‘The Slow Regard of Silent Things’ by Patrick Rothfuss


Her name is Auri, and she is full of mysteries.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a 150-page adventure with Auri, a minor character from the as-yet-unfinished Kingkiller Chronicles. Rothfuss has (so far) told us relatively little about her in the main series – aside from the fact that she’s been lurking in the tunnels beneath the university (which she refers to as the ‘Underthing’) for years and that she refuses to speak to anyone, or even let them approach her. From what little we see of her it’s clear that she is fragile and broken and ephemeral and unique. She is one of the series’ greatest mysteries, and it’s exciting to finally get to know a little bit more about her.

'The Slow Regard of Silent Things' by Patrick RothfussAt its heart, The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a sweet narrative that gives great insight into the way in which Auri’s mind works. To Auri, everything is alive, and throughout the novella we see how she personifies her entire world. For instance, there’s Foxen, the tiny brave alchemical light who is her oldest friend; Fulcrum, a newly-acquired brass gear which is brazen yet full of love; the ungrateful blanket, who is afraid of the floor; and more, too many to name. This, along with Auri’s half-invented names for the places she visits – such as Tumbrel, Ninewise, Mantle, Crumbledon, Annulet, Billows and Tenance – is thoroughly, delightfully enchanting. As an added bonus the sketchy illustrations complement the story nicely; despite their simplicity their black silhouette-ish style really conveys a sense of the darkness and claustrophobia of the Underthing.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is strange in that there isn’t really a plot. The entire novella is, essentially, a week in the life of Auri as she wanders the Underthing, picking things up and putting them down again in different places. I have to admit that this does get just the tiniest bit tedious towards the end, but the book is short enough and the writing beautiful enough that I poured through most of the story before I even began to think, “Wait – what story?”

There are very few authors whose work I’d buy simply because it has their name on the front cover, but Rothfuss is definitely one of them. His prose flows like poetry; his ability to make even the most trivial of things sound magical and exciting is probably the only reason this novella works as well as it does. It’s easy to see why the book has so many one-star ratings, but it’s just as easy to see why it has so many five-star reviews from others. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a case of ‘love it or hate it’ . . . but it’s certainly one of the strangest, most exquisite and oddly hypnotizing stories I’ve ever read.

It’s lovely, it really is.

‘Night of Knives’ by Ian C. Esslemont


Night of Knives is the first of Ian C. Esslemont’s Malazan Empire books (intended to be read alongside Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen).The Malazan Empire series by Ian C. Esslemont

Erikson and Esslemont co-created the incredible world of Malaz over thirty years ago; seeing as they’re writing about the same world and characters, I don’t think it’s at all unfair to directly compare the two.

Except that, sadly, there is no real comparison.

Set several years prior to Erikson’s series, Night of Knives tells of an event that has hitherto been only mysteriously alluded to: the night the Emperor disappeared. It’s a great idea for a novel, and the actual story itself is quite nicely self-contained, set as it is over the course of a single night. Unfortunately, there’s something about Esslemont’s writing that makes this short novella feel like a real slog. The plot is slow and clumsy when it should be fast-paced and exciting; the settings are flat and repetitive when they should be evocative; and the characters are distant and passive when they should be sympathetic and engaging.

Night of Knives by Ian Cameron Esslemont (PS cover)Esslemont conveys the events in Night of Knives through the eyes of two major POV characters. Kiska is a local-born thief, while Temper is a former bodyguard of the great Dassem Ultor (another legendary figure name-dropped throughout the main series). Though neither of these characters is dislikeable, still I felt a complete lack of connection with Kiska, and had only marginally more sympathy for Temper due to the few flashbacks granting us a little of his history. Esslemont’s characterisation is far from subtle, with Kiska coming across as an irritating, self-centred youth, and Temper’s every action seemingly completely contradicting his thoughts. I found that I had no idea what either character was going to do next, and even less idea of whether or not I cared.

I think one of the main problems regarding the characters is how little they actually do. Characters from the main series such as Tayschrenn and Temper seem to spend most of the story acting like curious bystanders rather than major players and, while it’s nice to see them given more page time here, they seem to have no real impact on the plot itself. Even Kiska spends pretty much the entirety of the book reacting to events rather than participating in them. This sense of passively witnessing proceedings, rather than actively instigating them, is perhaps one reason why Night of Knives doesn’t feel particularly engaging: though Esslemont scrapes together a nice (if somewhat feeble) air of tension, most of the real action happens off-screen; as such, the characters – and thus the reader – seem to be of little importance in the night’s events, and have even less at stake in their outcome.Night of Knives by Ian C. Esslemont (Bantam cover)

And it’s not just the characters I had issues with. I also felt the pacing of events to be a little ‘off’, with the much-anticipated climax occurring off-screen only to be followed by another series of events with yet another climax. These final events involve a vague subplot comprising an Azath house and a magical attack on the island, the significance of which is never made entirely clear.

