Picking up The Slow Regard of Silent Things you are greeted by a number of warnings from the author:
[b]“You might not want to buy this book.” … “I thinkPicking up The Slow Regard of Silent Things you are greeted by a number of warnings from the author:
[b]“You might not want to buy this book.” … “I think it’s only fair to warn you that this is a bit of a strange story.” … “I don’t go in for spoilers, but suffice to say that this one is… different. It doesn’t do a lot of the things a classic story is supposed to do.”
Patrick Rothfuss, 2014 [/b]
Yes. Going into The Slow Regard of Silent Things I’d heard all the warnings from Patrick Rothfuss – that this story might not be for me, you or anyone else. However, if you’re a fan of Rothfuss I’m not sure that even a ‘radioactive hazard’ sign could stop you picking up this book.
For those who don’t know: the story goes that Rothfuss began writing this story initially as a submission for George R.R. Martin’s Rogues anthology, but it spiralled into something that was too long and completely unsuited for such a collection.
From there it sat half finished for a while and Pat wasn’t sure whether he should take the time to finish it. However, fascinated by its ‘strangeness’ and ‘odd sweetness’ Pat found he couldn’t leave it without a suitable ending – I guess he felt he owed it to Auri, one of his favourite characters. So, he got back to work and once completed showed it to some friends. All agreed that it was beautiful and that they liked it, but also concurred with Pat’s assessment: that it was weird. So, again, Pat considered leaving it at that – an exercise of exploring the inner workings and experiences of Auri. Eventually though Pat showed it to one of his editors who loved it and told him that he needed to ignore his anxiety over what people ‘may’ think and just get it out there for those who ‘will’ like it. And that’s what Pat did.
The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a novella that focuses on Auri and her life down in the Underthing (the abandoned underground floors of the university we visit briefly in The Kingkiller Chronicles).
As you will know, Auri is a character of mysterious origins. In The Kingkiller Chronicles we hear from Elodin (a teacher at the University) that he has seen Auri sneaking in and out of the university for a number of years. She is petit, sweet, innocent and almost faery-like. Although Elodin was never able to approach her, Auri is attracted to Kvothe’s mastery of the Lute and her fondness of watching him play eventually allows him to draw her from the shadows and build up enough trust that they interact and become friends. Despite the bond that they form – a true, loving one – Auri will not answer personal questions about her past and is very uncomfortable even being asked.
Entering Auri’s point of view, we instantly recognise that we are not following a ‘normal’ person. Something in Auri is perhaps broken or perhaps fixed in a way that is very different from your typical POV. Every inanimate object and space that surrounds Auri is personified by her: given a name, a place to live and even attributed feelings. This ranges from the small green light that she fondly calls Foxen – sometimes brave and sometimes scared when faced with the dark – a brass gear – full of true answers and love – and the sitting room – that has a ‘strange wrongness’ that stops it being ‘circle perfect’.
I won’t go too much into theories and such for this review (there will be so, so many read-alongs that will do that, if that’s what you’re looking for), but you will pick up a bit more understanding of alchemy – or at least how Auri is able to know the name of things – that may help you get the ‘naming’ of things a little better. Certainly, it’ll add fuel to the numerous theories that Auri is either a princess, something Kvothe created as a result of his naming talent, part of the Amyr and so on.
The writing by Patrick Rothfuss is exquisite as ever. The number of beautiful metaphors, the authenticity of Auri’s voice and the emotions that the story invokes are as strong as you would expect. Despite being in the third person, we truly feel connected to Auri as she wonders through the Underthing hunting for a gift to give to Kvothe. Indeed, from the moment we meet Auri it is made clear that of everything Auri does, choosing the ‘perfect’ gift for Kvothe is the most important part of her life during the time we follow her – timeline-wise, a point during Kvothe’s stint at the university.
