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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Confusing, but definitely worth the read
This is one is from the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks series, and it actually won the World Fantasy Award back in 1984 against:

Pet Sematary, Stephen King
Wandering Unicorn, Manuel Lainez
Tea with the Black Dragon, R. A. MacAvoy
The Armageddon Rag, George R. R. Martin
Lyonesse, Jack Vance

Most of which I have heard of. Although it...
Published on 6 Sep 2008 by Christopher Halo

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good in parts
John M. Ford is a first-rate world-builder. His evocation of a 15th century with no Christianity, a dominant Byzantium and widespread magic and vampirism is by far the best thing about this book, and the most compelling reason to buy it.
In other areas, however, his skills desert him. The main characters are very well-drawn, with each protagonist getting his or her...
Published on 18 May 2004 by J. E. Mcgraw


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good in parts, 18 May 2004
By 
J. E. Mcgraw "jamesmcg" (London) - See all my reviews
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John M. Ford is a first-rate world-builder. His evocation of a 15th century with no Christianity, a dominant Byzantium and widespread magic and vampirism is by far the best thing about this book, and the most compelling reason to buy it.
In other areas, however, his skills desert him. The main characters are very well-drawn, with each protagonist getting his or her own extensive prologue illustrating their lives up until their meeting, and the beginning of the actual plot. The secondary characters, however, tend to be mere cyphers, a problem that so pronounced that when one King Edward dies and is replaced by another it is difficult to tell, despite the fact that the new king is only ten years old. Perhaps this stems from a reluctance on Ford's part to tamper with known historical characters, but it results in a cast whom it is difficult to sympathise with. A consequence of this is that the plot can get very difficult to follow. Convoluted plots are not necessarily a bad thing, but when combined with a deliberately evasive prose style they result in a tale that is not worth the effort of reading.
So, buy this book if you like convincing alternate history and detailed primary characters, but are willing to let a decent plot slide.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Confusing, but definitely worth the read, 6 Sep 2008
This is one is from the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks series, and it actually won the World Fantasy Award back in 1984 against:

Pet Sematary, Stephen King
Wandering Unicorn, Manuel Lainez
Tea with the Black Dragon, R. A. MacAvoy
The Armageddon Rag, George R. R. Martin
Lyonesse, Jack Vance

Most of which I have heard of. Although it was only published 25 years ago, it is considered a modern classic by some, and there are whole websites devoted to the minutiae of Ford's story.

The Dragon Waiting is an alternate history novel, set in a Europe, in the Middle Ages, where Byzantium is still alive and kicking and Christianity is a just another minor sect amongst many. A large portion is set in Renaissance Italy, before shifting to the court of King Richard III in England, as our cast try to halt the relentless spread of the Byzantine Empire. With vampires. And a few wizards.

It's a crazy novel. The world-building is very, very good and will stay with me a long time, but I would probably have got more enjoyment if I had understood half of what was going on. There's an over-reliance on the historical knowledge of the reader, particularly with regard to the War of the Roses and Richard III. From what I can tell, though, Ford's re-imagining of Richard (determined to prove a villain or kindly hero?) is quite different to that of Shakespeare's eponymous play, and I expect that were I more familiar with all the subtle changes that Ford has made throughout this book, I'd have loved it. "Now is the winter of our discontent /Made glorious summer by this son of York." But I thought he was dead? Oh, wait, that's a different Richard of York... Even with my limited understanding, the world-building is still my favourite part of this book.

The characterisations were fairly good, and I enjoyed the eclectic nature of the dramatis personae. We have a Welsh wizard, Hywel; a German vampire, Gregory; a Florentine doctor-come-assassin, Cynthia; and Dimi, a French nobleman whose family was destroyed by a Byzantine ploy, and now seeks revenge as a mercenary. Dimi's reason for wanting to turn back the tide of the Byzantine spread, by -- in a complicated bit of politicking and intrigue -- going to England and fighting the War of the Roses, made the most sense to me. I couldn't really see the motives of the others.

