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The Physiognomy, with its original ideas, setting, characters, and symbolism, is sometimes brilliant, and always bizarre (which is probably why it won the 1998 World Fantasy Award). The focus on the debunked science of physiognomy is especially appealing and the characters, though they are not likable, are fascinating, too. Physiognomist Cley ??? who computes personalities with calipers, wears formaldehyde as cologne, is addicted to drugs, and is afraid of the dark ??? is one of the most narcissistic, sarcastic, and generally nasty characters you???ll ever meet. Master Drachton Below, who developed the Well-Built City as a perfect representation of his elaborate version of the mnemonic device called The Method of Loci, and who enjoys reviving dead human bodies by fitting them with mechanical devices and neural implants, makes a great villain. I listened to Audible Frontier???s version of The Physiognomy which was read by Christian Rummel. All of the characters were expertly and entertainingly rendered by Mr. Rummell, who perfectly captured the arrogance of Cley and the malevolence of The Master.
The plot of The Physiognomy starts confidently and with purpose, but when Cley???s troubles begin to accumulate, the story dissolves into a series of bizarre, vaguely-related occurrences which feel more like one of Cley???s time-distorted hallucinations than a plot. Like the hallucinations, the imagery is excellent (e.g., the hellish symbolism of the sulfur mine), and the prose never falters, but the things that happen to Cley, and his subsequent changes in personality, feel vague, arbitrary, and unbelievable.
It???s disappointing when a book which starts so well fails to completely satisfy, but I???m not giving up on Jeffrey Ford or his Well-Built City trilogy. I loved the idea of the city based on The Method of Loci and I am hoping to learn more about it in the next book which is propitiously titled Memoranda.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
There is never a dull moment in this characters personal narrative. It's unlike anything I've ever read/heard. The narrator does a fantastic job with the read and is great at each characters separate voice.
It's really hard to compare it to anything else. It's got characters you'll love to hate and some gruesomeness. I wasn't sure at first but easy to see why it won the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards.