, because the buried, long-forgotten rooms had chamber pots (even though many of the pipes carry water). I have so many more questions about the plumbing of this world than I did after reading over 2000 pages of his previous two novels.
Early in the book Rothfuss captures my own assessment of this book (and his writing in general):
"The tiny wrongness was still there, like hint of gristle in her teeth. It wouldn't bother her if everything else here wasn't almost circle perfect."
The gristle wouldn't bother me if he didn't put on airs of being such a perfectionist.
The good news ... the unnamed stairs do turn out to be very important and they do receive a name before the tale's end.
Just please, please remove the gristle from the steak. Every time I want to savor another delicious bite, I find myself gagging a bit. ...more
"I could care less" -- yep, one of the characters said just those words on page 154. No, this was not a clever way to communicate the speaker's poor u"I could care less" -- yep, one of the characters said just those words on page 154. No, this was not a clever way to communicate the speaker's poor use of language. This was simply the author's poor use of language. Needless to say, the author isn't much of a wordsmith. He won't win any awards for his finely polished prose.
That said the book is an enjoyable and quick read. This is the author's first foray in historical fiction and I suspect he'll improve (he's already writing the sequel). There are good plot turns in this mystery and the backdrop of spiritualism and mediums (both fake and real) works well. There are better written and meatier novels addressing these same ideas, but let's generously call the book a lightweight four-star experience. If only the publishing world still had editors....
The harsh critics are correct ... Rothfuss has a problem with characterization (especially with female characters) and plotting and pacing. And for alThe harsh critics are correct ... Rothfuss has a problem with characterization (especially with female characters) and plotting and pacing. And for all his reputed obsession over editing, there are some curiously problematic moments.
But the unrestrained fans are reacting honestly. Rothfuss offers little that is original in fantasy literature (don't expect much in terms of new ideas), but the whole soars above the parts....more
If you are looking for a straight-forward, easy-to-read book which won't stretch your mind, this is not the book for you (as it does not appear to havIf you are looking for a straight-forward, easy-to-read book which won't stretch your mind, this is not the book for you (as it does not appear to have been the book for others).
If however you are looking for a complex Victorian story of deception, faith, and science where coincidence masquerades as fate (and fate masquerades as coincidence), there's lots to love here. The author knows her subject matter -- theosophy and Madame Blavatsky, tarot cards, astrological charts, spiritualism, the parlour tricks of mediums, and the early days of Freudian psychoanalytic treatments -- better than most writers who explore these ideas.
I'll admit the challenge of the book lies in all these details, probably too many details for some readers, especially if one is not already acquainted with these delicious late-Victorian ideas....more
I enjoyed this book more than my rating suggests, both for its own sake and for having just come off a long and tedious novel that needed more restraiI enjoyed this book more than my rating suggests, both for its own sake and for having just come off a long and tedious novel that needed more restraint. At this point in my life, the Fox sisters -- Maggie, Katie, and Leah -- are old friends. They have accompanied me through many books, both fiction and nonfiction. Even if I have known them in better circumstances, they are always welcome and delightful to spend time with.
Mackin's book is at its best when focusing on the Fox sisters. The language is simple, but the ideas are complex. Mackin is not a great writer, nor is she a bad writer. But I wonder what happened to the job of an editor. Typos, punctuation inconsistencies, grammatical errors ... is it too much to ask for someone in the process to be watching out for the prose itself?
If you've never met the Fox sisters, this book will make you want to know them better. If you already know them, this book will remind you of why you cherished meeting them in the first place....more
All of her "Days" books, written during the 1910s in the belles lettres style, provide the reader a brief escape into the life and mind of a creativeAll of her "Days" books, written during the 1910s in the belles lettres style, provide the reader a brief escape into the life and mind of a creative spirit. Part research, part supposition, part imagination, these essays and the accompanying color plates offer loving homage rather than detached literary or aesthetic criticism....more