Patrick Rothfuss has published the first two books of his Kingkiller Chronicle series titled The Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear. While we await the publication of the third and final title, this odd, short volume appears. It features a side character in the trilogy, Auri, a waif-like girl of indeterminate age yet youthful appearance who lives in the twisting passages and chambers (called the Underthing) beneath the Arcane University in Rothfuss’ world of Temerant. Who she is or where she came from is a matter of conjecture to the few who even know of her existence. In the trilogy, she becomes a friend of the main character, Kvothe, and is important to the story because of the nature of their friendship. One of the key aspects of magic in his world is the power of knowing the true Name of someone or something, and that understanding is a dream of Kvothe’s.
Auri’s exploration of the Underthing is a narrative that unfolds over the course of days and leading up to an event that Auri knows is coming – the visit of a person, a man she knows. During these days she wakes with an intuitive, otherworldly knowledge of what kind of day it is, and the actions that are proper or not proper for those days. Every area of the twisting, confusing Underthing is named with short names (Port, Billows, Tumbrel, Old Ironway, Clinks) that nonetheless indicate a deep knowledge of the different areas’ truest natures. Blurring the lines of timing, consciousness, awareness, and description, Auri prepares for the visit through events and trials with uncanny forethought that speaks to her knowledge and ability to Name, in addition to describing the mad/brilliant/compassionate place wherein her mind resides. Rothfuss’ intensely lyrical descriptions are at times nonsensical, yet your mind finds tenuous threads of connections that enchant and illuminate. It is almost like a 150-page koan – a riddle that reaches understanding without rationality.
Author’s notes are often a useful indicator of whether a book will be enjoyable or not. The explanation of the author’s thinking behind what they wrote can show whether it travels in a direction you, as the reader, want to go. This is perhaps why Patrick Rothfuss wrote both a Foreword and an Author’s Endnote. His foreword is a warning – you might not like this book; it’s not a good introduction to his writing, it’s a bit different. His endnote explains how such a book came into being. They are fascinating reading. Both help to explain the strange yet compelling journey you are about to embark upon. It is indescribably about describing the world. About Naming.
Note: I initially agreed with his stating in the foreword that you should know his previous works before reading this title, but upon contemplation, it does stand on its own. You will probably want to read the others after reading this, however!