In fact, the latter half of Night of Knives feels similarly bewildering – as though two separate stories have been shoehorned together. This confusion is exacerbated by the heavy presence of ‘dark figures’ and ‘men in cloaks’. In these instances, Esslemont’s use of noun phrases rather than names meant that I sometimes had difficulty keeping track of who was who and just what the hell was going on – particularly during the recurring conflict between the Claw and the shadow cultists.laura-m-hughes-green-dragon-swirl-para-break-divider

However, it’d be unfair to say that there are no positives to be found in Esslemont’s debut novel. For instance, I really enjoyed the extended flashbacks involving Temper’s time in Y’Ghatan: these segments reveal a lot about events that have so far been only cryptically alluded to in the main series, and provide a nice bit of backstory for Temper’s character. Bewilderment aside, the novel as a whole actually improves as it progresses, and the author evokes some pretty striking imagery (mystic ice-bound beings, fog, darkness and shadow, monstrous hounds, undead) to create a haunting and eerie atmosphere.

So, the premise of Night of Knives is fairly solid, and its resolution fairly satisfying.  The entire concept of the novel – set on a single night, on an ice-besieged island, during a Shadow Moon – is awesome. It’s just a shame it’s so awkwardly executed, and that the presenting of circumstances seems so painfully contrived (what are the chances an ‘unpredictable’ Shadow Moon would just happen to occur on this night of all nights?). Moreover, I find myself left with a lot of questions, such as: Why is Temper so desperate to involve himself in the night’s events when his current mission in life is to remain under the empire’s radar? What exactly is a Shadow Moon? Why are they so unpredictable, how do they work, and why are they never mentioned in the main series? Who is Agayla? Who was the old man in the fishing boat? Who was the old man in the pub? What was that vague mention of a prophecy all about?

Why couldn’t Steven Erikson have written this book instead?The Malazan Empire series by Ian C. Esslemont

‘Blood Follows’ by Steven Erikson


Blood Follows is Steven Erikson’s first Malazan novella, the first in a series detailing the nefarious exploits of necromantic duo Bauchelain and Korbal Broach.

Buchelain and Korbal Broach (vol 1) by Steven EriksonBauchelain and Broach made their Malazan debut in the third book of the main series, Memories of Ice, in which they played a minor part in a battle outside the city of Capustan. There we were also introduced to their long-suffering manservant Emancipor Reese, and made to wonder just how ‘’Mancy the Luckless’ came to work for his unnatural employers. Blood Follows answers this question in the form of a darkly humorous tale detailing the origins of Reese’s unlucky alliance with Bauchelain and Broach.

Containing all the trademark Erikson features without the weight of a 1,000+ page novel, Blood Follows is a Malazan tale in miniature, a single piece of the colossal jigsaw puzzle that the full-length novels tend to comprise. As such it’s a tightly focused, fast-paced and brilliantly self-contained story, set on an obscure island and focusing on a handful of characters and their macabre involvement in a series of grisly murders. For this the setting of Lamentable Moll is perfect: a city whose houses and streets are built around and on top of hundreds of ancient (and occasionally haunted) barrows.

The novella introduces a cast of characters which is relatively small but also nicely fleshed-out in spite of the very short page count. The main players – both of whom are amusing and likeable – are Emancipor Reese, the aforementioned down-on-his-luck worker with an exceedingly demanding wife; and Sergeant Guld, top dog amongst the city watch but currently struggling with the pressure of hunting down a serial-killing sorcerer (or two…). As usual Erikson also manages to nudge on from the sidelines several awesomely bizarre supporting characters, some of whom are much more than they first appear.

It’s these little touches of weirdness and magic and humour that, for me, really make Erikson stand out as an author . . . and, of course, his ability to weave an intriguing tale leading to an exciting convergence no matter how limited the length of the story may be.

Blood Follows is a ghoulish, hilarious and thoroughly enjoyable Malazan outing that will beckon any reader (with its fat, white, delicate hand) to read more of these Bauchelain and Korbal Broach novellas.