The Drawing Of The Dark by Tim Powers (book review).

November 4, 2014 | By | Reply More

Alcohol. As Homer Simpson put it, ‘The cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.’ For Irish mercenary Brian Duffy, tasked with keeping the peace in an inn in Vienna, alcohol or rather the Hertzwestern beer that is brewed there is his key problem. Not only does the beer give him the strangest visions, but the brewery is also under attack from dark forces from the East. It is the story of Duffy’s defence of the brewery and also Vienna that Tim Powers tells in his 1979 classic fantasy ‘The Drawing Of The Dark’.


This was Powers’ first success as a novelist and led to the achievements of ‘The Anubis Gates’, winner of the Phillip K Dick award and ‘On Stranger Tides’, his pirate story that not only was adapted into ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean 4’ but also served as the inspiration behind the ‘Monkey Island’ series of games. To celebrate the thirty-fifth anniversary of ‘The Drawing Of The Dark’, Subterranean Press are issuing a new limited edition, giving a new a whole new audience an opportunity to experience the book.

This is good news, because the novel is an awful lot of fun and poignant for today, too. The battle that Duffy finds himself at the centre of, having been recruited by old man named Aurelianus, is one between the East and the West. The East is controlled by the Sultan Suleiman and his Grand Vizier Ibrahim. The West is controlled by the Fisher King, legendary keeper of the Holy Grail. The Hertzwestern brewery is one of the centres of power in the West, keeping it and Vienna defended is of vital importance. Not least because of the beer’s magical properties.

So Brian Duffy finds himself back in Vienna, sparring with his old flame, Epiphany, and becoming increasingly aware of strange visions that cloud his judgement. Unfortunately for Duffy, the beer doesn’t help neither. What follows is a playful fantasy of one man realising he has a destiny to fulfil, whether it’s fighting demons or dancing with satyrs. ‘The Drawing Of The Dark’ works so well because although the stakes are high and you are invested with the characters it also has a whimsy that underpins the story.

The book mainly confines itself to the brewery and the walls of Vienna as it prepares itself against the Turkish siege. Powers creates great atmosphere, though, bringing the inn and brewery to life as well as Duffy and Aurelianus’ trips into the subterranean city. The sixteenth century setting presents an environment where ancient times seem distant and yet still resonate with characters now fully past the renaissance. The Islamic threat could never be more relevant than today, though thankfully the book sticks to fantastical rather than religious means to tell its story.

I’m not inclined to say any more lest I spoil the novel, but there are good reasons that ‘The Drawing Of The Dark’ made Powers’ reputation and has been reprinted 35 years after it originally appeared. It is a jovial, alternative history novel that never gets bogged down too much explanation or exposition and moves quickly. I found it to be a highly enjoyable adventure that is worth picking up again, even if you made the trip the first time around in 1979.

John Rivers

September 2014

(pub: Subterranean Press. 322 page deluxe hardback. Price: $35.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-669-4)

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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