It's a good book, one woven thickly with history and politics that are often hard to understand, but it's a done well enough as it is that it makes me want to do all the necessary research, including catching up on most of the history of the Middle Ages!, a confusing enough time even in "real" history: always a good sign. I look forward to re-reading this in twenty or thirty years time!
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars at last!, 15 Jun 2002
I can't believe it's taken so long for this lovely novel to be republished, but better late than never. John M. Ford won my interest with his Star Trek novel The Final Reflection (his tale of first contact between Federation and Klingons was a good novel by any standards: literate and well-characterized, with a gripping plot). This one I picked up because so many of my interests converged in it: Shakespeare's Richard III and the historical figure, vampires, the Mithraic ritual.... The subtitle, A Masque of History, is appropriate: Ford creates an alternate reality based on a quite conceivable conceit, that Christianity never became the "state faith" of the late Roman Empire, and that Europe evolved as a conglomeration of various sects and practices. As well, magic exists, but so do the beginnings of scientific method. The cast of characters is marvellous, and marvellously drawn, from historical figures like Richard and his family and circle, to memorable originals including a heroic vampire and a gentle mercenary, and the Welsh wizard Hywel and Cynthia, the physician to the Borgias. I love these characters every time I encounter them. What a splendid film this would make. If you like Philip Pullman or Mervyn Peake, give this literate, well-constructed historical thriller a chance. It's not perfect: the conclusion gets a bit rushed and implausible. But it's constantly worthwhile. And I hope it gets republished outside the UK as well!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars buried treasure worth rediscovery, 11 April 2005
By 
Gisele Baxter (Vancouver, British Columbia Canada) - See all my reviews
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I can't believe it's taken so long for this lovely novel to be republished, but better late than never. John M. Ford won my interest with his Star Trek novel The Final Reflection (his tale of first contact between Federation and Klingons was a good novel by any standards: literate and well-characterized, with a gripping plot). This one I picked up because so many of my interests converged in it: Shakespeare's Richard III and the historical figure, vampires, the Mithraic ritual.... The subtitle, A Masque of History, is appropriate: Ford creates an alternate reality based on a quite conceivable conceit, that Christianity never became the "state faith" of the late Roman Empire, and that Europe evolved as a conglomeration of various sects and practices. As well, magic exists, but so do the beginnings of scientific method. The cast of characters is marvellous, and marvellously drawn, from historical figures like Richard and his family and circle, to memorable originals including a heroic vampire and a gentle mercenary, and the Welsh wizard Hywel, and Cynthia, the physician to the Borgias. I love these characters every time I encounter them. What a splendid film this would make. If you like Philip Pullman or Mervyn Peake, give this literate, well-constructed historical thriller a chance. It's not perfect: the conclusion gets a bit rushed and implausible. But it's constantly worthwhile, and deserves rediscovery outside the UK as well!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masking history, 12 Mar 2007
By 
K. C. Simm "kenart" (Lancashire UK) - See all my reviews
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I don't know why but this kind of book always appeals to me. Don't get me wrong, I can't be doing with " What if Germany won the war?". My tastes require something a little more on the subtle side of things if you are going to mess about with History.

It has got to be said that the Renaisance is fertile ground for these kinds of shennanigins and the characters in the book, all but one historical, play on this slightly altered stage very well.

The basic premise is that the Byzantine Emperor Julian could have reinstituted paganism after Constantine if he had not been so much of a wet. Christianity would have suffered the fate of lots of religions around at that time such as the worship of Mithas, (which features in the book) and become just one of many. Imagine this premise moved on to the Renaissance with chararacters such as the Medici's, Sforza's, Plantagenet Kings and Byzantine Emperor's all reveling in a sumptious, conspiratorial, scenario with added magic and Vampires. There you have it, lovely stuff, well worth reading.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Overrated tosh, 21 Dec 2003
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Why? we keep asking ourselves,what is the point? as we trawl through Ford's po-faced seriousness, in a re-working of historical fact where the major changes are the continuing ascendancy of Roman religion, Byzantium & the general casually- accepted existence of vampirism in the Middle Ages. But what is the point of it all : a lot of the main story could have been told whether Christianity or paganism held sway as the state religion.
And by the delierate obfuscation of his dense writing style, in scene after scene Ford makes the reader feel that he has arrived too late, that the characters have started without him, & is it worth trying to catch up. We keep hoping for illumination, but it never comes.
Too much time is taken in setting up the several disparate backgrounds of the main characters who are later to meet up, & the pace of the novel never recovers from this standing start.
Ford is a very good stylist, but is not a compulsive page-turner. A pity, because the lighter tone of his Historical Notes at the end of the book would have served the main work well & made it much more readable.
Despite losing the will to read on several occasions, I did manage to wade through to the end, but-awaiting the dragon-it's not worth the wait. sometimes it's better to travel hopefully than to arrive, but this book provided the benefits of neither the journey nor the destination. It-& other reviews-promised much, but delivered little. I think you should be prompted to re-read a book because you enjoyed it, not because you didn't understand it due to it's author's wilful obscurities.
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3.0 out of 5 stars "My Kingdom For A Dragon !", 21 Sep 2012
By 
Rotgut "rotgut" (Warrington UK) - See all my reviews
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Alternate histories are always fun to read, in this fantasy-tinged version of War of the Roses Britain, magic works and vampirism is a blood-borne disease. Spotting the similarities and differences to "real world" Europe is one of the pleasures of this detailed and inventive novel. The afterword "A Historical Note" details the author's thinking, and pinpoints the divergence from the real world timeline: Emperor Julian's reducing Christianity's status. Before this was explained, I did think that the world in this book might be representing one in which St Paul had not had his famous conversion. The story and afterword do inspire speculation of this kind.

The book itself, as well as a detailed and interesting background features a storyline starting in Roman Britain and ending at the court of Richard the Third. It starts very well, the first three chapters which establish the three main heroes are dynamic and purposeful. If the rest of the story could have sustained this drive and energy, this would have been a great book. Unfortunately, after this the pace falls off a bit and, while always remaining readable, meanders towards the end.

The three main characters, Welsh Wizard, Roman Noble and Italian Herbalist are not really given any reason to be such fast friends. The bond between them seems to be there pretty much because it is needs to be so for the purposes of plot.

It's hardly John Ford's fault that English history is filled with Henrys and Richards but sometimes he could make it clearer who's who.

The waited for Dragon proves to be a bit of a damp squib.
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The Dragon Waiting: A Masque of History
The Dragon Waiting: A Masque of History by John M. Ford (Paperback - Mar 1985)
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