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The Physiognomy (The Well-Built City Trilogy) Paperback – October 1, 2008

3.6 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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$14.95 FREE Shipping on orders with at least $25 of books. Temporarily out of stock. Order now and we'll deliver when available. We'll e-mail you with an estimated delivery date as soon as we have more information. Your account will only be charged when we ship the item. Ships from and sold by Amazon.com. Gift-wrap available.
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In the Well-Built City, Cley is the perfect judge and jury, the infallible arbiter of life and death, for he is trained in the art/science of physiognomy. To the physiognomist, body shape and facial features reveal every aspect of personality, expose every secret, and even predict the future. When Drachton Below, Master of the Well-Built City, sends his premier physiognomist into the primitive outlands to uncover the thief of an unperishing fruit that may grant immortality, Cley discovers love and the truth about physiognomy. His discoveries unleash horrific destruction and plunge him into Hell--and neither he nor the Master can foresee their revolutionary fate of their world.

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

Humorless, inflexible, drug-addicted physiognomist Cley is ordered by Drachton Below, Master of the Well-Built City, to investigate a theft in the remote mining town of Anamasobia. The miners of the town, while delving for blue spire--a coal-like mineral that eventually turns the miners into blue statues--have discovered in a cavern the living mummy of a strange being, the Traveler, holding a perfect white fruit (now missing) that Below believes will confer immortality. Cley pronounces the guilt or innocence of the townsfolk by studying their physiognomies, but he becomes distracted by the beautiful and knowledgeable Arla, whose father Cley suspects of having stolen the fruit. In a delusional frenzy brought about by withdrawal symptoms, Cley attempts to improve Arla's disposition by mutilating her face according to physiognomic principles--but then the Master impatiently sends in troops to slaughter the townsfolk and capture Arla, the Traveler, and the fruit; Cley is condemned to the sulphur mines. He is later pardoned, deliberately re-addicted, and brought back to the Well- Built City, where Drachton Below, having eaten the white fruit, is suffering headaches so dreadful that they're causing explosions and threatening the destruction of his empire. Can the reformed Cley defeat the mad Master and save Arla and the Traveler? Seriously, logically, stunningly surreal: a compact, richly textured, enthralling fantasy debut--even if the publishers prefer to bill it as an ``unconventional literary novel.'' -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: The Well-Built City Trilogy (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 210 pages
  • Publisher: Golden Gryphon Press; 1st Softcover Ed edition (October 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1930846533
  • ISBN-13: 978-1930846531
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,147,679 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
I have mixed feelings about Jeffrey Ford's science fantasy novel The Physiognomy. While I rank it above the average, it's still frustrating to read a book with so much potential so needlessly wasted. Jeffrey Ford had great ideas for it but I didn't like the way he handled many of them. I'll let you know about my biggest gripes in a minute, so keep reading.
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.
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Format: Paperback
Most people who pick up the book will probably be confounded by its uncompromising vision, and most of those who aren't will be offended by its unflinching sensibility. The rest will have to admit that the book is bizarre at the least. But the prose is so good that the experience of it is almost like reading poetry (don't worry, you won't notice if you don't like poetry), and many chapters have a closure that almost makes them stories of their own, even while leading the reader further into the labyrinth of the story. As a whole the book is a stunning vision of an alternative -- really alternative -- reality, and although the ending was not perfectly satisfying to me, the book is nevertheless a brave and brilliant achievement, and very much worth reading.
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Format: Paperback
I really dug this book. It's told in a style so sparse that the story has a strong mythic feel. Ford has created a book that should please both fans of spec fic and those who don't often read genre books. The protagonist reminds me a bit of Ignatius J. Reilly from Confederacy of Dunces; he starts off as a real anti-hero and he made for such captivating reading that I was a little sad to see his redemption arc begin. There are too many elements here that I loved, but the clockwork twins and melancholy monkey bits were especially great. I don't think I've read a book that does dreams this well before. Ever. This book should appeal to those who enjoy Murakami or Kafka.
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Format: Paperback
I have always been on the look for the right book-- the right author. Someone who would come up with a page-turning plot while being able to utilize the beauty of prose in every chapter. FORD did it all. Ford doesn't 'talk' too much, leaving the reader enough space for them to follow the story with intelligence.. his philosphies can also be seen.. scattered on unique characters like arla and cley. If you are in for an intelligent fantasy novel, the physiognomy is the perfect choice.
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Format: Audible Audio Edition Verified Purchase
Jeffrey Ford is one of the best writers you've never heard of. His fiction is complex and rich, the antithesis of pulp. His work resonates so strongly for me that I come back to him again and again, something I rarely do for fiction.

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.
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