The view of the Underthing is atmospheric, claustrophobic and enlightening. This isn’t some kind of magical place that Auri retreats to (as I initially thought), it is a dark and creepy place that no young girl should have to live. The pictures that accompany the novella vary between shots of objects Auri sees (such as pipes or footprints), areas of the Underthing and detail-less sketches of her in various poses. They don’t hold up to the kinds of illustration you will find in Subterranean Press novellas, such as the stunning artwork in the ones they have published by Peter V. Brett, but for Rothfuss’s aim – he didn’t want to show too much of Auri in order to keep her and the Underthing mysterious – they are probably about right. In terms of style, most are sketches, but some are kind of silhouetted – as if black card has been placed against a light source. Finally, on the topic of presentation, I’d like to point out how absolutely beautiful the Gollancz (UK) cover was. The US one was kind of cool and kind of creepy, but the UK over – in my opinion – knocked it out of the park.
The problem with this novella is that that from here there isn’t too much more about the story or occurrences that I can tell you. We follow Auri around for a while as she finds certain objects, wonders whether they are good enough for Kvothe or not, decides they are not and puts them back or puts them somewhere new. Auri feels that everything has a place and if something is where it shouldn’t be it leaves her feeling very uncomfortable – it feels similar to OCD.
I think the ‘thing’ that is missing from this story is a clear: a logical destination. For example, when we pick up a Sherlock Holmes novel there will be a body on the floor, and a killer to find. Around page 80 of The Slow Regard of Silent Things I began to wonder what the plot was and it wasn’t until I flipped over the final page that I realised there wasn’t going to be one. As Patrick Rothfuss said, this truly is just a few days in the life of Auri, a secondary character, through her eyes. Going back to our Holmes analogy, without a body being found on the floor there is no killer to find. Without a killer to find it we write a story about Sherlock Holmes he is just an eccentric guy being weird at home or wherever he chooses to go and that’s kind of how this novella felt.
As a result, reviews on Amazon and Goodreads have been mixed. Diehard Rothfuss fans have thanked Pat for a chance to spend a day with one of his characters whereas other fans, some furious, have accused the author of cashing in on a piece of work that should have stayed in the ‘research’ folder of his computer.
So, my review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things is what it is. It is a snapshot of Auri’s life when she isn’t with Kvothe. The author has said that you may not want to buy it if you are expecting something more than that and I think that is sound advice.
So, my review hasn’t been overly positive, but for those who have read the book or those who have been put off I feel it unfair to leave it there, because I truly feel there’s something more going on with this release. Firstly, I’d like to ask you to consider something for a minute: is Patrick Rothfuss capable of writing a short story without a point? Patrick Rothfuss has a B.A. in English and is now a teacher of University level students. Having my own B.A. in English I can tell you that it is drummed into you constantly during such a course that a short story is not so much about the words on the page, but about what is beyond them and what they leave your reader with.
After the novel there is an afterword by Patrick Rothfuss. A number of reviewers have reacted negatively to this. Rothfuss writes:
[b]"If you’re one of the people who found this story disconcerting, off-putting, or confusing, I apologize. The truth is, it probably just wasn’t for you. The good news is that there are many other stories out there that are written just for you. Stories you will enjoy much more.
This story is for all the slightly broken people out there.
