A very kind member of the publishing industry at Tor recently reached out to me to ask if I wanted to take a look at Aspects, by John M. Ford. Knowing my tastes they thought I might like it and it had been flying under the radar so I thought I would give it a shot. The book is the final work of John Ford, published posthumously as he died in 2006. There is an introduction (that made me cry) by Neil Gaiman who considered Ford a close personal friend and the book is about 80% finished and abruptly stops. I had never heard of Ford and was a little apprehensive about spending my limited free time on an unfinished book but I thought I would give it a shot. What I found is easily one of the most beautiful and best books of the year, even in its unfinished format, and now I find myself looking to read the entirety of Ford’s catalog of stories. Aspects is an incredibly moving slice of life story about two members of a fictional fantasy parliament going about their lives that will shatter your heart into a million pieces with its poetic prose, wonderful individuals, and somber observations about the world we live in.
The story starts with a duel, moves into an intense parliamentary debate, and then shifts to a countryside vacation at a villa. Throughout all of this, we are introduced to a kaleidoscope of individuals who help keep Ford’s magical world running, but we focus primarily on two aristocrats named Varic and Longlight from sectors on opposite sides of the kingdom. Varic is a long-term career politician, a man who knows all the ins and outs of the game. Longlight is new to the scene and ends up turning to Varic for guidance on how to help her sector gain parliament assistance with some of the issues they are facing. In many ways, all of this isn’t really what makes the book tic, nor is it why you should show up because it will never be finished. Yet, despite the lack of an urgent plot, the poetic exploration of the ideas of love, friendship, purpose, responsibility, and more just seeps out of every page in a way that makes the entire thing engaging and easy to read.
“He looked at the door, started to rise, but did not. He said, “Edaire loves Silvern so much that she leaves a door to her mind itself open for him, and so he in return. Winterhill loves romance and adventure, and the knowledge that he is far more free than those who consider themselves his master. Birch loves the soul of the whole world, and soon it will embrace him. Strange’s love of the mind’s reach is more intense and passionate than most people can bring their physical bodies to.” He looked at her exactly as he had done in the train compartment–the second night, not the first. “Everything I know of love is through the people of this House. They are rich in affection, and no one may go poor in their company.”
I am not usually one for poetry, but dear god does the prose of this book reach into your soul and drag out the reverence. There isn’t much beyond the last page of this first entry into a planned series, but there is a set of sonnets Ford wrote to accompany each of the future books and I could lose weeks analyzing their depth. The characters are so wonderfully complex. Their flaws are deeply explored, to the point where I began to question whether they truly were flaws. I even found my own perspectives, on others and myself, shifting as I read. It is a magical story that is tragically cut short yet still unbelievably wonderful to read despite the lack of closure. The book surprisingly doesn’t suffer much without its back fifth. Plotlines start and conclude constantly throughout the story, so while there are a few loose ends when we arrive at the end, the real upsetting fact is that there isn’t more book to enjoy. After I read the last page I found myself sitting with the book, refusing to immediately pick up another, as I considered all the possible futures for the characters that are left unknown. I think I have a pretty good idea of where I would have taken their stories if I was writing Aspects, but I am not nearly as smart as Ford clearly was, so I will always wonder if I was correct.
In almost every way I think Aspects is a perfect book, even in its unfinished state. My only small issue with the stories is it pretty aggressively glorify individuals in positions of power and wealth, which is a lot harder to swallow in 2022 than it would have been in 2006. However, I can forgive Ford for not being able to write for an audience and world events 20 years beyond his death.
I loved Aspects and I think you will too. Please do not avoid reading this book despite its unfinished state. It is easily still one of the best things this year and I adore it dearly and fiercely. I can’t wait to go read the entirety of the rest of Ford’s books soon.
Rating: Aspects – 10/10
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.