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The Dragon Waiting

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  1,207 ratings  ·  148 reviews
The Wars of the Roses have put Edward IV on the throne of England, Lorenzo de' Medici's court shines brilliantly, and Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza plots in Milan. But this is a changed world, and medieval Europe is dominated by the threat from the Byzantine Empire. Sforza, the Vampire Duke, marshals his forces for his long-planned attack on Florence, and Byzantium is on the ...more
Paperback, Fantasy Masterworks #29, 368 pages
Published May 9th 2002 by Gollancz (first published 1983)
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Average rating 3.82  · 
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 ·  1,207 ratings  ·  148 reviews

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Sherwood Smith
May 13, 2013 added it
Shelves: fantasy
Rereading this book caused me to clarify some of my muddy thinking with respect to wish-fulfillment characters and stories and those that try to present the world as it should be, could be, might be with a little imagination and grace.

The very far end of the spectrum is the so-called Mary Sue story, wherein the protagonist is the center of the universe just because the narrative voice tells us the protag is a special snowflake. Leading off down a different path is the idealized protagonist, whic
Wow. The Dragon Waiting is hard work: I can totally understand why some people disliked it. I read it with the Draco Concordans (a fan-written concordance for the book) at my fingertips, all the while conscious that I'm gonna have to read it again to understand it all. It's a subtle, deeply allusive book, requiring both knowledge (of history and other literary texts) and skill with interpretation (of logical implications and emotional ones). I can understand resenting all the work the reader has ...more
Peter Tillman
Sep 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Peter by: Jo Walton's review
Good news: Tor is publishing a new edition the end of this month (Sept. 2020) of this hard-to-find masterpiece.

Off to a 5-star start with this World Fantasy Award-winner that I'd somehow missed. Publisher compares it to Mary Stewart's "Crystal Cave." Not a bad call. "Dragon" sprawls from Ireland to Constantinople in the waning years of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire, which fell to the Turks in 1453, in OTL. Well, it's not waning *here* (see Jo Walton's review, linked below). Ford says he t
This book makes me feel like an idiot. I love it to pieces.

I'm not sure how both of these things can be true simultaneously, but they are. I have read it twice now with only the vaguest understanding of the Wars of the Roses (I suspect it would help to know something about them), been very very confused, and yet I love it. I love the characters and the clever twisty worldbuilding and Greco-Roman polytheism hanging out in the 1400s and the Mithras cult (and, okay, I did a lot better at the parts
Apr 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: alternative history buffs and Sword & sorcery fans
This is something of a genre crossing novel. It falls under sword & sorcery and Alternative History. If you know the history of 15th Century Western Europe (especially England) than you'll get a kick out of the story. I majored in History with a focus on European History.It was fun to see how the author changed many things but kept others. AH purists will take offense at how Ford breaks "the rules" , but I wasn't bothered by it.

If you aren't very familiar with the late Middle Ages/Early Renaiss
Jan 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful! I loved the historical and literary references scattered and embroidered all over the text. It really makes you pay attention while reading! And I loved how the book made me go back and reread some paragraphs.
This is not an easy fantasy reading and it is fantasy at its best.
I will definitely read it one more time to pick up at least some of the zillion details that I missed while reading it for the first time :)
Aug 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Anna by: Jo Walton's What Makes This Book So Great
At times ‘The Dragon Waiting’ reminded me of The Lymond Chronicles, as it features very complicated spy machinations with few concessions to the reader unfamiliar with the period in question. There is no omniscient smartarse like Lymond for events to revolve around, though. Instead, magic and vampires! I found the pacing initially rather a challenge, as the four main characters are introduced separately at length then the plot accelerates very rapidly once they’re thrown together. Ford also used ...more
I think I did The Dragon Waiting a disservice by beginning it immediately after finishing Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles, which continued to engage my brain and kept me from devoting valuable brain cells to Ford's fascinating alternate history. In an inn in the Swiss Alps, four people form an alliance to fight against the Byzantine Empire, which in this world never went into decline and now controls most of Europe, save for England and the small buffer state of France. These characters -- Cynthia, ...more
Nov 06, 2020 rated it liked it
Fantasy in a historical setting. My bookseller reccomended me this one. Some characters povs were better than others. Some I wasnt overly fond of returning to. It definitely would have been ahead of its time when first released but you can definitely tell it was an 80s book. The small intricate details of world building are what shines here
This is a good book, but it’s not a great one and somehow, that leaves me more frustrated than I would have been if it had just been bad.

