My obsessively detailed reread of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles is over, but we want to keep on talking about the books. I’m going to post the occasional continuation post when the last one gets too long or if there’s something to say.
The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a novella published in book form. It is about Auri, Rothfuss himself says that this is not the place to start with his work, and it absolutely is not. This novella is strictly for the fans. That would be us then.
Spoilers for all of The Wise Man’s Fear andThe Name of the Wind and for The Slow Regard of Silent Things—these discussions assume you’ve read all of the books, and frankly they won’t make the slightest bit of sense if you haven’t. But we welcome new people who have read the books and want to geek out about them. This post is full of spoilers, please don’t venture beyond the cut unless you want them.
Abbreviations: NW = The Name of the Wind. WMF = The Wise Man’s Fear. D3 = Day Three, the forthcoming final volume. K = Kvothe or Kote when I can’t figure out what to call him and I’m feeling Kafkaesque. MT: Myr Tariniel. D = Denna, 4C = Four Corners, CTH—that thing I can’t spell! IID3Y = Is it Day Three Yet?
Let’s give up on trying to write a comprehensive balanced review kind of post. There’s no point in writing a proper review of this. I can say it’s beautiful and precise and has wonderful timing, and we can take all that for granted, that’s what we expect. what we want it for is to squeeze all the juice out of it like Auri squeezing her pomace to make soap. (Kvothe didn’t know the word pomace. She did. Neat.)
So, Auri’s an alchemist, who knew?
She’s a Shaper too! Now that’s cool. It’s new information about how shaping works, too.
This story is very precisely placed in time, it takes place in the week before Auri gives Kvothe the candle, specifically in chapter 11 of WMF, the night they meet Elodin on the roof.
We see a week of Auri’s life, divided by day. And I think the best thing to do is to go through the whole thing slowly and in detail, the way we do. I don’t promise there’s going to be a post every week, but if I try to do the whole thing in one it’s going to take literally forever.
The Far Below Bottom of Things
Auri wakes up and mysteriously knows she has seven days before she sees him. She never thinks K’s name—isn’t that interesting? She, who names everything inanimate, thinks only “him” about K. I’m sure this is phenomenally significant, but there are so many potential ways that I don’t know where to start.
Also, K is clearly really really important to her, she thinks about seeing him and is completely focused on him and finding the right things for him and all of that. K is far more significant to Auri than I would have guessed from his POV. But hey, he’s practically the only person she knows, and she’s only barely surviving down there, and he has given her a new name—but she’s still way more K-focused than I’d have guessed.
She wakes up and right away we see her mysterious light. It’s given a name, Foxen, which makes it seem like a person, but Auri puts drops on it which seems like alchemy, and indeed, it’s alchemy, and very soon we learn that she just personifies and names everything. (Except K, as mentioned.) Is she a Namer? Well, no. Maybe? Certainly finding whimsical names for things and places seems to be essential to her process. But it’s a very different process from K naming the wind.
And she has a precise sense of where things ought to be to fit, which might be magic or might be a kind of obsessive compulsive hoarding behaviour, and it is impossible to tell which.
We know students go mad and get sent to Haven, and it’s pretty clear that Auri has been a student (she thinks about Mandrag a lot) and is afraid of Haven. The way Auri is skewed from sane is clearly magical—whether or not the OCD placement of stuff is mending the world, well, the Underthing, as she thinks, or whether it’s just symptoms. She has been a student, and while Mandrag has been a master, so she hasn’t been there for centuries. But… she’s a young girl, she’s iconically a young girl to herself, and it seems to me that she must have been there a lot longer than the few years it takes somebody to stop being a young girl. She must have been, from how well she knows the place. Also, the other girls don’t know her, and they would, if she’d been there recently enough. Auri must be doing something, consciously or unconsciously, to keep herself young.
If so, this resembles no other magic we have seen. Except that the Fae seem to stay the age they are. Felurian has been like that for a long long time. And the Chandrian. And presumably Selitos and the Amyr. How do they do it? We don’t know.
So Auri. I’d say she must have been there, getting no older, for a minimum of ten years (girls don’t know her, Elodin doesn’t specifically know her) and a maximum of maybe fifty (Mandrag).
She lights Foxen—it could be straight up chemistry, does anyone know? But it’s not an ever burning lamp like Kilvin wants and we speculated that it might be, she’s using a reagent and it goes out at night.
