The Drawing of the Dark, by Tim Powers
8/10, a somewhat scattered supernatural adventure in medieval Europe
It is a fairly well-established fact that I am a huge Tim Powers fan. I haven’t posted reviews of all his books–I read “Expiration Date,” “Earthquake Weather,” and “Last Call” before starting this blog–but I have reviewed The Anubis Gates, one of my favorite time-travel “Olde Worlde” stories.
So I was looking forward to “The Drawing of the Dark,” another chapter in his Fisher King universe, which is just like ours except for the supernatural/occult world that underlies it, a world ruled by Kings, in the east and the west. In Vienna in the 1600s, the West is weak, and the King of the East, wielding the Turkish army like a sword, intends to strike at its heart.
None of this is known to Irish mercenary Brian Duffy. All he knows is that he’s hungry and friendless in Venice, until a mysterious old man offers him the job of bouncer at a tavern in Vienna. He sees some strange things on the road to Vienna, but arrives there safely, to find that Epiphany, the girl he loved many years ago, is now a widow working in the kitchen. The tavern is a converted monastery, and also a brewery, whose famous Herzwesten Bock beer is due to be released in Easter.
Strange things continue to swirl around Duffy, from a ship of Vikings sailing down the Danau to hideous flying creatures attacking him. When the old man joins Duffy in the tavern, he reveals that the Herzwesten Dark beer, due to be drawn on All Hallow’s Eve, is actually a source of power and renewal for the Western King, and that the Turkish army’s attack has been planned to steal the Dark, or corrupt it if that is not possible.
Duffy himself is excellently drawn as the reluctant hero, though there is more hero in him than he knows. Powers paints a vivid picture of medieval Vienna, with his usual cast of eccentric and delightful characters, and the ins and outs of magic are as well thought-out as usual. But Duffy’s reluctance to get involved and distance from the center of the action makes him a difficult vantage point to narrate the story from. In “Last Call,” Powers has a similar hero, but his own story is more compelling in this case, and he is much more of a central figure. All Duffy wants is for things to quiet down so he can rest.
While the story is still engaging and tense, with several twists and turns, it isn’t quite up to the rest of Powers’ works. For a completist (like me), it’s definitely worth reading, but if you’re looking for an introduction to Powers, try The Anubis Gates, Last Call, or Declare.