Book Review: Aspects by John M. Ford — Strand Magazine Strand Mag

John M. Ford passed away before completing this book, yet it is one of the greatest works of literary fantasy I have ever encountered.

Book Review: Aspects by John M. Ford — Strand Magazine Strand Mag

This review was highlighted on John M. Ford's posthumous Wikipedia page!

Book Review: Aspects by John M. Ford
Tor Books, 496 pages, ISBN: 9781250269041
$26.99 Hardcover
$13.99 e-book

John M. Ford passed away before completing this book, and yet it remains one of the greatest works of literary fantasy that I have ever encountered. Ford passed away in 2006 with Aspects yet unfinished. At the time of his passing, his work was mostly out of print, and it took a journalist’s one-man investigation to secure anew the rights to his collection. The nearly completed pages of his final manuscript were left to gather dust for over a decade and, if not for luck, they might have never seen the light of day. This would have been an incalculable loss for literature, another shadow in the chasm left by Ford’s early passing at the age of just 49.

Until Aspects, I had never read a John M. Ford novel. For that omission, my life as a whole: literary, personal, professional, has been a poorer one. If I were to offer one piece of advice, it’s this: stop reading my review and go read this book.

Neil Gaiman penned an introduction to Aspects so earnest that it literally made me cry, where he recounts their long friendship and the many ways that Ford’s presence enriched his own work and life. He wrote, regarding Aspects, that “[Ford] was building something quite new in fantasy, a place where nothing is ever new: it was what A Game of Thrones might have been, if the author had been fascinated by trains.”

Aspects introduces us to a world profoundly like and yet unlike our own, with people living side-by-side in both common and uncommon lives. Unexpected marriages occur with the halls of power, steaming bathwater is delighted at after a long day, and people dream of leaving a lasting legacy behind them when they die. The poignancy of this juxtaposition of the everyday, to the magic and machinations of the halls of power, is startling and beautifully deft in its execution.

The setting is a world in the grip of coal and steam, and specifically Lystourel, capital city of the Republic of Lescoray, a country built upon the backs of medieval tyrants and their stonemasons, of commoners and sorcerers, kings and thieves. A group of people, old friends and new, converge on a place called Strange House for an autumn celebration of masks and theater and conversation. And there, as the slow wheels of the country’s politics grind on, the vision of a more equal world takes root and starts to grow.

Against the backdrop of technology and magic are people living real lives, drinking tea, travelling. Ford’s descriptions of food are to die for. He deftly wove a sense of life’s simple and most profound passions within a tapestry of the grand and unknown. Ford conjured a world of epic fantasy, yes, but with all the charming and commonplace moments of normal life included in. Poetic sorcery and dueling nobility have never felt so grounded, real, and alive.

For, “unfinished” though it may be, Ford’s final novel is a masterpiece. There are threads unfulfilled, questions unanswered, hopes and dreams unrealized… and yet, the novel stands grand despite this, offering an experience of rich saudade — of bittersweet joy at a tale, marvelous to the senses, that contains a multitude of possibility. Without spoilers, I can easily say that the final chapters of this book are more satisfying unfinished than those of many completed novels I have seen.

Needless to say: all of Ford’s work that I could get my hands on, through my local library or corner bookstore, is now on the way to my desk. Aspects gave me the taste of something wonderful, a richness that revitalized my own literary energies and my love of reading besides. If you’ve yet to find yourself a copy, trust me, now is the time.

Hi there! I’m Odin Halvorson, a librarian, independent scholar, film fanatic, fiction author, and tech enthusiast. If you like my work and want to support me, please consider becoming a paid subscriber for as little as $2.50 a month!

Originally published at on April 3, 2022.

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