Book: The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford

Typically terse, but very good

John M. Ford
The Dragon Waiting: A Masque of History
Pocket Books, 1983
ISBN: none
Out of print; inexpensive used copies seem readily available as of this writing
333 pages

A little while ago I said, a little flippantly, that if John M. Ford had written Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, he'd have written it as a short story. It seems that I now have proof of that. Not in the form of a story by Mr Ford that has as much in the way of interesting plot and interesting characters as Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, but in the form of a novel that has a lot more of those things in it.

The Dragon Waiting is set in a Europe in which a couple of Byzantine Emperors were more successful than they were in the real Europe. In the book's history, Emperor Julian re-established paganism and Emperor Justinian I held Italy after taking it. My knowledge of real-world European history isn't nearly good enough for me to have identified those as Mr Ford's points of departure. I was glad to have the "Historical Notes" section at the end of the book to clue me in. Indeed, I'd have been glad to read that part first so as to save myself a vain attempt to figure out what the points of departure were.

In any case, Hywel, a Welsh wizard; Dimitrios Ducas, the son of a Byzantine provincial governor; Cynthia Ricci, Lorenzo de' Medici's physician; and Gregory von Bayern, a vampire, end up in Byzantine France on the trail of a document that could affect the English royal succession. And that leads them to England and various adventures there. At least I think that's right. The bit about the adventures is right, but I could be wrong about the import of the document. As I've mentioned before (1, 2) Mr Ford tends to imply a lot rather than narrating it directly and I'm sure that I missed any number of things in the novel. Still, what I did get was very good indeed. And I'm serious about how much stuff Mr Ford puts into his writing in general and this novel in particular. There's an entire country-house murder mystery in the section from page 89 to page 119.

Mr Ford has researched his history very thoroughly, but he occasionally fails to wear his learning lightly. For example, I doubt that many readers learn much when they're told that someone was wearing a "liripipe" hat (p.26). That's a small thing. That I'm sure that I missed a considerable amount of what Mr Ford meant to imply is disappointing. Still, what I did get I liked a lot.

Posted: Fri - December 17, 2004 at 08:04   Main   Category: