The only review of The Narrow Road Between Desires that DOESN'T mention The Doors of Stone

This is the gift of The Narrow Road Between Desires: It reminds us what makes Patrick Rothfuss’ storytelling so special.

The Narrow Road Between Desires
The Narrow Road Between Desires / The Narrow Road Between Desires by Patrick Rothfuss

“You can’t prove a negative” is one of those statements that many of us learn somewhere along the way as a principle of logic. You can’t prove that something isn’t true. You can prove that other things are much more likely, but you can’t prove with total, 100% certainty that, for instance, fairies don’t exist.

It doesn’t take more than five minutes of critical thinking or the quickest of Google searches to discover “You can’t prove a negative” is a fraught statement at best and irresponsible at worst. More “folk logic” than actual logic, it’s a fallacy that can be used to justify all manner of nonsensical thinking, like our fairie example above. This is where The Narrow Road Between Desires, the latest novella from Kingkiller Chronicle author Patrick Rothfuss, leads me: not to thrilling escapades through mountain and mine or ice and fire, but to whether or not you can prove a negative.

Because fairies (probably) aren’t real, but after reading The Narrow Road Between Desires, I’m reminded of how much I hope that somewhere out there, down some road I’ve never noticed, over a hill I’ve never scaled, there’s a place where the moon rises above a bleach-white tree seared with the mark of lightning. And somewhere nearby, I hope there’s a red-haired innkeeper polishing glasses that already sparkle and a dashing, dark-skinned fae tip-toeing (to use an artless term) out the back door.

This is the gift of The Narrow Road Between Desires: It reminds us what makes Patrick Rothfuss’s storytelling so special. There might be infinite space between fantasy and reality, but in Temerant it feels like we could skip the gap when the moon is just right.

The Narrow Road Between Desires tells the story of Bast, companion and pupil of Kvothe, the protagonist of The Kingkiller Chronicle. In The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, Bast is a supporting character, but in The Narrow Road Between Desires, he’s the lead.

For those unfamiliar with Rothfusss other works, Bast is not human. He’s one of the fae, and as such, he is hardwired to follow his desires wherever – and to whomever – they might take him. As the title suggests, the main conflict Bast faces is how to avoid swinging like a pendulum – or a wild, wolfish wrecking ball – between the things he wants. He must exercise caution, compassion, and, most horrifyingly of all, impulse control. Simple as such things might seem for us humans, for a fae like Bast, using restraint and empathy when they run contrary to his own aims is like squeezing between a rock and a hard place.

On its surface, The Narrow Road Between Desires is a slice-of-life story. Admittedly, some fans of fantasy literature in general and The Kingkiller Chronicle in particular might balk at this lack of scope, but I would argue the merging of ordinary with fantasy might be the defining characteristic of Rothfuss’ work. I would also point out that, as one of the fae, enduring the everyday struggle of human life is one of the most – if not the most – central conflict to Bast’s character. Mucking through the day’s mundane tasks, stitching himself to other people’s profound and petty difficulties, is the one thing Bast cannot comprehend. He bucks against it, just like we often do. For him, this story has scale.

Insight into Bast is insight into our wilder selves, the part of us that wonders and wanders. Watching Bast banter with the children of Newarre, plan petty schemes, toss embrils, and charm men and women alike is fantasy escapism at its finest. Through most of the book, opportunities abound for readers to delight in Bast’s cleverness, charm, and sensuality. Bast, like us, doesn’t want to be bound to fetching eggs and carrots, learning his chemistry, or helping those who have harmed him. Also like us, Bast must still complete his chores, and unlike mere humans who can grouse our way through boring, unpleasant tasks, Bast has to navigate them by rules as old and sharp as the crescent moon.

There are no “big answers” to Bast- or Kvothe-related questions in this story, but the novella never promises them. What it does promise – very explicitly in the Author’s Note – is insight into Bast, and on this promise The Narrow Road Between Desires delivers more thoroughly than I’ve seen anyone give it credit for.

Patrick Rothfuss’ new novella will leave you wondering about your own heart’s desires

The Narrow Road Between Desires also expands on Temerant’s worldbuilding. We see more of Newarre, the sleepy town where the framing narrative of The Kingkiller Chronicles is set. We learn more about glamourie and grammarie, the magic of the fae, and we are introduced to embrils, a fortune-telling tool Rothfuss himself seems quite excited to weave into his future writing. 

This wealth of worldbuilding further blurs the line between magic and mundane. Like Bast himself, who seems mostly human but isn’t, the events of The Narrow Road Between Desires seem ordinary but aren’t.

When you get to the end of this story, you might find yourself wondering about the difference between a magical debt that binds two characters and a normal, natural feeling of obligation. You might wonder about the difference between a magical dance around a broken tree and the real, therapeutic work of cognitive restructuring. And you might wonder about the difference between a magical expulsion charm carefully crafted to banish someone and the practical consequences of a real, physical thrashing.

To use one of Rothfuss’s phrases from the book, it’s “the difference between finish and flourish.”

You might come to this novella excited to learn about the fae and their magic. You might come to live in Temerant for an afternoon or just to get a glimpse of the man who calls himself Kote. But you’ll leave this book wondering about your own heart’s desires and how they can get all tangled up and twisted. And the next time you feel the tug of obligation at the sound of your name, or see a child clutching some hidden thing between their fingers, you’ll wonder if maybe, just maybe, there’s a little fae magic involved.

Because you can’t really prove there isn’t, and after reading The Narrow Road Between Desires, you won’t really want to.

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