If the novels of fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss are like the albums released by a popular band, then “The Slow Regard of Silent Things” is a solo EP by the enigmatic keyboard player.
Rothfuss, a Madison native and Stevens Point resident, is the author of the best-selling Kingkiller Chronicles books “The Name of the Wind” and “The Wise Man’s Fear.” “The Slow Regard of Silent Things” is a strange, slender novella set in the same world, but it’s very different from either of those books. In fact, it’s different from almost anything I’ve ever read.
In a last-minute event announced by the Madison Central Library and A Room of One’s Own, Rothfuss will read from his new book Saturday, Nov. 29, at 7 p.m. on the third floor of the library, 201 W. Mifflin St. He'll also sell calendars to raise money for his charity Worldbuilders, which donates money to Heifer International to help combat hunger and poverty worldwide.
In an amusing foreword, Rothfuss warns newbies that if they haven’t read any of his Kingkiller books before, “The Slow Regard of Silent Things” is not the place to start. And he also warns those who have read those two books not to expect “Slow Regard” to be a continuation of the story.
The warnings may be apt, because, as Rothfuss says several times, the novella “doesn’t do the things that a story is supposed to do.” It has exactly one character, no dialogue, and no action to speak of, unless you consider an eight-page soap-making sequence to be the stuff of high drama.
The one character is Auri, an urchin-like girl who lives in the bowels of the university that is the setting for the Kingkiller books. A mysterious loner, Auri knows the tunnels and chambers (which she calls “the Underthing” ) like the back of her hand.
We follow her as she patiently hunts for and secures inanimate objects here and there, and the magic in “Slow Regard” is the personality with which she invests seeming bits of junk. A mortar from a mortar and pestle set is described as “thuggish and terse,” while a bottle of liquid is “full of screaming.” This is odd, but perfect, of course — a being who is isolated from other people makes the objects around her into her friends and enemies.
There are hints — vague, vague hints — of exactly who Auri is and how she came to be this solitary, scrounging person. And there may be clues as to what is coming next in the third Kingkiller book.
But, really, if you’re looking for these things, you’ll be disappointed. Best to take “Slow Regard” as it is, to ride the rhythms of Rothfuss’ marvelously descriptive prose. More than being merely evocative, the detailed descriptions and almost incantation-like repetition of the writing help to put the reader in the mindset of Auri, a sweetly sad, fractured character with a very different worldview.
In the afterword, Rothfuss confesses that he wrote “Slow Regard” for himself, assuming it would never see the light of day. But he got enough positive feedback from those around him that he decided to release it himself as a novella and audiobook. (Rothfuss is a delightful reader, by the way, his voice sounding a lot like Paul Rudd’s.)
It’s not for everybody (as Amazon reader reviews will attest), but it’s such a strange and singular piece of writing, almost like poetry, that it really is worth trying. It’s an intimate story about one person, written by one person, intended for one person. And it’s worth finding out if you’re that kind of person.