Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss

The latest book from Patrick Rothfuss, The Slow Regard of Silent Things (Daw, 2014) is a very unusual little book. Consider, for example, the first sentence of the author’s foreword: “You might not want to buy this book.” He goes on to explain here and in the afterword that this story doesn’t do what everyone says a story should do, and he’s right. There’s one character, no dialogue, and very little in the way of plot. There isn’t even any particular character development. Now, you might think I’m about to complain about these faults; many readers have, but I am not one of them. I rated this book 5 stars, so I am compelled to explain my reasons.

Like many fans of The Kingkiller Chronicle (two books so far: The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear), I have been waiting quite a while to read the next book in the series. This is not it. It is, however, set in the same world as those books, and it is all about one of the minor characters in those stories: Auri, the young girl who lives in the Underthing (the subterranean foundations of the University). Auri is a strange character, and we see very little of her in the other books, but she is fascinating. When I started this book, I expected to finally learn her backstory and discover how she came to be such a fragile, slightly broken yet disturbingly deep soul. This book does not explain her backstory, but it does explain her character in a much more meaningful way: it shows the world through her eyes.

Auri’s world view is vastly different from the modern perspective. In fact, it’s so alien that it seems incomprehensible to many readers. After reading the book, I was astonished at the number of angry and dismissive comments I found on Goodreads. There are people so viscerally opposed to this book that they’ve excoriated the author for writing it, accusing him of, essentially, treason to their expectations. How dare he waste our time trying to make a buck on this silly excuse for a book when we’re waiting for him to finish the book we expected him to write!

These reactions leave me very sad. I want to say to these readers, “If you only want to read the stories you’re already familiar with, give up on books. Turn to Hollywood, where you’ll always get the same things you’ve seen before, and nothing else.”

The truth is, Auri’s world view is not so alien after all. It is a very ancient view, an animistic way of looking at the world that has been part of the human experience far longer than the modern, rational perspective. To Auri, and to all of humanity through most of our existence, there are no inanimate objects. Everything is alive, everything seeks its place in the world, everything has its own true name, and learning the names of things can elicit their cooperation. This is, in fact, the fundamental premise of The Name of the Wind, so why would fans of that book dismiss this deeper journey into that experience?

As an aspiring writer, I am in awe of Rothfuss for how intimately he brings us into this perspective. This is no easy task. I’ve dabbled in trying to tell a story from an unfamiliar mindset, and it is a very difficult thing to do. What Auri experiences is not directly expressible in words, yet the author’s words lead us there and we experience it, if we allow ourselves to do so.

No book can work for everyone. It’s fine if you don’t want to read a book in which, arguably, “nothing happens.” But don’t denigrate the author for showing you something you’ve never seen before, especially when it can illuminate the oldest aspects of our shared humanity.