I am one of you. You are not alone. You are all beautiful to me."[/b]
It leaves me wondering whether Auri and her pursuit of perfection is an allegory for Patrick Rothfuss’s pursuit of perfection with The Kingkiller Chronicles. Being a writer is lonely job. You spend the vast majority of it in a world that no-one else can see or share. Around you the world is going by, mostly unaware of your struggles, whilst you are far removed from it. Once you get to the editing stage, like Rothfuss is, everything that surrounds you is roughly in place, but not quite. Like the toy soldier Auri finds on the floor, a sentence may be OK if left in one location, but until you put it in its correct place in the correct paragraph – or the toy soldier on the correct shelf in the correct room – it will bother you. Again, when you consider the immense pressure Rothfuss must be feeling having now racked up about 3 years editing book 2, trying to put everything in its rightful place, is there any wonder that he has:
[b]"a special place in my heart for this strange, sweet, shattered girl."[/b]
As the book currently stands I think 6/10 people we ask will be disappointed with what they get out of it. However, I think 9/10 people will say that they are glad they got to read it, because if Pat had said he’d written this book and wasn’t going to show anyone then we’d all feel cheated, right? What I believe is that this story should enter a collection of Pat Rothfuss short stories in the future and be a standout tale in that collection. Coupled with other stories about other characters I think this will be truly appreciated and, with hindsight, earn the author some sympathy as to his battles with OCD and perfectionism whilst working on book 3....more
Jalan has never had to think about anybody but himself. Grandson of perhaps the most feared, dangerous woman of all the Broken Empire things have alwaJalan has never had to think about anybody but himself. Grandson of perhaps the most feared, dangerous woman of all the Broken Empire things have always come easy to him. He has coin to gamble with, women to fumble with, and plenty of booze when he needs a break from either of those. Basically, Jalan is what Jorg (the protagonist from Mark Lawrence’s last series, The Broken Empire) could have been should he not have been forced to witness the murder of his mother and brother; the tragic event that instilled in him a hatred of the world and a ruthless obsession to pay it back.
When we first meet Jalan he is fleeing the older brother of a young woman he has been having a bit too much fun with. Having failed to knock the older brother out with a blow from behind, Jalan is now being chased. Luckily, Jal is a good runner (having been chased a good few times before) and eventually reaches his Grandmother’s castle where he knows he is safe: no one is foolish enough to bother him whilst he is there. He is a prince after all.
Before long, Jal is summoned to his Grandmother’s side along with the rest of her children’s children. They all line up to hear what she has summoned them for, but Jal’s mind begins to wonder; he is so tired and so late that he doesn’t really understand what is going on… it isn’t until a group of ‘witnesses’ are brought in that he begins to care either. One of the witnesses to whatever has happened is huge and would make the perfect ‘fighter’ for Jal to enter into the fight pits and win some money. The fighter introduces himself as Snorri ver Snagason and explains that he is from the lands deep within the bitter ice. He tells everyone in the room that he has seen the dead walking and giants by their side – the products of The Dead King.
Those who have read Prince of Thorns and its sequels will be familiar with ‘The Dead King’ and know that none of his ambitions are good for any living, breathing person within the Broken Empire. Whereas The Dead King is a force in the background of the original Broken Empire novels, much as Jorg is a force in the background of these ones, we will see much more of him and his minions in this series. Fear not though, Jorg fans, Jorg is still alive and kicking in the world this first novel in the The Red Queen’s War is set. In fact, our protagonist is even set to dual him at one point (and is confident that he will win seeing as last he knew the ‘little boy’ was just that… a ‘little boy’). From this point, the novel leads us to believe that this is going to be a tale of Jal being forced to join hissiblings in defending the realm against Jorg and this Dead King. Jal isn’t too worried, he doesn’t fear Jorg and the Dead King stuff sounds like rubbish. As with most stereotypical young men, Jal’s attitude is part ‘it will all blow over’, part ‘I will deal with it tomorrow’. The latest distraction from having to think about getting involved in any kind of war is his Father’s periodic Opera. All of the city’s high flyers, including most of his family, will be there. Jal is in the middle of scoping prospective female partners and ducking people he owes money when he notices something is wrong.
Purely by accident Jal then spots ‘The Silent Sister’, a strange woman who has sat by his Grandmother’s side for as long as anyone can remember, from a window. Jalan has always feared this woman. Very few other people have been able to see her – Jal is one of the unfortunate few who has to suffer her grotesque, creepy appearance. She is not a spirit, but something about Jal allows him to see her when others can not. He assumes that it is her advice, guidance and possibly magic that is responsible for keeping his Grandmother as feared and powerful as she is. What Jal sees is the Silent Sister casting a spell on the building. He knows it can’t be anything good so dives from the window before whatever voodoo she is playing with can affect him…
Prince of Fools (sm cover)Jal begins to run, but quickly realises he hasn’t got away without consequence. Something is following him and when he bumps into the midst-escape Snorri the two are struck by a spell. It is a spell that binds the two together and means that they cannot separate. Snorri being twice Jal’s size and unwilling to do anything but head for home means that Jal is at his mercy… he is to follow Snorri home where he has his own mission: to get revenge on those who harmed his family.
