December 09, 2005

The Drawing of the Dark, by Tim Powers

I've been fond of Tim Powers' books for many years, ever since he wrote The Anubis Gates. He's not extremely prolific, though, and although I've read everything he's written, and I review everything I read, I've not reviewed many of his books since I started writing reviews eight years ago. It was clearly time to renew my acquaintance, and so I grabbed a couple of his books when I went on a business trip last September. This is one of them.

The Drawing of the Dark is one of Power's earliest books, and the first to reveal his interest in "secret history", the stories that might lurk behind the stories in the history books. In this case, the setting is the Seige of Vienna, about which Wikipedia has this to say:

The Siege of Vienna of 1529, as distinct from the Battle of Vienna in 1683, represented the farthest Westward advance into Central Europe of the Ottoman Empire, and of all the clashes between the armies of Christianity and Islam might be signaled as the battle that finally stemmed the previously-unstoppable Turkish forces (though they continued their conquest of the Austrian-controlled parts of Hungary afterwards).

The Islamic advance began with Mohammed and rolled, seemingly inexorably, through the formerly Christian lands of Asia Minor and North Africa, striking into Europe as far as Southern Spain in the West...and as far as Vienna in the East. There the tide was stemmed; had it not been, the Western World would look rather different today. It was truly a clash of civilizations. But what really happened?

Enter Brian Duffy, an Irish mercenary down-on-his-luck in Venice some years after being injured at the disastrous Battle of Mohács. He's hired by an odd old man named Aurelianus Ambrosius to travel to Vienna and there take up a position as bouncer at the Zimmerman Inn, until recently a monastery, and age-old home of the Herzwesten Brewery. It's a vital position, for the future of the West depends on the safety of the, yes, the Dark.....beer. The Herzwesten Dark is nearly ready to be drawn, for the succor of....

But that would be telling.

It's an absurd premise, that the fate of the Western World depends on a cask of beer, and ought to produce a novel that's at best a low farce, but somehow it's better than that. Powers takes the idea and has far too much fun with it, as Jane would say, but somehow by refusing to play it for laughs he escapes being sophomoric and pulls it all together so that it somehow, miraculously, it works. It's a lot of fun, and I always enjoy coming back to it.

Watch out for the dried snakes, though, they're addictive.

Posted by Will Duquette at December 9, 2005 08:52 PM