I have seen reviews that start with “I was given this book in exchange for an honest review” and then a five star rating … t...Read more
The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a beautifully presented novella by Patrick Rothfuss that while set in the same world as Kvothe’s Kingkiller Chronicles, bears so little resemblance to the main novels that one can almost be forgiven for forgetting that they existed within the same world. Certainly, the novella is nowhere near central to the main story arc and as Rothfuss himself asserts “I think its only fair to warn you that this is a bit of a strange book…. And if you’re looking for a continuation of Kvothe’s storyline, you’re not going to find it here”.
The story instead gives a wonderfully poetic insight into one of Rothfuss’s tragically broken secondary characters, Auri over the space of seven days as she makes her life under the University in the patchwork of tunnels and rooms she calls the Underthing. As one would expect from previous encounters with Auri, the life she leads is otherwordly and Rothfuss’s choice to write here story from a third person perspective, provides a vivid constrast with his main novels.
Whilst not providing anything by way of what might be described as a “normal” story, most demonstrably evidenced by a full eight pages describing Auri making soap, the story is however, a wonderful example of a storyteller not afraid of leaning heavily on the textured and atmospheric setting as the story’s main drawcard. In doing so, Rothfuss manages to pull of with ease writing the entire novella with no dialogue and containing the solitary character, Auri. She is, however, interwoven with a range of inanimate objects, who are so lifelike that they seem like supporting characters and which provide the necessary interaction to enable the story to work.
In my opinion, this one is most definitely for the more literary-minded readers out there who enjoy descriptive writing capable of effortlessly creating the dreamlike imagery that is Auri’s world. Surprisingly, given my overwhelming desire for a strong plot underpinning any book, I really enjoyed the story. I’d probably put this down to the length of the story which is easily read in a couple of hours and hence managed to retain my interest throughout. By achieving a better understanding of Auri and to a much lesser degree the world of Temerant, I’m happy I’ve read The Slow Regard of Silent Things but would reservedly recommend it to fans of Rothfuss who have completed the first two novels of the Kingkiller Chronicles. Do not expect anything like his previous incarnations, this one really is different.
I have seen reviews that start with “I was given this book in exchange for an honest review” and then a five star rating … this is not one of those.
I put up my digital hand to receive this book because the premise of an alternative world with harpies sounded kind of cool. It still does sound kind of cool, but this book is definitely NOT ‘cool’. In fact the writing style is stilted, the dialogue is gosh darn awful and the characterization basically doesn’t exist. The plot is confusing and skips massive parts (like a 10 year stay on earth where the main character doesn’t mature or grow emotionally at all).
Apparently it is meant to be a moving romantic love story too but with writing like this “He crawled on her, assuming the mating position, and stimulated her with soft kisses and manipulating hands” HAHA. It then goes on the describe in detail their love making with what I assume is meant to be sweet and loving descriptions, but also things like how harpies don’t consider love or passion, just the need to procreate, yep what a turn on. It is all just totally unrealistic.
There are trigger warnings for some pretty graphic sexual assault scenes, which if I had of been told about I wouldn’t have picked it up, it’s not that I can’t handle any mention of it, it’s the graphic and almost random appearance of them. It just adds to the badness of the book.
This for me, was a total waste of time, the premise was interesting but the quality of writing just wasn’t there to support it. I have no idea who would like this book, so there you go.
0 out of 5. There were no redeeming qualities.
“The Duchess of Shallows“ is the story of an orphaned girl with a not-so-simple-past who embarks on a path to join The Grey, an underworld organization specializing in information brokering, spying, and thievery. The key to achieving her goal involves a challenging entrance exam: a medieval Oceans Eleven style robbery of a rich baron’s treasure.
The story brings to mind other recent fantasy about the gritty underside of re-imagined medieval cities — cities populated by ubiquitous gangs, ruthless thugs, noble thieves, perverted nobles, corrupt city guards, and lovable whores. You’ll see some similarities in setting to Brent Weeks’ “The Way of Shadows”. I also felt slight shades of Douglas Hulick’s “Among Thieves” in the plot and setting.
There’s a lot to like about The Duchess of the Shallows, especially considering it’s an indie book. The authors spend a good deal of time building up an interesting world. There are various competing factions in the seedy underside of the city – from the The Grey (criminal organizations, shrouded in secrecy – basically a thieves guild), The Red, a gang of murdering extortionists, to the various cults scattered about the city areas.
It feels like an interesting city, one that you do want to explore. There’s always something exciting – or dangerous – just around that alley corner.
The world portrayed is one of grit and dirt, where bad things happen and happen often. There’s references to sex (though not descriptive), both the heterosexual and homosexual; there’s violence and there’s a lot of prostitution. Again, the authors shy away from the actual details, but it’s all there in the background.
