Two by Patrick Rothfuss
I’m going to do something I never (very, very rarely, anyway) do. I’ll talk about books that are already published, sometimes years ago.
Patrick Rothfuss is a phenomenon. His debut to the book world was a 900-page opus entitled “Name of the Wind” and was wildly welcomed in the world of fantasy readers and became an international best seller. It was followed by an 1100- page entry entitled “Wise Man’s Fear” which was equally as popular and became an icon of its genre. His fans had to wait many years for the second book and are still waiting for the promised third. In the meantime he has published numerous short stories and blogs regularly, so that he may satisfy in some small measure his legion of devotees. Now, this November came the second of two small books that reveal more of his talent and sensitivity and partially assuages the yearning for more of his work. In the Author’s Foreword to both books he warns potential readers that they may not like what they have in hand, and that they should probably read his previous books in order to fully enjoy these snippets of his imagination. I disagree. Many will not touch a 900 or 1100-page book under any circumstances and would therefore miss meeting this extraordinary writer. In fact, there are aspects of these books that may help understanding of where he is coming from, despite their admittedly “weird” (his word) stories. Both have characters who do not come from the “big books” but the incredibly creative worlds in which they live and their interactions with people and things are illustrative of Rothfuss’ remarkable brain. I think they are both works of pure genius.
The first of these two, “The Slow Regard of Silent Things” introduces us to Auri, a sprite-like being who lives beneath the University (a nod to the first book) and has intimate, even affectionate relationships with all the objects she finds abandoned or cached there. Her extremely sensitive recognition of the rightness of things directs her days. If an object seems out of place, or is, in her estimation “uncomfortable” where it resides, she strives to find its proper place and puts in there, so it may become happy. A jar of holly berries, an oddly shaped stone, a leaf, a broken gear; these are the beneficiaries of her mission to make all things in the world right. She is a generous and loving character who is in constant contact with her environment. Her obsession with the arrival of a mysterious “he” who will arrive bearing gifts and who must be given appropriate gifts in return drives her to seek presents appropriate to his status. This, the central mystery, other than who Auri is and from whence she came, gives a shadowy hue to this brilliantly written piece.
The latest, The Narrow Road Between Desires” gives us Bast, an enigmatic figure who possesses strange powers, the source of which is never revealed. He seems an attractive, if overly lusty young man who can confer minor favors to the local children who seek him out at the “Lightning Tree” a place with magical powers unavailable to adults. They come seeking believable lies to cover up youthful transgressions and even solutions to serious domestic problems. Bast is happy to furnish the desired answers, but there is always a cost. It may be a sweet bun, a bunch of particular flowers, the domination of their soul: you get the idea. He has dark motives that are masked under a genial countenance, but in the end he is benevolent creature, perhaps in spite of himself. His machinations are always done in secrecy disguised from everyone but his “master”, ostensibly the proprietor of a tavern in the town where he resides. Is he one of the fae? Is he more aligned with the devil, perhaps? Is he truly a free agent? Once again, the author has given us a unique character whose doings will fascinate and intrigue the reader.
I do not wish to discourage anyone from reading Rothfuss’ great books, but these may furnish a “soft” introduction to his genius. I heard from the editor of DAW books, a woman whose business it has been for decades to publish works of fantasy that this was “the best book I’ve read in 25 years”. This recommendation profoundly affected me and when the book came I began reading immediately. I tell no lie – I devoured its 900 pages in three days. When, five years later, the second arrived, I sailed through its 1100 pages in four days. I agree with the expert: these are absolutely the best fantasy books I’ve read. Anytime.