For all the people who went through the massive “Name of the Wind” and “The wise man’s fear” and are slowly waiting for the next mammoth book in 2018/9, here’s a small interlude story about Auri, the young girl who lives underneath the University in little rooms with little steps and little breadths.
“To be so lovely and so lost. To be all answerful with all that knowing trapped inside. To be beautiful and broken.”
This novella is not a place to start reading the Kingskiller Chronicle. This novella is not for the general public, it’s for fans only. And as the author puts it, it’s not a story per se. It does not have a plot line, it’s just seven days out of Auri’s life, each day detailed with what she did and how she did it and how it felt doing it.
But while doing it, you can glimpse bits and pieces of her past, you can tell she was attacked at one point during her studies in the University, that she is pretty good with Alchemy (90% chemistry and 10% understanding of the natural laws) and how she gets to name and shape things.
This story takes place just before Auri gave Kvothe his candle on the roof, just before they met Elodin in chapter 11. It’s the story of how she got to make the candle, how she decided which ingredients fit and the patience it took to slowly make it.
Obviously, Kvothe is clearly really, really important to her, she thinks about seeing him and is completely focused on him and finding the right things for him and all of that. Kvothe is far more significant to Auri than I would have guessed from his point of view. But hey, he’s practically the only person she knows, and she’s only barely surviving down there, and he has given her a new name – Auri – speaking of sunshine and happiness and well-being.
She wakes up and right away we see her mysterious light. It’s given a name, Foxen, which makes it seem like a person, but Auri puts drops on it which seems like alchemy, and indeed, it’s alchemy, and very soon we learn that she just personifies and names everything. Is she a Namer? Well, no. Maybe? Certainly finding whimsical names for things and places seems to be essential to her process. But it’s a very different process from Kvothe naming the wind.
The way Auri is skewed from sane is clearly magical—whether or not the OCD placement of stuff is mending the world, well, the Underthing, as she thinks, or whether it’s just symptoms. She has been a student, and while Mandrag has been a master, so she hasn’t been there for centuries. But… she’s a young girl, she’s iconically a young girl to herself, and it seems to me that she must have been there a lot longer than the few years it takes somebody to stop being a young girl. She must have been, from how well she knows the place. Also, the other girls don’t know her, and they would, if she’d been there recently enough. Auri must be doing something, consciously or unconsciously, to keep herself young.
Auri, I’d say, must have been there, getting no older, for a minimum of ten years (girls don’t know her, Elodin doesn’t specifically know her) and a maximum of maybe fifty (Mandrag).
“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.”
What I liked about the book:
It’s short, so it’s an easy read – much like The Ice Dragon and it’s bittersweet. You feel sorry for the tiny wisp of a girl, who clearly suffers from a mild form of OCD (by the number of times she washes her hands and feet and wants everything in her environment to be perfectly placed). She would make a terrific feng shui artist, moving things along a shelf until they properly “talk” to each other. Her innanimate objects hold more fascination than most people I’ve met. They scream with rage, they shout when wronged, they sit sulkily in a corner.
Auri takes it upon herself to right this wrong. To set order in the world, even if it means going without food for a day or having to walk around with a massive cog all day.
“She’d strayed from the true way of things. First you set yourself to rights. And then your house. And then your corner of the sky. And after that… Well, then she didn’t rightly know what happened next. But she hoped that after that the world would start to run itself a bit, like a gear-watch proper fit and kissed wit oil. That was what she hoped would happen.”
There are close brushes to death as well – if she died, she would be undiscovered in the Underthing for years to come. But she does not fear death. Her thoughts are fascinating—losing Foxen is bad, dying would be horrible, but losing the metal thing would be wrong. Her sense of wrongness, the magic or mental illness, is that strong. So the actual threat of death works, to make us feel how much stronger to her is the fear of being wrong.
“She knew the true shape of the world. All else was shadow and the sound of distant drums.”
All in all, it’s a quiet book. No dialogue. No terrible drama. But it moves you. Slowly and with tiny feet.