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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 the Mass Market Paperback edition.
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 the Paperback edition.See all Product Description
The world that Ford creates in The Physiognomy is compelling, detail-rich, and difficult to forget. I think even the most suspicious readers will be charmed by his depiction of the... Read morePublished on Aug. 20 2003 by frumiousb
Don't believe anyone who says that "The Physiognomy" is irresistibly entertaining. For the first seventy or so pages (a good portion of this 200-page book) I had to... Read morePublished on March 24 2001 by Alex
I admit it. I read this book,and soared through the pages. The prose was engaging- I created a flow and you were dragged through this novel. Read morePublished on March 19 2001
I found this tale about the transformation of Physiognomist First Class Cley to be dark and somewhat slow going despite the remarkable characters and ideas that abound. Read morePublished on March 8 2001 by Hank Schwartz
If you're hoping to see a concise study of physiognomy turned into a piece of fiction, look elsewhere. This is just really original and fun. Read morePublished on Feb. 8 2001 by Shane Tiernan
After I had finished reading this novel, I ran across it again, of all places, in a supermarket. Why on earth was it there? Read morePublished on Dec 2 2000
This book is fantastic and all too short! It's weird and wonderful and it keeps you on your toes, wondering what's going to happen next. Read morePublished on Nov. 3 2000 by Jerry Gerold
A captivating book. Interesting and very funny lead character, although I agree with a previous reviewer that he is most interesting when wicked. Read morePublished on June 5 2000 by pullrich
This book has a wonderful premise. Cley has studied his whole life learning to use the complicated tools and mathematics that make a person an open (braille) book. Read morePublished on May 12 2000