Thursday, February 4, 2010

Review: The Physiognomy

The Physiognomy by Jeffrey Ford

In the Well-Built City, Cley a physiognomist first class, and uses his skill as a sort of detective/judge/jury, as he unravels tough cases for his master, and creator of the Well-Built City, Dracton Below. Physiognomy is a science where the practitioner can gain insight about the person they are investigating by taking a multitude of facial measurements. This information can allow the physiognomist to determine whether or not that person committed the crime. Cley is sent to the rural mining town of Anamasobia to find the thief of a rare, un-perishing fruit that may or may not grant immortality.

The Physiognomy is a World Fantasy Award winning book, and in some ways I can see why it won the award; Ford's prose is fantastic, and as I read I found myself really enjoying the "voice" of the book. Ford's use of fantasy elements, while somewhat limited, were either new elements to me, or old ones used in new ways. The mystery of The Beyond and what it contained were well written and set my imagination on fire...but there were also things about the this novel that annoyed the hell out of me, the biggest was Ford's use of deus ex machina more than once in the novel. This really grated on me. It undermined the story, and Ford never explained the logic behind these events. The biggest one came at the climatic moment in the book, and as a result more or less killed the book for me. Which really was too bad because I had been enjoying it, but a book needs to finish well, and this one left me wanting more.

Though this is the first installment in an award winning trilogy, I doubt I'll continue on with the series. I'm determined to try something else by Ford though, because I enjoyed his long as he has figured out how to write his way out of jams, instead of cheating.

Grade: C-

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