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The Physiognomy (The Well-Built City Trilogy) Paperback – October 1, 2008
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A New York Times Notable Book and the winner of the 1998 World Fantasy Award, The Physiognomy may be read with equal success as either fantasy or SF, but it does not much resemble the fiction of either genre. This novel's closest relatives are In the Well-Built City, Dante's Divine Comedy, Kafka's black allegories, and Caleb Carr's crime thriller The Alienist. The brilliant and sardonic Physiognomist Cley is SF/F's most entertainingly arrogant narrator since Richard Garfinkle's Celestial Matters. You won't believe that this strange, ambitious, and sui generis work is Jeffrey Ford's first novel. --Cynthia Ward --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
Top Customer Reviews
For this review, I split the novel into three parts. Act one is, in my humble opinion, the best chunk of the book. Here we witness as Cley, renowned physiognomist of the Well-Built City -- the urban brainchild of overlord genius Drachton Below --, is sent to the rural landscapes at the edge of the known world on a trifling mission he's not very pleased to carry out. Cley is a cruel and conceited individual, intelligent but at the same time blinded by his own knowledge and an addiction to a drug known as Sheer Beauty. With a charming personality such as this, it's no surprise he vents his frustrations on the hapless peasants, whom he rates pathetic creatures after only a quick glance at their physiognomic traits. Jeffrey Ford shows great talent for dark humour in his portrayal of Cley, but it's a pity it only lasts for the first part of the novel. Granted, Cley isn't a character you could easily identify yourself with, but I still liked him a lot at this stage. (...)
Cley is also perhaps the only truly well-developed character in The Physiognomy, while all the others seem flat by comparison. Unfortunately for him, though, things are about to change.
The story goes a bit downhill from here. Luckily not into the Forbidden Zone of Badness, but downhill nevertheless. For starters, things happen too damn fast at times, especially from the second act on.Read more ›
Cley is a physiognomist, someone who can judge the personality of a person by examining their cranial features. And boy is he an arrogant prick. And yet, I somehow, bizarrely, rooted for him anyway. He does some absolutely horrible things--one in particular made me actually cringe and shudder while reading.
He does pay for his sins, however, but I can't say that I ever truly like the character all that much. Even after he reforms, he seems to be still mostly a prick. But he is nonetheless a compelling prick.
The strongest part of the novel, I think, is Ford's ability to evoke the colorful and weird imagery of the world. There are so many strange elements--a thinking, plotting monkey, a monstrous mechanical man with a heart of gold, a woman so hideous her face can kill--I kept wondering where the hell he comes up with this stuff. This is not standard fantasy or sci fi fare; it's imaginative and bizarre, and I was not able to predict where the hell the story was going at any time, for the most part. Which is a good thing.
Ford's writing is lyrical and evocative. I first stumbled across his work in a short story collection. His story "The Honeyed Knot" was so amazing that I still read it aloud to my students every year, and it sparks MUCH discussion and passion. What makes it even more powerful is that Ford swears that it's a true story (I don't believe him, but it's still fun to tell students that it's 'true'). 'Physiognomy' is equally good, but different.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Very fun and quick read!! The book focuses on a pseudoscience as a premise of how to interact in the world, very interesting!!Published 12 months ago by Jordan bell
I stopped reading for a day and then started over in attempts to love it, but sadly, I did not. Now, before I go any further, please know this book is a three star book, for me. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Hope Sloper
I'm a big fan in general of Jeffrey Ford. However I have to confess I discovered him through his later work and have been trying to diligently catch up on his earlier stuff. Read morePublished 13 months ago by J. Hamby
I've read better stories on the wall of a truck stop men's room. I was compelled to finish this steaming pile because it was short and I desperately hoped the ending would hang... Read morePublished on December 29, 2011 by ScreamingCadaver
Physiognomist Cley has been sent by Master Drachton Below, the evil genius who constructed the Well-Built City, to the faraway mining district of Anamasobia to investigate the... Read morePublished on January 25, 2011 by Kat Hooper
To me, it is far more frustrating to read a book that has promise and squanders it, than it is to read a book that is just plain bad. The Physiognomy was one of those cases. Read morePublished on May 30, 2010 by M. N. Scheu
Jeffrey Ford is the master of the hauntingly bizarre. This novel, along with the two others in the Well-Built City trilogy, have a steampunk feel to them, but steampunk filtered... Read morePublished on January 14, 2009 by Minsma
With fifty pages to go in this book, I ordered the other two books in Ford's trilogy (Memoranda and Beyond). Read morePublished on March 17, 2008 by Tanstaafl
The Physiognomy is Ford's second novel and the first installment of a loosely connected trilogy that narrates the trajectory of Cley, Physiognomist master class, and the fall of... Read morePublished on February 21, 2005 by R. Benardes