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The dragon waiting by John M. Ford

The dragon waiting (original 1983; edition 1985)

by John M. Ford

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5971316,431 (3.82)14
Title:The dragon waiting
Authors:John M. Ford
Info:London : Corgi 1985, c1983.
Collections:Your library

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The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford (1983)


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This book is absolutely terrifying; I couldn't finish it, not as a child, not as a teenager, not even as an adult. It haunts me to this day. Not to be recommended to children. Ever. Probably not to be recommended to adults, either. The brilliance hides an abyss.

Addendum: I'm not being facetious; this book is a ... dark thing to be feared. It is a twisted, appalling thing, full of horrors that will leave you screaming.

I picked it up after finishing the last book on my TBR shelf and less than ten pages in I--I couldn't. I had to put it down again. It's very insidious; you won't find any grand gestures of evil. It's the tiny things, stealthy sentences that steal into you mind; a few quiet words strung together so unimpeachably they appear to be completely innocent--but you are being deceived, for they are building contexts that will leave you still unsettled six years later. It's been hours since I've read those ten pages and my psyche is still whimpering. Not even Charlotte's Web can dispel this nightmare from my mind.

Don't read this book. Don't leave it on your TBR shelf to be picked up again later; or worse, by an innocent! Like any trauma, I find myself drawn back to this nightmare again and again and again; I cannot escape its grasp and time only make things worse. Don't be like me; escape. Burn it, douse the fire with holy water, and then give the ashes to a priest to bury in sacred ground. God have mercy on your soul. And may He save mine--the progressive, agnostic God of Spinoza, not Shai-Hulud or the Cthulhu God of Lovecraft. As I said, this book will mess you up. Some things are better left undisturbed. Leave this book alone, pass it by, and concern yourself with more innocent tomes (The Necronomicon, for example). Stop reading; run, you fools.
  one-horse.library | Jul 9, 2014 |
Wow. The Dragon Waiting is hard work: I can totally understand why some people disliked it. I read it with the Draco Concordans (a fan-written concordance for the book) at my fingertips, all the while conscious that I'm gonna have to read it again to understand it all. It's a subtle, deeply allusive book, requiring both knowledge (of history and other literary texts) and skill with interpretation (of logical implications and emotional ones). I can understand resenting all the work the reader has to do, though for me the need to work is what made me love this book so much.

I don't know how to say all the things I think and feel about this book without simply quoting other people. The theme that touched me most deeply was that of trauma, and the Byzantine colonialism's comparisons to sexual assault -- it was very interesting to me that several key characters were Welsh and Scottish, given that theme and "real world" history.

I was convinced to read this book by this post, really, which says a lot of what I want to say -- and in a wondrously unspoiler-ish manner, too...

"This is a sneaky, sneaky book: a blood-soaked medieval fantasy; an elegant historical AU; a bleak, gritty political thriller; a witty Shakespeare fanfic; an intricate meta game full of buried jokes about Star Wars and Dracula; and a deeply serious and mature story about human damage (whether trauma or “chronic conditions”) and how we bear it, about suffering and grace."

Quite possibly, reading that post to begin with is what allowed me to love this book so much. Going in unprepared, I might have given up, which is unfortunate. ( )
3 vote shanaqui | Aug 3, 2013 |
Once I get past the book's central and somewhat nonsensical concept (that late medieval/early Renaissance Europe would have been essentially the same had Christianity not become the dominant religion a thousand years earlier), there's plenty of fascinating world-building on display, with clever fantasy elements and more than a touch of poetry. The author relies on many subtle, side-long glances at things, which is intriguing (and makes you feel clever when you get it ;-). However, the plot is very piecemeal and disparate, and it's a frustratingly elusive read as a whole, with a too-abrupt ending. As I suspect I've missed quite a lot of subtext on my first read, this is definitely a book that will warrant a revisit and re-evaluation! ( )
  salimbol | Jun 26, 2013 |
It was an engrossing story and I liked it. Vampires, wizards, Plantagenets, what's not to like? Ford knows a lot about the history of the late middle ages, and it shows - this alternate history is well grounded in real history. However the novel has an oblique style that I found a bit frustrating. Major parts of the story seem to take place essentially off stage.

