The Dragon Waiting

by John M. Ford

Cover image

Publisher: Avon
Copyright: 1983
Printing: April 1985
ISBN: 0-380-69887-0
Format: Mass market
Pages: 383

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The Dragon Waiting is, at its core, alternate history touched by fantasy. There are more fantastic elements here than, say, Guy Gavriel Kay's Sarantine Mosaic, as Ford adds both vampires and magic to the world and involves a fair amount of magic in the climax, but the focus is more on the history than on the magic.

It is the 15th century but Byzantium is still the major power in the world, due to some subtle changes in history caused by the magic that Ford introduces into his alternate history. The book opens with the separate backstories of three of the four main characters, setting the scene and their emotional context, and then brings them together in an inn facing a storm and a murder mystery. The remaining half of the book then becomes a retelling of the story of Richard III of England, with some changes due to the changed world and the involvement of Ford's characters.

I think I was handicapped in my enjoyment and understanding of this book by being completely unfamiliar with the story of Richard III. I've not even read (or seen) the play, and Ford erred a bit far on the side of avoiding exposition for me. I felt a step behind for most of the book, making guesses at what was really going on but not quite being sure, and once having to go back and skim through the previous fifty pages to try to understand what had happened to a character. (I had a problem with this in general, even before Richard III became the center of the story; this is a book that wants careful reading and a good memory for details and names.) Better understanding of both Byzantine and Italian history would also have helped a great deal.

I also got the feeling that two of the main appeals of this book would be spotting the slight changes in the story and appreciating the controversy over whether Richard III was really hero or villain. I've since read some of the history and controversy around Richard III, and Ford casts him in a far different role than either Shakespeare or the Sir Thomas More history that Shakespeare's play was likely based on. Had I already been familiar with the nuances of the story, I think I would have found Ford's story more engaging.

Without that background, it's a story with some intrigue and adventure, has a fairly interesting take on vampires, and has a few nice moments about magic and the implications of magical power. Not a bad story, but nothing particularly exceptional (although I did like Cynthia, the female Florentine physician).

Recommended if you know the history well and would like to see an alternate exploration, or if you particularly like political intrigue of this sort, but I don't think I'd recommend it as general fantasy. At least not to someone with as sketchy of knowledge of Richard III as I.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-12-08

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21