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The dragon waiting by John M. Ford
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The dragon waiting (original 1983; edition 1985)

by John M. Ford

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6351615,256 (3.83)17
Member:AlanPoulter
Title:The dragon waiting
Authors:John M. Ford
Info:London : Corgi 1985, c1983.
Collections:Your library
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Tags:fantasy

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The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford (1983)

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» See also 17 mentions

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Despite the title (there is no "real" dragon in the book), this reads more like an alternate history first and a fantasy second. The premise is that Byzantium endured and neither Christianity nor Islam became a dominant religion (which also means that various pagan beliefs from across Europe also persisted). Furthermore, magic works (within certain limits - in particular, wizards can't practice magic without it taking an immediate toll on their strength and health) and there are vampires, albeit with a rationale for the characteristics of that condition.

The story is set in the late Medieval period, during the Wars of the Roses. A Welsh magician, a disinherited Byzantine scion turned soldier of fortune, a female Medici with medical skills and a Bavarian vampire ordnance engineer are brought together to play a part in ultimately putting Richard III on the throne of England and thwarting the advance of Byzantium. The world-building is exceptionally well-detailed and the scene painting is particularly vivid.

The action of the book is a little episodic, and the continual shifts in point of view characters does mean that not all the events of the book happen on-stage. Add to that the fact that, especially in the last third of the book when the action moves to the British Isles, characters may be identified by their proper names or by their titles, (plus disguises, costumed and/or magical) and the whole thing does get a little hard to follow without a family tree or two to hand. So just like real Plantagenet history, then.

The four main protagonists are well-drawn, though having all four active in the plot at the same time does perhaps leave that characterisation a bit thin in a 350-page novel rather than a 800-page doorstop blockbuster. Still, less is more. And Ford's research is good, with very few lapses caused by a transatlantic perspective - about the only example I tripped over were the murderers of the Duke of Clarence (of 'butt of malmsey' fame), whose accents mainly seem inspired by Lady Penelope's butler Parker in the 1960s 'Thunderbirds' tv series. The text is allusion-rich, some of these being buried quite deep. There was one Tolkein allusion that made me laugh out loud.

Overall, then, a fantasy novel that reads like an alternate history, is well-written, more historically accurate than most, and above all intelligent whilst still retaining all the suspense and excitement of big bangs and derring-do. A palpable hit. ( )
1 vote RobertDay | Oct 25, 2016 |
A historical revisionist (and fantastical) story of Richard III and his contemporaries, including vampires and Byzantium princes. Excellent. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
A favourite of mine, an an alternative historical fantasy about four damaged people, a one eyed Welsh wizard, an exiled heir to the Byzantine throne, a female physician to Lorenzo de Medici and a German vampire engineer, working against the Byzantine Empire. The struggle takes them to England after the War Of The Roses, where deadly dynastic squabbles threaten to turn the kingdom on its head. Clever, elliptical, occasionally horrific, full of magic and intrigue and mystery and betrayal. I wish I could write more about it but I'm still tired and my eye still hurts. ( )
  Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
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.
  TomWaitsTables | 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. ( )
5 vote shanaqui | Aug 3, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John M. Fordprimary authorall editionscalculated
Barr,KenCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Koslow, HowardCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
SanjuliánCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wyatt, DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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
Dedication
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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