By Scott A. Cupp
This is the 182nd in my series of Forgotten Books.
The other day we celebrated Leap Day which means my friend Tim Powers actually had a birthday that he could celebrate. I always think of him at those times and since I had not read The Drawing of the Dark in a long time I pulled one of my copies off the shelf.
I first met Tim and his wife Serena at a World Fantasy Convention in Arizona sometime in the 80’s. A quick look at Wikipedia indicates that it was probably Tucson in 1985. I met many fine people at that show including Dean R. Koontz and Evangeline Walton. But Tim, Serena and Jim Blaylock were the ones I had a great time with. I had my British hardcovers of The Anubis Gates and Dinner at Deviant’s Palace with me and I got them signed. The Anubis Gates was signed by Tim and Jim (as themselves and William Ashbless) and by Dean, for reasons I have never determined. I also got the prospectus on Offering the Bicentennial Edition of the Complete Twelve Hours of the Night: 1785-1985 by William Ashbless from the International William Ashbless Society (IWAS) of which only a few copies were printed. Even after the big book sell-off of 2007, I kept those volumes and the prospectus.
Anyway, we hit it off and I once drove 12 hours each way to see Powers at a convention in Kansas City (Conquest 17 in 1986). Major fan Fred Duarte and I drove up, found the convention, spoke with Powers, slept and then returned home – me to Dallas, Fred to Austin. We would see each other occasionally, including a wonderful trip the Lansdales made with me and Sandi to California, where we spent time with Powers, Blaylock and Koontz families over two days and had a wonderful Mexican seafood dinner with Powers, Blaylock and Lew Shiner at La Perlita. There was also an incident involving doughnuts that may have inspired a famous Blaylock story.
So, on to The Drawing of the Dark. This was the first major Powers novel, following two Rafael Sabatini-inspired tales for Laser Books (who also published the first efforts of K. W. Jeter and an odd Dean Koontz title). The simple summary is that this is the world’s only epic Arthurian fantasy about beer – specifically dark beer.
If that does not intrigue you, you may need to see a doctor. Arthurian fantasy and beer? How odd. How Tim Powers-y.
It is 1529 and knight-for-hire Brian Duffy is in Venice when he finds himself embroiled in a fight with three brothers regarding an insult Brian made in a bar. While he easily defeats them, he finds that he needs to leave Venice pretty fast. He stumbles across an odd person named Aurelianus who wants to hire him as a bouncer in his inn in Venice. Aurelianus provides good money (actually, better than good) with the promise of more and a place to live. Brian has previously lived in Vienna, leaving only when his one true love, Epiphany Vogel, married another man. He decides to return and see if she is still there. He procures passage out of Venice and is attacked as he’s leaving. Strangely, one of the three brothers who previously attacked him dies defending him.
Magic attacks follow and Brian is forced to flee alone through the mountains. In his dreams and on the road, he finds himself being accompanied by an odd assortment of mythic creatures. He catches a ride with other travelers but is thrown out when superstitions get the better of them. They later die horribly.
In Vienna, Brian finds the inn and is reluctantly paid and put to work. His love, Epiphany, is working there also as her husband has died and left her with debts to Aurelianus forcing her to work to pay off the debt.
Vienna is a town preparing for siege as the Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman I is advancing toward Vienna and nothing appears able to stop it. But things are not as they seem. Aurelianus and Brian have many layers that are not quickly revealed. The inn is a former monastery and is noted for its beer, particularly the darker blends. The beer casks in the basement have deep roots in the ground and in legend.
As I said, this is Arthurian and some favorite characters appear and are changed. It’s full of magic and adventure, betrayal and reward, oddity and obscurity. And special surprise guest heroes appear on and off stage. In short, it is a Tim Powers book.
Tim has a new book out that I am ready to read. I will also get to a Blaylock book real soon now and speak of his own weirdnesses. For right now, try The Drawing of the Dark, even if you don’t like beer.
Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.