Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Dragon Waiting, by John M. Ford

Tor Books, ISBN 9781250269027, September 2020 (original publication 1983)

This is an alternate 15th century Europe, brought to us by the brilliant John M. Ford. 

Instead of Julian the Apostate, who only briefly interrupted the spread of Christianity in Europe, in this alternate history there was Julian the Wise, who lived long enough to prevent any faith from being banned, and any faith from becoming dominant over the others and being able to ban them. The eastern empire, its capital at Byzantium, remains strong and vibrant--and in the 15th century, is working to expand into western Europe. It controls about half of France, and parts of Italy, and wants more.

In other ways, this Europe is very familiar. Edward IV is King of England, Lorenzo de' Medici is a powerful banker and de facto ruler of Florence. Galeazzo Sforza is Duke of Milan, though in this world he's in the pay of Byzantium, and also a vampire.

We follow a wizard, Hywel Peredur, nephew of Owain Glyn Dwr; a mercenary named Dimitrios Ducas; a young woman doctor from Florence, Cynthia Ricci; and Gregory von Bayern, natural scientist, engineer, and vampire. Vampirism is a disease, and it can be spread, and that turns out to matter, quite a lot.

The story revolves around people with very different original goals, coming together to achieve something perhaps none of them had originally intended. We travel through the beliefs and the ritual and cultural practices that didn't get suppressed by the rise of Christianity, but Christianity is also here, in several different flavors.

This is a rich, lived-in world, and has special riches to offer to those interested in Renaissance Italy, the Wars of the Roses in England, and other absorbing bits of 15th century Europe.

And it's really difficult to say more than that, because this is such a rich, layered world and story.

Highly recommended.

I bought this book.

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