We’re told—in a Chechov’s gun kind of way that’s going to be fulfilled—that there are three ways out of Mantle, a hallway and a doorway, and a door “that was not for her.”
She checks her stuff in a possibly magic possibly OCD way, brushes her hair, and goes to find a pipe wrapping. She goes to the pool, but the bottles are wrong, so she checks her other bottles until she finds one that is right. (In Clinks. Where K puts his blood in bottles to go around.) By this point, a few pages into the story, we understand Auri’s relationship with things and we know why she wouldn’t accept a second-hand dress.
Three textual things worth mentioning—this text is full of poetic similes. The way she jumps over the cracks in Vaults “as lightly as a dancer… as lithely as a bird… as wildly as a pretty girl who looks like the sun” and then the water is “chill and sweet as peppermint.” Then it is also very fond of French participles, by which I mean ending in “ant” rather than “ing,” for example here “tremulant.” It’s a valid English word, but it’s rare, and so are all of the ones used here. So many makes it a deliberate choice. Third, the use of the word “altogether” to mean “naked.” In my version of English “in the altogether” means naked, but “altogether” alone does not, so “altogether men” and so on strikes me as quirky.
In addition to her connection with objects, we’re shown her connection with place, with the Underthing, with the way all the places have names. We’ve seen some of this before, when she took Kvothe in, but it really is wide-reaching, she has named everything, and she’s seeing it as a relationship of mutual belonging, where it belongs to her and she belongs to it.
With some trouble, she finds a bottle for Foxen. Then she goes into the water in The Yellow Twelve, three times, and bringing something out each time. The first time it’s a bone, the second time a tangled belt with a buckle and a key, and the third time she gets a brass gear, nearly drowns bringing it up, and almost loses Foxen. She says it’s “full of love and answers,” and finding the answer to where to put it is one of the themes that runs through the novella.
The nearly drowning is interesting, not because we can think she could actually drown—it’s false jeopardy that way. There’s no point trying to worry readers than a major character will die of a random event like that—or that the only character in a novella will die on page 18. But her thoughts are fascinating—losing Foxen is bad, dying would be horrible, but losing the metal thing would be wrong. Her sense of wrongness, the magic or mental illness, is that strong. So the actual threat of death works, to make us feel how much stronger to her is the fear of being wrong.
It’s a brass gear, and it was under the water, and it’s another piece of evidence for the “lost tech of the Underthing” theory we’ve discussed. A gear is technological. It belongs to a machine, and it must belong to one from long ago.
She gets Foxen back. Then she bathes and uses her soap, starting up the soap thread that also runs through the novella, and dries herself in a hot space called “Bakers.”
She wonders if the buckle could be a gift for K, but that doesn’t feel right. Then she takes the key and tries it in locked doors. It opens one of the twelve doors in Wains, and she goes through to explore a new place. There’s a sitting room, very plush, containing bottles and a “silver gear watch.” Now this is in the old abandoned Underthing, so the question of technology and timing is interesting. The room is “almost perfect” even though it has been abandoned “without anyone tending to it.” Now we don’t know if Auri’s “tending” is magic or insanity, and we can’t possibly tell. She has magic, she has alchemy and shaping, but is this stuff she’s doing with stuff magic too? Who can say?
Any and all of this stuff could be deeply significant, and I can’t tell, and it’s driving me crazy not being able to tell. She gets emotions from the things—condescending walls, retiring stone. It’s all the same whimsical kind of stuff that she and Kvothe say to each other, but she’s constantly doing this.
She picks up a toy soldier. She finds a bone button and leaves it where it is. She finds a staircase into a new place which she can’t immediately name, a staircase “with a temper.” Then she finds another new place “not as coy as the staircase” and which she instantly names, or Names, or recognises the name of as “Tumbrel.” Tumbrel is a half-collapsed room with a bed and a “vanity” (which I think means a dressing table) with a triptych mirror and lots of mess.
She putters about with things, and finds some sheets, which she’d like to take and use but can’t because she’d be taking them from their “right place” and she thinks she shouldn’t be greedy and push things about with the weight of her desire.
Then she goes back, through various rooms, with everything just as it should be.
This is very beautiful and very weird and very perplexing, and I’d welcome your thoughts.
The next day next time—which won’t be next week, sorry, but might be the week after.
Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published a collection of Tor.com pieces, three poetry collections and ten novels, including the Hugo and Nebula winning Among Others. Her most recent book is The Just City. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here irregularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.