Aspects by John M. Ford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a hard book to review because of the fact that the author has been dead for sixteen years (he passed in 2006). The book was unfinished at the time of his death, and has been published in its incomplete form due to the almost singlehanded efforts of a magazine writer, as told here. (And do stop and read that article. It's an amazing, touching detective story.)
I'm glad the book finally saw print, but reading it is a bittersweet experience, especially as you draw near to the end and realize that even after 471 pages this story is nowhere near finished....and there will be no more. This tale, a magical alt-version of Victorian England, is slow and leisurely and a bit meandering, with gorgeous prose, lush descriptions of clothing, rooms and landscapes, and long-drawn-out conversations. It's not a conventional plot at all: there is no Big Bad and no one has to save this world. The main character, to the extent that Varic is the main character, is mainly concerned with politics and the machinations of his country's Parliament and drawing up a new constitution. This narrative style suits the slightly steampunk-ish-with-magic worldbuilding perfectly, and in any case Ford's writing is so exquisite that is carries you right along (or it did me). One of the most amazing things about the book is that Ford was just as good a poet and lyric writer as he was a prose stylist: the in-story song lyrics and sonnets that begin the book and hint where it might have been going at the end are not to be missed.
It's very much worth reading as far as I'm concerned, even if you close the back cover with an ache for what might have been. And if it causes you to hunt down his other finished works and cry a little for the genius who left us too soon...so much the better.
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