The book: The Drawing of the Dark, by Tim Powers
The edition: Del Rey Impact paperback, 324 pages
The story: aging sword-for-hire Brian Duffy reaches Vienna shortly before the Turk siege in 1529. He has been promised a job as bouncer in a local brewery, but it’s clear that something much more mysterious is at hand. And what does the famous Herzwesten beer have to do with saving the entire western world from the invading Turkish armies?
My experience with the book & my thoughts: when I bought this book, I had no idea what I was in for, but it was just as well because the book itself is different from anything else that I have ever read. It combines mythology and history to create a fantasy that is completely different from the usual. It reminded me a lot of American Gods for the way it treats myths (except of course I know it’s the other way round, because this one was written long before Gaiman’s), and then it takes the story built around those myths and steeps it in an historical (and well researched) context. And all this it does with grace and perfect balance. A little gem of a book, and I wish I had read this earlier!
The part with spoilers: I was expecting Epiphany to have a bigger role in saving the West (what with her name, and her father being a clairvoyant, and Lothario seeing some of Guinevere in her). Also, what’s the point of alternating the names
Aurelius/Aurelianus if the name he tries to hide is another one? (Ooops, sorry! My bad for not checking twice. The name alternating in the book are Ambrosius/Aurelianus, and apparently Ambrosius is a given name for Merlin. Never knew that!)
What I liked: just about everything: characters, context, magic, myth, beer legends, and even a glimpse of my homelands! 🙂
What I didn’t like: I only wish I could read more of it, it was too short! Also, the edition I have has a cheap cover that creates this strange effect (and this was even before reading):
Language & writing: there’s a lot of strange (to me) words, but they’re all part of the “ambiance”, the historical setting.
In the author’s own words: this one may be a bit spoiler-y (not too much, really), but the idea is so good that I just had to share it:
“Listen, three thousand years before Christ was born, a people came out of Spain and spread across Europe. They were nomads, strangers wherever they went, but respected–nearly worshipped–because they brought with them the secret of beer-making. They spread the art of brewing with a missionary zeal–you can find their decorated beakers in graves from Sicily to the northern tip of Scotland. The fermented gift they brought to Europe is the basis of more beliefs than I dare tell you right now; but I will tell you that in the very oldest versions f the story it was beer, not fire, that Prometheus stole from the gods and brought to man.”
Links to better understand this book:
- a detailed essay about the Fisher King
Random thought: why does everyone seem to like beer? I can’t stand it.
Read this if: if you liked American Gods; also, if you are interested in Arthuriana or Norse mythology; and more generally if you like fantasy.
Counts as: Travel with books – Vienna