Saturday, May 05, 2018

Book Review - The Slow Regard of Silent Things

Having read (and thoroughly enjoyed) the first two books in "The Kingkiller Chronicle," I found myself in the same predicament as other fans. I now must patiently wait for the conclusion to be finalized. And with no specified release date, there's no telling how long we have to wait. I found my way into the author's picture books about The Princess and Mr. Whiffle and I started following his blog. A friend of mine talked with me about this book (The Slow Regard of Silent Things) and pointed out that he didn't really like it much but that it was interesting. With that intro, I sought out Slow Regard and began to read.

From the very beginning, Rothfuss lets you know that "You may not want...this book...This is a bit of a strange story. It doesn't do a lot of the things a classic story is supposed to do." Starting out with a strong apology is an interesting tactic. Often such an apology can be viewed as a non-apology and more of a challenge. Rothfuss does set up some distinct warnings (such as "this is NOT book three" or rather this does not continue Kvothe's storyline. Also, if you haven't read his other books, "don't…start here.") The rest of the warning felt more like a challenge to me to figure out what this book is about and/or why it was written/published.

While it's certainly true that you lose a ton of context by reading this book without having read his other books it is also true that this book has virtually no interrelation to the plot of the other books. This is a story about Auri and her day-to-day life. She lives in "the Underthing" which is a sort of sewer and storm drain system beneath the University Kvothe attends in the other books. There are some small mentions of the science/alchemy that Rothfuss established in the other books but otherwise there's not much other knowledge required. I truly felt that this book could have been completely detached from the other books (that is, requiring no knowledge of them) with just a few small tweaks here and there.

As far as the "strangeness" of this story, it's certainly true that this book strays from the "things a classic story is supposed to do." There is very little in the way of real rising action, climax, conflict resolution, etc. There are no other real characters. The world building is minimal (partly because of inferences to the other books but also partly due to the way Auri's mind works). So, without all of that, what makes this book compelling? From the reviews and comments I've seen online, many people will say "Nothing...this book is NOT compelling." I try to take a different approach.

I found this book intriguing. It took a little extra focus sometimes to follow Auri's train of thought and action. The way she raced around the Underthing with its strange names and locations was sometimes difficult to follow. But as I read, I found very specific and deliberate motivations and found myself working to understand Auri.

I decided that Auri is very multi-faceted. In our day, she would be categorized as having some strong OCD and likely ADHD. She has a very strong sense of the way things "should be." Huge sections of text are dedicated to her trying to figure out just where to put down an object she found in a neglected corner of a room somewhere. She moves from room to room, arranging and rearranging everything until it is "just so" and the world is back in balance. While doing this, she is ultra-focused but also loses her focus quickly if she finds something else that's out of balance. Her sense of balance is very finely tuned.

As it relates the world of Temerant that Rothfuss established in his books, Auri has what seems like an innate knowledge of the "names" of things as well as understanding of the sciences/magics alchemy and sympathy that can be used to manipulate things in the world. She is smart but with a different sort of knowledge that most people look for. She understands how the world works at a different level that is studied by most. Possibly because of these differences, she also has a very different way of communicating and behaving. As we learned in the other novels, she struggles to interact with other humans. Her interactions with Kvothe were initially very guarded until he was willing to meet and communicate with her on her terms and in her way.

Throughout Slow Regard, if there is any plot at all it is that Auri is maintaining the balance of the Underthing and seeking a special gift for Kvothe (only referred to as "him" or "he") when she plans to meet with him again next week. The flow of the story is methodical and unpredictable yet also interesting.

This book is more of a character study than a story but it is still compelling and has relevance not only to the world of the Kingkiller books but also to how we might look at those people in our own world who are slightly "off" and with whom we might have difficulty connecting. This novella is a reminder that everyone's brain works in a slightly different way and that we should seek to understand them and meet on their terms if we want to truly understand them. And unless we seek to understand them, we should not attempt to judge them or classify them. For can you truly classify that which you do not understand.

I agree with Rothfuss that this book is certainly not for everyone. It's probably not even for everyone who's reading his main series. It's not a typical story. I could see this book as being an interesting companion text for a psychology class or for those interested in social behaviors of people. I found this to be an intriguing read and I'm glad I picked it up.

3 out of 5 stars

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