One of my favorite authors writes in one of my favorite periods, the Victorian. While the story takes place in New York City (afficionados of that town will be charmed by the historical details) the Victorian period is in full swing, with hansom cabs, fireplaces for warmth, men with walking sticks and candles. I'm sure he mentioned an apidistra somewhere as well.
Mrs. Charbuque has commissioned Piero Piambo (who is known to one an all simply as "Piambo"), up and coming painter, to do her portrait. However there is one hitch: he is never to see her, but simply to talk to her while she sits behind a screen. He will be handsomely rewarded regardless of what he paints, but should he be able to paint her exact likeness, the reward becomes a fortune.
We then begin two stories: one, of Piambo and his struggle to paint the portrait, and two, the story that Mrs. Charbuque relates from behind the screen. Both are extraordinary.
From heavenly snowflakes to earthy defecations, Ford once again creates pseudo-sciences that intrigue and entertain. The art scene in Manhattan is delightful, and the agony of Piambo as he wrestles with his conscience is riveting. He's just like us, a fool who cares.
The Victorian language is genuine and unforced. Most authors attempting a "Victorian" novel do not succeed in the creation of sentences that sound and read true to period. The writing is fluid and excellent and as beautiful as ever. Ford once again shows what a virtuoso he is.