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14 April 2013 @ 04:45 pm
The Dragon Waiting  
I went into The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford with precisely zero knowledge of what it was about and was pleasantly surprised by the story. That said, I think if I'd had some idea what it was going to be about I'd have been a little disappointed if only because the concept alone is probably to raise expectations.

So The Dragon Waiting is, I guess, a fantasy AU focusing on Richard III's rise to the throne and his reign up to the Battle of Bosworth. It's a fantasy AU because this is a world in which magic is real, vampires walk the Earth, Christianity is only a minor religion, and Rome, in the form of Byzantium, never fell. It's protagonists are a motley group of adventurers led by an aging wizard (son of Owain Glyn Dwr) and consisting of a vampiric artillerist, a mercenary in search of a cause, and a female Florentine physician with whom the other three are all a little in love (which was, mostly, rather tiresome of them and largely beside the point).

I'm always a little dubious about alternative history tales, particularly as they get further from the supposed divergence point. I was entertained, back in the day, by a Doctor Who Choose Your Own Adventure book in which one of the "you have failed" outcomes involved the confederates winning the American Civil War, as a result of which America never purchased Alaska, as a result of which COMMUNISM WON!! horror! which I always felt was rather a tenuous train of reasoning. I think The Dragon Waiting gets away with its alternative world because it doesn't pretend to a divergence point but presents itself more as a question - how would these events fall out in this different situation?

I am aware of a spectrum of opinion among my friends about both the actions and character of Richard III and, I suppose, of how his character should be understood given both the historical context and any actions he may (or may not) have taken. The Dragon Waiting seems to be of the view that Richard III was both ruthless and not averse to both actual and judicial murder, but on the other hand it seeks to make him sympathetic because Evil Wizards! and Vampires! I was well entertained by the telling but I was left a little puzzled by what, if any, conclusions the book was seeking to draw about the actual king.

I was slow to warm to the central characters, at least until Cynthia Ricci (the physician) appeared on the scene but, in fact, by the end I was rooting for all of them (with the possible exception of Dimi, the mercenary without a cause, who seemed to be a bit wet a lot of the time). However I did, several times, have the sensation that I was missing out on nuance. Most notably we are supposed to believe that the four of them are united in opposition to Byzantium and this leads them to support of Richard III, but I was never quite clear why Peredur (the wizard) was quite so fanatically against the Byzantine machinations and he was the linchpin that held the group together and directed their actions. There were a number of other moments where I felt I was missing some context or import of a discussion. I'm not sure if this is a reflection on the fact that I only have a passing acquaintance with the period, or perhaps that I wasn't paying enough attention to the details of people and their interactions.

At the end of the day, though I have some minor quibbles about the book, I would happily read more tales set in its version of history and featuring its four central characters and I don't think you can reasonably ask for more.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/95386.html.
Susanlil_shepherd on April 14th, 2013 03:58 pm (UTC)
I love this book, if only because it makes heroes of both Anthony Rivers (who is my personal hero from the period) and Richard himself. It is also a rather clever justification for the murder of the princes, without pretending that Richard wasn't the likeliest culprit.

John M (Mike) Ford didn't write an awful lot of books -- he was a journalist -- but each one is utterly distinctive. His only other semi-historical is a thriller (not a fantasy) which mixes modern day espionage with Christopher Marlowe's, and is one of the few books set in London written by an American that I can stand. (The Scholars of Night.)

Oh, and actually, there is a "turning point", being that Julian the Apostate succeeded in expelling Christianity from the Western Empire, instead of dying before he reasonably got started. (I've used this myself - it's a great moment to use to build a world where Rome didn't fall but evolved into something else.)

Then, of course, there is How Much for Just the Planet, the Star Trek novel for people who don't like Star Trek novels, and the only one that will never leave my personal collection.

Edited at 2013-04-14 04:02 pm (UTC)
king_pellinor: P Knightking_pellinor on April 15th, 2013 11:19 am (UTC)
I did like How Much for Just the Planet? :-) The Final Reflection, too. I should probably read The Dragon Waiting at some point, then :-)

Bunn's comment about there being a lot of stuff going on in the author's head that isn't necessarily obvious to the reader certainly applies to both the Star Trek books. They both bear re-reading so you can follow the plot properly the second time.
Susanlil_shepherd on April 15th, 2013 11:48 am (UTC)
Mike Ford is also the only person, I think, to have a poem win a major SF award for a short story. (Gaiman, of course, did it with a comic book.)

This one:

Winter Solstice, Camelot Station

louisedennislouisedennis on April 15th, 2013 04:51 pm (UTC)
Oh, and actually, there is a "turning point", being that Julian the Apostate succeeded in expelling Christianity from the Western Empire

*pouts* I do honestly think these things are a lot weaker with an explicit turning point, because it really is highly unlikely the history would have proceeded sufficiently closely to our own to have both the Medicis in Florence and the Wars of the Roses in England still playing out as they did in real life from a divergence point that far back.
Susanlil_shepherd on April 15th, 2013 05:32 pm (UTC)
I agree with you, and would get upset if this were a science fiction novel. But is explicitly fantasy in a parallel universe and therefore is, I think, forgiveable. (My favourite SF parallel universe line is from Fred Pohl's The Coming of the Quantum Cats:

"There's even a universe where Ronnie was elected President instead of Nancy."
lukadreaminglukadreaming on April 14th, 2013 04:07 pm (UTC)
I have this in my re-read pile. I read it about 30 years ago and remember little about it. Then lil_shepherd mentioned it a while back and I amazingly enough found it in the chaos that is my book collection ...
louisedennislouisedennis on April 15th, 2013 04:53 pm (UTC)
... and of course LJ suddenly decides it isn't worth notifying me about comments *sigh*

I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on it when you get around to it.
bunn: Smaugbunn on April 14th, 2013 06:54 pm (UTC)
By an odd coincidence, I just re-read this book, and therefore remember it well enough to quibble : Peredur isn't Glyn Dwr's son. Glyn Dwy was middle-aged at the time of his revolt, which was 1400-1405, Richard III became king in 1483. Peredur as a child can remember seeing one of Glyn Dwr's sons, Meredydd, and I suppose there might be an implication that he's Meredydd's bastard. It is one of the oddities of the book that Glyn Dwr is mentioned so often, I think, because historically he's a fairly obscure figure outside of Wales. But as I am a huge Glyn Dwr fan, I'm not complaining!

I agree with you that the book is entertaining but a little baffling. It struck me as a little odd that the disparate group of people introduced at the inn in the Alps suddenly becomes such a tight-knit band of loyal friends - I felt that could have done with a lot more showing us how that happened. And yes, what exactly IS so terribly appalling about Byzantium??

An entertaining book, but I felt sometimes that I was missing chunks of the narrative that were only going on inside the author's fevered brain.
louisedennislouisedennis on April 15th, 2013 04:55 pm (UTC)
I wondered as I was writing the above if I was misremembering grandson as son, but I couldn't be bothered to walk upstairs and double-check. I thought it was pretty heavily implied that Peredur was Glyn Dwr's grandson.

I seem to recall that the really bad thing about Byzantium is terrible road side service station food.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought a lot more was going on that was actually being stated.