January 20th, 2014

The Well Built City Trilogy By Jeffrey Ford

My dad knows I collect signed novels so for Christmas in addition to a signed copy from Poppy Z. Brite he also sent me signed copies of The Well Built City Trilogy by his colleague Jeffery Ford.

While it calls itself a trilogy it is more of a triptych. We get three distinct views of the same world each leading us to make our own decision about the meaning of paradise.

The first book, The Physiognomy depicts a world where people have decided that your facial structure is your destiny. They believe in this "science" so much that they don't even have police. When a crime is committed they round up every possible suspect and measure their faces and whoever has the least perfect facial structure is either sent to the mines or executed. We see this world from the point of view of Cley, one of the masters of this science.

The world  he lives is much like that in The Hunger Games. The powerful people live in the Well Built City and then then poor people live in various hamlets in states of near poverty. The city itself has been built by an egomaniac madman named Below. As much as they can the people not in the city try to create their own gods an search for paradise.

Most believe that paradise exists in the wilderness, called The Beyond, which exists outside the country. Some try to explore it. None find paradise and most are killed. The Beyond itself, you see, is populated by demons who are often  hungry.

By the end of the first book there has been a revolution, Cley has realized his science is bullshit and people are trying to create their own version of paradise in an agrarian community.

The second book, Memoranda, takes us on a different path. Below is trying to come back to power by spreading disease but ends up catching the disease himself. To find the antidote Cley must enter the dreams and memories of Below. But dreams and memories often lie, so we are never sure what's really happening. As Cley is told "the truth lies at the end of a circle."

Eventually Cley discovers the cure but it is in many ways worse than the disease and after giving it to people Cley is forced to start searching the Beyond itself to find paradise.

The third book, The Beyond, takes us on a different path completely. It is told from the point of view of a demon addicted to heroin like hallucinogenic substance. He tells us about Cley's adventures in the Beyond, but we can never be sure what really happened, because a drug addicted demon is not the most reliable of narrators.

In the end you are left to decide for yourself what paradise is and what happened to Cley. If "the truth lies at the end of a circle" reminds you a bit of "Ka is a wheel" the ending will also remind you of Jake telling Roland "there are other worlds than these."

In between the main story we get all sorts of cool monsters including werewolves, kraken, half human half machine beasts etc...

What's very interesting about the books is that Cley is told at the beginning that "this is a a love story." That seems impossible at first, but by the end you realize it's the truth - but not in the way you expected.

All and all an interesting and often hallucinogenic story of a world not that unlike our own.