This is where the story’s dynamic really begins. Jalan and Snori sort-of fulfil the roles in the popular ‘buddy story’ style that was done so well by authors such as Michael J. Sullivan. In these type stories, usually one character is calculated and clever but weak whilst the other is brave and strong, but rash and stupid. Mark doesn’t go quite as black and white as this: Snorri is fairly intelligent and cultured for a Viking, whereas Jalan is rather reckless for a prince. It is, perhaps, this clash with our expectations and break away from the norm dynamic that makes the novel so interesting: Jalan is a prince so reckless and hopeless that he is having to learn his lessons on life from a Viking.
How does the story stand up against Prince of Thorns? Well, Prince of Thorns was a character study set in a fantasy world; Prince of Fools is a fantasy tale in the ‘chosen-one’ style. Readers will not have to feel guilty about liking Jal as they did Jorg, he may be a bit of a rogue, but he has never killed someone and wouldn’t take any pleasure in doing so. Although the story that follows is dark and there are moments that will bring about a sense of discomfort in some readers, the fact our first person narrator is not a cold, heartless killer without morals means that these moments are seen through the eyes of someone as genuinely shocked and as disgusted as we are. The result is that we don’t experience the same kind of uneasiness as our morals clash with our intrigue, enjoyment as in the earlier series and makes the read a much more comfortable one – as already discussed. It’s not just that though, the buddy dynamic has plenty of genuinely funny moments that arise from the huge contrast of the two characters as opposed to relying on Jorg’s charisma and one-liners to give tragic events a humerous twist. The plot rockets along, far faster than any of Mark’s previous novels too and the various landscapes we explore and enemies we run into get far more attention (a mild complaint some bloggers had with previous books).
The result of all this is a book that might not stand out from the crowd as much as Mark Lawrence’s first series (that truly did send ripples through blogging circles at the time it was released; and earn praise as one of the most important fantasy titles of the decade), but slots it into exactly the spot on the shelf that the masses are looking. Prince of Fools is gritty, it is funny, it features incredible prose and is full of morally ambiguous characters. In Prince of Fools Mark Lawrence has written a book that should appeal to the masses in a way that Prince of Thorns simply could not have (for otherwise it would have been less of a book).
I’m very interested to see how this series does. My personal opinion is that although it is more suited for a mass audience it will get slightly less attention than Prince of Thorns because not so many people will be picking it up to ‘see what all the fuss is about’. I think, though, that this will result in better ratings for the book. Additionally, Mark’s recent win of the David Gemmell Legend Award and ever-growing Social Media should ensure sales stay strong with this highly impressive new series too.
The I don’t have time to read all that version: Prince of Fools is a book that fantasy readers of 2014 will feel more than comfortable with. It does what great fantasy novels of today do: takes our favourite elements of Tolkien (the quest, the journey, the scenery, the imaginary fiends and friend/foe characters) and merges them with our favourite elements of what modern readers look for in a novel of any genre (dark plots, morally ambiguous characters, gruesome and realistic deaths, humour and a fast pace). As a result, it sits as a fine example of where the genre sits right now. Although I feel some readers – especially the ones who enjoyed Mark’s pushing of boundaries – will be disappointed with the author not forcing them to once again re-calibrate their moral compass, the vast majority will appreciate a quicker, lighter, more enjoyable read. Those who struggled to morally stomach Prince of Thorns, especially, will be in for a treat should they be brave enough to give Lawrence another shot and pick up Prince of Fools....more