Jeffrey Ford's The Physiognomy (1997) has been on my "To Read" list and my "Used Bookstore" list for almost a decade, and over the holiday break I managed to find an ebook copy through my local library and was able to read this, the last best novel winner of the World Fantasy Award from the 1990s on my Award Winners list.
The novel focuses on a witchfinder general type named Physiognomist Cley, who has been sent from "The Well-Built City" to an outlying village to track down a theif, using his mastery of the skill of physiognomy (the now outdated science of tracking peoples attributes and abilities based on lumps and bumps on their skulls). Cley is a pretty awful, unsympathetic character, I haven't disliked a protagonist so much at the begning of a novel since reading S.M. Stirling's The Domination, but as with that book, Cley is meant to be disliked and even hated at first; he's a drug user, a rapist, a bully and pretty much a monster by any normal standard.
His problems begin when he meets a woman who also claims the ability to perform physiognomy just as he loses his own ability to perform his art as well. If I had to find a sub-genre for the novel it gets close to Steampunk in a number of ways, but equally moves towards high fantasy in a number of places.
In the end I found the book to be a good read, but I'm not sure I would continue to explore the followup titles in Ford's Well-Built City Trilogy.
1 month ago