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June 15th, 2003

Jeffrey Ford's The Physiognomy is a strange little book. It's a dark fantasy that takes its subject matter and throws it in unexpected directions. And it's also odd to find a 250-page novel in this day and age...

Reading like a dark Jack Vance, Ford builds his Well-Built City on nightmares and conspiracy. It's a city where if your face doesn't fit, then you're a criminal or worse. And it's the literal shape of your face that determines your place in the world, as the city's physiognomists use there tools to understand character - and use their tools to determine just how guilty you are, and of what...

The Well-Built City's Master sends the Physiognomist Cley out into the wilds to determine who it is who stole the fruit of the tree of life. Away from his drug habit and from his master's scrutiny Cley begins to think for himself, and to make the mistake of falling in love. Forgetting his skills, he makes mistake after mistake - mistakes that will change his life, and begin the fall of the City. It's a journey that will take Cley to the earthly paradise, and to the dark pits of the sulphur mines. We'll meet reshaped creatures, men driven by clockwork, and the future embodied in the past. And we'll follow Cley as his arc passes through zenith and nadir...

Ford's work is that rare beast, the moral allegory. In Cley's relationship with the city and his master we see a reflection of our world, and our relationships with the forces that guide and control us. Cley's rebellion is one of the mind, where he breaks free of the control he has accepted since he began to ply his trade for the City. It's a rebellion that maps across to our world and our lives, and our mass-media created boundaries.

The Physiognomy is an excellent first book. Dark, enthralling and powerful - with an undercurrent of righteous anger. I'll be looking for more of his work.

Not entirely sure of the point...

...(or is it points) of this...