What the authors do not shy away from is the hard stuff of the underworld life — the supporting character Lysander for example, works part time as a male prostitute. Combined with his martial competence and his natural street smarts, Lysander’s rather unusual side occupation breaks the fantasy mold of a typical hero. Kudos to the authors here for doing something different in this regard.
The writing – for an indie published novel – is not bad. I’ve certainly read indie fantasy fiction with a lot worse prose. There’s nothing fancy or lyrical about the prose and while there are occasional chunky descriptions and uneven sentences, as a whole the prose is good enough for the telling of the tale.
The story too is generally an interesting one — you do want to finish reading the book to see how the Duchess accomplishes her goal.
As a whole, the Duchess of the Shallows is a fairly short novel – for the most part there is no rambling (except for all the heavy descriptions and flashbacking used to world build), no pointless wandering, no writing for the sake of filling page counts. What happens in the story is central to the plot and the heroine is always doing something to further her goal. There’s not a lot of meat to the story other than the stated goal of joining the thieves guild and carrying out the robbery, so if you want to see more of the world and find out more about the character, you’ll need to continue on with the other books which flesh out the city, the character, and the world much more.
While there are many good points to the story, there are also a number of issues that detract from it. Frankly, I feel many if not all are fixable if the book had a proficient editor to catch these.
The writing suffers from too much exposition, either through the protagonist’s thought explanations to her random childhood flashbacks. The last chapter, in fact, details directly to the readers the impact the plot events have on the wider story as a whole; I felt vaguely patronized after this.
The flashbacks as a narrative device are very jarring and completely halt the flow of the story. The authors do a good job at the start jumping right into the action, but afterwards the plot and story occasionally halt while the protagonist experiences yet-another-flashback. I get the authors are trying to build up the heroine’s backstory here, but the way it’s done detracts more than it adds and many of the flashbacks fill out unnecessary detail that’s not relevant (or could be revealed by action or some other means that flows better).
The authors occasionally shift the narrative between two (unexplained) personalities, Steel and Silk, who jumped out of the shadows and into the writing without explanation when the protagonist faces difficult situations — a sort of metaphor, I realized, for the author’s current state of mind. But. I had to actually backtrack through the story looking to see what this ‘Steel’ and ‘Silk’ were, thinking they were specific characters I skimmed over. This was confusing and seriously halts the narrative.
The worldbuilding felt it was heavily inspired by the old-school Forgotten Realms books; the city districts, the sub-districts, the power groups, the various gangs, and even job occupations are given specific over-the-top fantasy names. Get used to nomenclature like the Grey, the Red, the White, the Shallows, the Deep, the Foreign Quarter, Lightboys, the Uncle, the War of the Quills, the Color War, etc. With all these fantasy ‘names’ being tossed around in such a crowded space (we are talking mostly about a city here not an empire or a large swath of land and kingdoms), at times the city felt like it came straight from one of the Neverwinter Nights video games. This works for a video game, but if you are trying to come up with your own fantasy world, it comes off as unoriginal.
The characters also tend to fall into the cliché category — now considering most of the fantasy genre is one big cliche, this is not a bad thing, if the story strong, the characters awesome or something about the tale is fresh. There’s nothing wrong with doing the typical thing here, but if you are not going to innovate in some way, then you’ve got to have a solidly written tale or something else going on to make up for it. While the author tries to do a few new things (a sidekick character who’s a male prostitute), the novel is mostly filled with archetypes straight out of a RPG video game. The heroine, herself, we’ve seen countless times across endless books. I was looking for something a bit unique to be done with her, but Duchess falls into the typical ‘spunky female hero’ category — the self-driven girl with a hidden past who’s been unfairly tossed from the top to the bottom of the social rung, who though a series of fortunate events works her way back into power to seek revenge or uncover the WHY of her original fall.
The Final Word
As a whole ‘The Duchess of the Shallows’ is not a bad book at all, especially considering its indie origins. Published books often have a team of editors cleaning up the writing in the draft; this is not the case when you are an indie author self publishing. So some slack here is given. The book is certainly readable.
Indeed, while there are some major issues with the book, these could be fixed through the help of a skilled editor revising the book. So the skeleton of a good book is here in The Duchess of the Shallows, but you have to dig down a bit to find it.
If you are a fan of gritty underworld fantasy about spies and whores, about gangs and thieves, and you don’t mind a slower story, you’ll likely enjoy The Duchess of the Shallows. Note that this is the first book of a series, and the scope of the novel mostly serves to just introduce the heroine of the tale — so you’ll need to invest in the next couple books in the series to see a far more fleshed out world and character.
All in all, there’s a good tale here to be told in The Duchess of the Shallows; readers with a bit of a patience who enjoy fantasy about the underworld and thieves guilds will probably like the book; let’s just hope the authors clean things up in the next few books to make the story a bit more accessible to the reader.
November 8, 2014
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