Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Memoranda [Amazon, Abebooks, Author, Local Library] by Jeffrey Ford, book 2 of the Well-Built City Trilogy series, cover of Golden Gryphon edition by John Picacio.
This second volume of the Well-Built City trilogy does include some incidental exposition to refresh readers on the events of the first book, but I don’t think it would read well in the complete absence of the prior text. Unlike its predecessor, it finishes with a clear pointer toward its sequel.
The style and format are consistent with the first book: short, limpid chapters narrated by the former Physiognomist First Class Cley, who has found a new life as the doctor of the village of Wenau made up of refugees from the now-ruined Well-Built City. But Drachton Below, the malign demiurge of the Well-Built City, is still alive, and he mobilizes a devious plot to bring the villagers under his control. Memoranda is Cley’s odyssey to confront his former Master so that he can rescue his new neighbors, a confrontation that takes place in a surprising and exotic interior environment.
It is a really wonderful and artful fantasy, reminding me more than a little of the Hypnerotomachia and The Neverending Story. I have compared its predecessor The Physiognomy to the Terry Gilliam film Brazil, and this one equally deserves comparison to The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. Author Ford provides a prefatory note acknowledging the importance of Frances Yates’ works on traditional memory arts in the composition of this novel, a fact that could not have been missed anyway by readers familiar with that subject matter.
By the way, John Picacio’s cover art for the 21st-century Golden Gryphon edition of the trilogy is sublime.
These books are not for children. But if you’re a jaded adult who wants the vertiginous pleasure that good fantasy provides to children, they can deliver. Exquisite.