First of all, allow me to say that this was a beautiful story, even though (as Mr. Rothfuss says) it does not do the things a traditional story does. It is nonetheless pure delight, and hard to put down because of it. Some people were disappointed in this novella because of it’s lack of focus on Kvothe, or because they feel Mr. Rothfuss should only work on the next novel of the King Killer Chronicles- this story is not for them.
As the Afterward says, this book is for all the fucked up people, you can look into this fragmented story and see a reflection of yourself, like a mirror shattered on the ground. There were moments I had to put the book down and simply be amazed at how perfectly Patrick Rothfuss got it, how he captured in words the frantic-bird-flight of the heart, the way the world suddenly turns on it’s head, comes rushing at you all at once, and every press of cloth, every shaft of light, feels like daggers to the throat. But he also captured moonlight with his words, cartwheels and soft songs. You have to read it to understand, and even then you might not- but I firmly believe it’s worth it to dive into the darkness with Auri, to see and feel the world alongside her, as she waits for a visit from Kvothe…
Our tale starts with seven days for Auri to prepare for the arrival of Kvothe- and there is much to do in those seven days. The world dictates to Auri what it needs from her, and she moves through it in an almost spirit-like manner, setting things right, helping the world and it’s objects find where they want to be. Every day is special and unique in The Underthing, an unwrapped gift waiting for Auri to discover.
“Laying in the dark, she wondered what the day would bring. Some days were trumpet-proud. They heralded like thunder. Some were courteous, careful as a lettered card upon a silver plate. But some days were shy. They did not name themselves. They waited for a careful girl to find them.”
Her world is a strange one, an underground maze that may or may not be the remains of a school built and abandoned long before the current university became what it is. It is an urban explorers dream realm, full of untouched bedrooms, ancient machinery, twisted tunnels and secrets galore, and Auri runs through it all, a part of things, but also apart. Her mood is as mercurial as the place she calls home, and there are flashes of almost obsessive thought that the more hyper-minded of us will immediately identify with. On the good days, everything is wonder and light- but on the bad days…
“She felt the panic rising in her then. She knew. She knew how quickly things could break. You did the things you could. You tended to the world for the world’s sake. You hoped you would be safe. But still she knew. It could come crashing down and there was nothing you could do. And yes, she knew she wasn’t right. She knew her everything was canted wrong. She knew her head was all unkilter. She knew she wasn’t true inside. She knew.”
Perhaps the most poignant scenes for me were the ones where Auri was melting down, losing her grip on the careful balance she hopes to maintain in the Underthing- she knows she’s broken, she knows she is scatter-bent and shattered stuff, and sometimes it catches up to her. It was almost startling how fiercely it reminded me of myself, of old habits and thoughts from when I was a child. Finding the proper placement for things, humanizing inanimate objects, hiding within oneself and feeling as if no one could find me.
“She knew the true shape of the world. All else was shadow and the sound of distant drums.”
What passes for the plot of this story tells us of Auri’s search for a proper gift for Kvothe, who she suspects will arrive in seven days time. Her search leads her throughout the Underthing, to places new and old, dangerous and mundane. We see the world as she does, where everything has a place it should go, where darkness is not so much an absence of light as it is a different way of seeing. Auri is as much a mystery as any that were presented to us in The Kingkiller Chronicles, and there are many questions to be asked here. How did she loose her name? Why does she live in the Underthing? She mentions taking lessons from Master Mandrag, the Alchemy Professor at the University- but only Elodin seems to know of her existence (with the exception of Mola and Kvothe). What happened that allowed her to drop so completely from the realms above and become one with the world below? My favorite theory is that she is the moon, though it’s a romantic and far fetched notion, but there are many others out there. Such as the Underthing being the fallen city of Belan, and Auri it’s last surviving citizen, or perhaps she is a Ciridae, or Fae- though I have trouble imagining a Fae choosing to live like she does, even a mad one.
I suppose some people might be upset that this story is not about Kvothe, but like I said, this story is not for them. This story is for anyone who loves words and the way they dance around one another. Auri’s story is for people like her, who see the broken remnants of themselves neatly tucked away into their proper place amidst her story. I am not one of the many endlessly upset patrons of Mr. Rothfuss’s writing, needling him constantly to stop having a life and give us another 1,000+ page monstrosity to wade into, I’d be more then content with another offering such as this, if he wanted to give us it.
I’m inclined to say you don’t need to read Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear to enjoy this, all you need is to be a little tattered and mad around the edges, to have a fear of the shadows but be friends with the darkness. I loved this glimpse into Auri’s world, and wanted to stay there longer, but the end was satisfying, one of the final moments still giving me chills when I think back on it.
Final Conclusion: My favorite work by Patrick Rothfuss, this is absolutely worth picking up- even if you aren’t familiar with the world. If you love word play and fantastic use of adjectives and verbs then you should read this, and if you’re a broken thing just trying to keep the ragged edges of your world in check, then you should read this.