Book review: “Aspects” by John Ford

Aspects by John Ford, published by MacMillan, is such a complex and brilliant piece of world creation that you are likely to read anywhere. Unfortunately, the work is also unfinished as Ford died before he finished it. However, the absence of a conclusion does not detract from the power of the story or our appreciation of the author’s skill.

With Aspects Ford created a company on the verge of change. Currently ruled by a parliament composed of the leaders of the various districts/counties/provinces scattered throughout the country. However, none of these settlements, as they are called, are elected – rather they inherit their offices and titles.

When we go into the story there is a movement in place to try and reform the system and the constitution to make it more democratic but there is resistance as some power holders are obviously reluctant to give it up . Indirectly, we are also told of a recent time when the country was ruled by a monarchy, so it seems that this is not the first political upheaval in recent memory.

Even more fascinating is how Ford combined Edwardian and Victorian technology, steam engines and railway lines, with a belief system based on goddess worship and magic. The magics are each aspected to an elemental force, which in turn is considered to represent the Goddess. While magical and steampunk elements are prominent elements in the world depicted in Aspects what really makes the book interesting are the characters.

We meet two Corons from different parts of the country who start out as political allies and whose relationship develops into a romance. We also get acquainted with two particular magic workers and see the different way they work and the impact channeling magic has on them.

One in particular seems to live in a precarious position where she has to be careful with her words. Poetry and song are her channels for generating energy and she can get stuck in a place where verses get out of her control and she could accidentally damage even those closest and dearest to her.

In Aspects Ford delved deeper into the making of the world than most writers. It doesn’t take the easy way out by creating obvious heroes or villains, or having a brave hero trying to overcome a dystopian society. Instead of black and white, it offers readers shades and tints from across the color spectrum.

We pass through a delicious kaleidoscope of changing landscapes and people. Ford portrays everything with such precision that we can almost taste, smell and feel what his characters experience. Aspects recalls the best of 19th century naturalism with its fascination with the way characters and their environment interact, and contemporary speculative fiction. Perhaps its Edwardian-like settings and steampunk technology help create that atmosphere, but it seems Ford deliberately used naturalistic writing techniques to make the premiere more plausible.

The story ends abruptly, without warning, as Ford died the same way. He left behind two paragraphs and a series of sonnets that give hints as to where the story – and the proposed book series set in this world – might have traveled.

However, reading what we have, as frustrating as it may seem, is reading the work of a master writer. Hopefully this will encourage readers to seek out his early works which will be re-released over the next two years.

Aspects by John Ford is an incredible achievement. Read it and appreciate how good steampunk speculative fiction can be.

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