The Drawing of the Dark - Tim Powers (1979)

Let me start by stating up front that Tim Powers is one of a handful of authors whose books I buy on sight. The Drawing of the Dark, one of his early novels which has recently been re-released, confirms my conviction that I am right to do so. Powers's best work combines history, fantasy and mythology into a heady brew that immmediately draws one into his world, a world which is more-or-less ours, but with hidden currents beneath the surface and where great events in history happen for reasons which are far more obscure and arcane than the commonly accepted ones.

For example, in this book, the siege of Vienna by the Turks in 1529 is because the forces of the East want to destroy or capture a brewery of exceptional mystical significance. Somehow, when Powers says that, it all makes perfect sense. The writing itself is superb, moving with excellent pace and clockwork intricacy. The research into the historical settings is good - and just gets better in his later books.

I don't really want to say much more about the plot, since a lot of the fun comes in seeing how the various pieces come together, so instead I'll content myself with comparing him to some other authors that are similar in some ways, or who strike me as being influenced by Powers.

Umberto Eco's Focault's Pendulum could almost be a Powers book. The idea that the a secret force has been manipulating things, the vast mystical conspiracy theory of it all, is the sort of thing that crops up in Powers. The Name of the Rose has a number of traits reminiscent of Powers as well; the tight and intricate plotting and historical placement.

Neil Gaiman's books have a similar feel as Powers's. His American Gods books in particular are very Powersian in their postulates that mundane history can be explained in terms of mystical, magical or mythical forces. Whereas Eco tends to avoid overt magic or fantasy, neither Gaiman nor Powers back off from it. Both Gaiman and Powers also like to deal with Ur-Myths, addressing for instance, the idea that Sigmund drawing Odin's sword from a tree trunk and Arthur drawing a sword from a stone are probably the same story ...

Ultimately, though, there is no one quite like Tim Powers. His books are splendid, and The Drawing of the Dark while perhaps not his absolute best (I think that The Anubis Gates has that honor), is a fine example. If you are familar with Powers and have not had a chance to read this book since it has been out of print, it is available again! If you have never read Powers, I envy you your first experience with this unique talent.

Overall Rating: A

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