"...the picturesque confusion of houses and the cathedral shone bright in the light of the moon, the day came coldly, looking like a dead face out of the sky."
I have been a fan of Dickens ever since the opening two paragraphs of Bleak House threw me into the Megalosaurus-inhabited foggy streets of London. To read any Dickens work is to be placed into the hands of one of the English language's masters; he is an unsurpassed genius of the sentence; a craftsman; a wordsmith and an artist. He is also, particularly in this work, a storyteller.
A Tale of Two Cities, in Dickens' own words, is "[T]he best story I have written" and is undoubtedly one of his most moving, exciting and memorable works. It builds with slow burning intensity, introducing us to the richly imagined characters who are to shape, and be shaped, by events far bigger, and with a greater sense of history, then they could ever imagine. Individual lives in London and Paris, are brought together with an inexorable sense of destiny, to one of literature's greatest finales, that is played out on the bloody streets of Paris, under the shadow of the guillotine.
Dickens' tale is filled with tragedy and despair, desperation and horror, but against this are pitted the greatest of human characteristics: loyalty, compassion, love and self-sacrifice. A Tale of Two Cities is responsible for some of the finest opening and closing lines in English literature, some of its most memorable characters, and an ending of such poignant intensity that even the hardest of hearts will weep.
[I always recommend Wordsworth Classics for the lay reader: cheap, unabridged, with accessible introductions, a glossary of the most important historical references, and this edition has the added bonus of wonderful illustrations by Phiz]