The first thing to know is that this book is unfinished. At 380 pages long, it feels like it’s only beginning to set its stage when it abruptly ends with two isolated paragraphs of a new chapter, and the epigraphs for five more parts – each part so far being approximately 200 pages, broken up randomly into 50 page chapters. It was only on reading Neil Gaiman’s introduction that I realized the book was incomplete, but even there he seems to suggest only one chapter is missing, not the bulk of what would have been a massive book – and apparently the start of a series.
I was introduced to Ford through his Liavek stories, and followed through to a handful of novels – one Liavek-related, one YA SF, and one adult SF. None had any similarity to this book, which is a large, complex, political fantasy with a well-developed industrial world and plenty of subtle allusions. I’d have thought they were written by different people (this one perhaps by Richard Grant), though perhaps I should reexamine Ford’s earlier books.
Aspects is carefully thought out and very well written – the prose in particular is smooth, effective, and masterful. The characters, sadly, are less successful- Ford lays the trail for important character traits, but seems so concerned with delicate subtlety that he forgets to show us the characters he’s talking about, and there’s simply too much that’s opaque. Even the book’s central figure, the Coron Varic, remains mysterious – as many other characters insist on telling us – at the book’s stopping point. The net result was that I greatly admired the prose, but found the characters distant, and more intellectually interesting than personally engaging. The magic system as well is important to the story but underdescribed, and the narrative is sometimes muddled.
Is the book worth reading? It was certainly an eye opener for me about Ford’s literary strengths. On the basis of his other work, I’d classified him as, for me, a B-list author – interesting, but not particularly noteworthy. To my mind, the writing in this book is head and shoulders above my recollection of his prior books. If you like good prose, you’ll enjoy reading this. On the other hand, the book is unfinished, reaching no conclusions or resolutions, leaving its characters and their arcs hanging – and, since Ford died almost 20 years ago – there will be no more. It would be difficult to find an author to carry on even this first book or match its style, let alone complete a series. I assume that is why, so long after Ford’s death, this incomplete volume is being published.
I’d have thought Ford’s audience was limited at this date, but some big name authors think otherwise, so perhaps I’m mistaken. If you’re one of his true fans, this is the best writing of his that I recall, though perhaps if my judgment is mistaken, my memory is as well. I do wish that the book had been described as a partial manuscript, which it most certainly is, and addressed it to fans, who would have enjoyed it. I’m not sure that newcomers will be well pleased with a very strong introduction and … nothing else. But perhaps they’ll go on to Ford’s other work, and perhaps that’s the intent here. Still, best to be open about it, I think.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.