The Narrow Road Between Desires is a heavily revised and expanded version of Rothfuss’s The Lightning Tree, which originally ran in the Rogues anthology. Set in the Kingkiller Chronicle universe, this quick-hitter of a story follows Bast, the fae being who works for Kvothe at the Waystone Inn. The story most centers around Bast’s exploits in nearby Newarre, where he exchanges information, favors, or answers to questions with local children.
Narrow Road is a delightful expansion of Temerant lore, shining a spotlight on Bast and teaching us more about who, exactly, he is. Don’t expect much by way of overt answers; instead, Rothfuss uses the novella to characterize Bast and show him interacting of his own volition outside of Kvothe’s influence. There’s a hint of mischief to Bast’s adventures, though it’s colored with a thirst for the new and novel. Bast revels in the fun of dealing with children who are too sharp for their own good. He’s taken aback when the children surprise him or catch him unaware of a plot to get his assistance.
The story eventually focuses on one child who has grown beyond Bast’s requirements for dealing with him. Once children reach a certain height, they can no longer enlist his help. This particular child is too tall (the implication is that he’s also too old), but he also betrayed Bast in the past. Now, he tricks his way into an audience with Bast, and our protagonist empathizes with the boy’s request to remove his abusive father from the picture.
It’s this sort of dynamic, focused storytelling that makes novellas great. Where Rothfuss’s previous attempt (The Slow Regard of Silent Things) missed the mark, Narrow Road excels. This story is small but interesting, short but impactful. It’s also refreshing to see a character in a new light. Bast is mostly relegated to a few brief passages in the main series, and it’s a pleasure to see him at the heart of a tale all his own.
I picked up The Narrow Road Between Desires with no shortage of trepidation, and I emerged pleasantly surprised. This was a fun re-entry into a universe I love. However, if you’ve read The Lightning Tree (I haven’t), I’m not sure you’ll get much out of this expanded story.