He would lead you right up to some happening; a knife is approaching the character and then, pphhmmmff, you are somewhere else with some other character who is having lunch. A couple chapters later the character who was being approached with a knife shows up with a bandage on. Nobody really discusses what happened. A character is fleeing through the forest, a shot rings out, zip, you're at the lake with a different character. Later the forest guy shows up with a limp. A character has a secret. Three chapters later everyone knows the secret. How? I dunno.

A couple times I actually checked the pagination to see if maybe there were some pages missing or I'd had some sort of memory lapse. So I found that odd and a little irritating. Kind of like when you were a kid and the grown ups wouldn't tell you what was going on so you had to guess based on observation. ( )
  bunwat | Mar 30, 2013 |
"The Dragon Waiting" is set in a late mediaeval Europe which is mostly ruled by the Byzantine Empire, and in which Christianity and Islam never became the dominant religions that they were in our world at that time. I had to look up the dates of various historical characters in Wikipedia in order to guesstimate when the events of this novel were taking place, since there were a multitude of different dating systems in use. The Byzantines impose their laws on the lands they conquer but not their language (Greek) or religion (Mithraism), so that their subjects have less reason to rebel against them, but there are still regions of Italy and Eastern Europe holding out against the encroaching empire at the time this story is set. Three hundred years ago, England and the Byzantine empire partitioned France between them, leaving a small French-ruled buffer in between, but now the Byzantines are secretly supporting the Lancastrian side in the Wars of the Roses and planning to take over England and the rest of France. The protagonists of this story each have their own reason to hate the Byzantines and set off to England in an attempt to foil their plots.

I tend to mentally divide alternate history into science fiction (could have happened if things had turned out differently), and fantasy (stories including magic, fairies, dragons, psychic powers, etc.). I much prefer those that I classify as science fiction, so I was disappointed to realise that this book included magic and vampires, even though magic was hard to do and slow to achieve its aims and vampires were seen as people suffering from a disease rather than supernatural beings.

I was also irritated by the characters, who seemed to react and over-react in the most unlikely ways, and although no-one expressed any surprise about Cynthia Ricci being a doctor, I found it it jarring that she was the only woman with an anachronistic (for our world) career, apart from a brief mention of a Valkyrie regiment of women soldiers at the end of the book.

Also, from the time the protagonists got together I found it very hard to follow exactly what was going on, and more importantly why. The politics were impenetrable, as were the doings of the magicians, and the characters were always hinting things to each other and letting their sentences trail off, leaving me very confused. It would have been helpful to have had some idea why Cynthia and Peredur spent two years wandering around Wales and to have understood the point of the Robin Hood references, and I'm still unclear as to whether Peredur considered betraying Richard at the Battle of Bosworth.

It's not that I expect everything to be laid on a plate for me, but this book was so much of a struggle that I could hardly be bothered to finish it. It won the World Fantasy Award and I was expecting to enjoy it, so it was a big disappointment. ( )
1 vote isabelx | Feb 13, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John M. Fordprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Barr,KenCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Koslow, HowardCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wyatt, DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The Empire lay in the imposed order; around
the throne the visionary zone of clear light
hummed with celestial action; there the forms
of chamberlains, logothetes, nuncios, went and came...
These dwelled in Byzantium...
But also in the mind of the Empire another kind
of tale lay than that of the Grail.
- Charles Williams, The Region of the Summer Stars
To those who were there, at the crisis.
First words
The road the Romans made traversed North Wales a little way inland, between the weather off the Irish Sea and the mountains of Gwynedd and Powys; past the copper and the lead that the travel-hungry Empire craved.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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German translation of "The Dragon Waiting"
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