Powers, Tim. The Drawing of the Dark.

NY: Ballantine, 1979.

This was Tim’s third novel but his first of the type that made his reputation, and which he has been ringing the changes on ever since: The “secret history” in which things are happening below the surface of the history we know (or think we know) that explain the true course of events.

It’s also the first based on the ancient tradition of the Fisher King, which has become a favorite theme in many of his later novels. It’s 1529, Suleiman the Magnificent is gradually incorporating Eastern Europe into the Ottoman Empire, and Brian Duffy, a middle-aged Irish mercenary and fencing master on R&R in Venice, is recruited to travel to Vienna, supposedly to act as bouncer in an inn that used to be a monastery — and which has been brewing a particularly potent form of beer for several thousand years. Duffy used to live in Austria and the offered pay is good, so he accepts. The owner of the inn, by the way, is Ambrosius Aurelianus and he’s been searching for Duffy for a long time. The old soldier is considerably more than he himself realizes and his participation in the defense of Vienna against the Turks is necessary to keep the forces of the West from being overwhelmed by the East. Powers does a first-rate job of telling his story in a way that keeps the reader fully engaged for the whole trip, the often complicated plot twists notwithstanding. The characters are involving, especially Bluto the hunchbacked artillery expert, and Epiphany, with whom Duffy has a history, and Aurelianus himself, with his smoking snakes. The author also has a good grasp of the methods of early 16th century warfare and his battle sequences are excellent. Tim’s later works are perhaps more sophisticated, but this is where it all began.


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