This is the second Patrick Rothfuss book I’ve read having previously tackled The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1) which I liked (and rated 4 stars). I liked this one better despite Rothfuss’ hemming and apologizing for it, and his insistence that one should read his other books first. I respectfully disagree. I can be a bit stingy with the term poetic. And in no way does Rothfuss try to make this novella a poem. But it is decidedly poetic, and beautifully so.
Auri, a mysterious side character in Rothfuss’ better known series, is nearly the only character in this fanciful work. She is a broken, forgotten young woman living beneath a bustling city and university in what she terms, The Underthing. The Underthing is the sprawling subterranean network of sewers and forgotten basements and mechanisms that survives from a previous era of hundreds of years prior. Auri exists here like a battered bird that won’t leave its cage despite the door hanging from one hinge. She fusses and obsesses with every little detail she sees in perhaps one of the most poetic depictions of OCD, I’ve ever read. In her own words coming just pages from the end:
That was the only way. You did not want things for yourself. That made you small. That kept you safe. That meant you could move smoothly through the world without upsetting every applecart you came across. And if you were careful, if you were a proper part of things, then you could help. You mended what was cracked. You tended to the things you found askew. And you trusted that the world in turn would brush you up against the chance to eat. It was the only graceful way to move. All else was vanity and pride.
It’s true that little happens in this tale. That is not the point. The story tells six days in the life of Auri as she prepares for a meeting with a boy (whom we can guess to be Kvothe, the protagonist in The Name of the Wind). Her flickering moods and levels of light transform the spaces and objects around her. One such space, The Twelve, is variously called: the Yellow Twelve, the Gray Twelve, the Black Twelve and the Silver Twelve. The tale is watching Auri interpret and interact within this shifting world:
She knew the way of things. She knew if you weren’t always stepping lightly as a bird the whole world came apart to crush you. Like a house of cards. Like a bottle against stones. Like a wrist pinned hard beneath a hand with the hot breath smell of want and wine. . . .
Her place, beneath all things, is to see things as they are, in the moment that they are. And if, in that moment, the thing is perfect; she will know that too. “She knew the true shape of the world. All else was shadow and the sound of distant drums.”
[Check out my other reviews here.]