John M. Ford treats history like a dog trained to do tricks for him, he plays with words and allusions in a way that would make Hemingway jealous and he somehow gets away with having Richard III quote Gildor from "The Lord of the Rings". It seems the only thing he can’t do is write a coherent plot.

This book contains multitudes. It’s fantasy, in a historical se
Sep 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites-6
6 out of 5.
I finished this book and wanted to applaud. I wanted to tell everyone about it for the rest of the day. I absolutely loved this book.

It's an alt-history fantasy take on, roughly, Richard III's ascension to the English throne... but it's way more than that. There are wizards and vampires; the Byzantine Empire spans most of the globe; religious plurality is the order of the day... and four strange individuals meet in a snowy inn to solve a murder and potentially change the course of hi
Nov 16, 2019 marked it as interest-piqued
This is a fascinating article. Consider my interest piqued. ...more
William Leight
Jan 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Perhaps the best way to describe this book is to say that Ford writes with panache. His characters are witty, or darkly brooding, or make comments that are full of deep meaning or are elliptical yet foreboding. Naturally, the characters have style to match the dialogue. One main character is a beautiful young woman whose hair is entirely white: in the first chapter she kills a vampire with medical precision (the vampire is, as it happens, the Duke of Milan). Another is an ageless wizard with one ...more
Debbie Notkin
Jan 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This has never been my favorite John M. (Mike) Ford book, but someone on my friends list here just raved about it, and that put it on my re-read stack. I hadn't looked at it in many years.

My complaint when I read it decades ago was that I just didn't want there to be vampires. On this reading, I can see why the vampires are important to the worldbuilding, and how fascinatingly different they are from most fictional vampires ... and I still don't want there to be vampires. It would work better fo
Jul 30, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical
A historical revisionist (and fantastical) story of Richard III and his contemporaries, including vampires and Byzantium princes. Excellent.
Daniel Polansky
In an alternate history where Byzantium expanded to the Atlantic (is it alternate history when magic exists, or is that just fantasy?) a rogues gallery tries to keep England free. Probably one of the better fantasy books (I'm going to go with that) I've ever read, Ford has a real talent for plotting, his language is strange and not at all bad, and his take on Richard 3rd is the absolutely original. Lots of fun. ...more
Isabel (kittiwake)
Dec 08, 2011 rated it it was ok
"The Dragon Waiting" is set in a late mediaeval Europe which is mostly ruled by the Byzantine Empire, and in which Christianity and Islam never became the dominant religions that they were in our world at that time. I had to look up the dates of various historical characters in Wikipedia in order to guesstimate when the events of this novel were taking place, since there were a multitude of different dating systems in use. The Byzantines impose their laws on the lands they conquer but not their ...more
Oct 14, 2016 added it
Recommends it for: occultists, mediciacs, yorkists and lancastrians, grecophobes
I found this one more of a struggle than I was anticipating.

As a magical romp through an alternate 15th century with dragons, wizards, vampires and a sinister totalitarian Byzantine Empire pulling the strings, The Dragon Waiting has a lot going for it. JM Ford clearly had a lot of fun flipping and twisting historical events to fit his unique setting, and there's a lot of clever references for those who know their Medicis, Plantagenets and ancient dieties. Those aren't really my bag, so I found
Feb 10, 2016 rated it liked it
I didn't really get on with this book, I found it difficult to get into and it failed to hold my attention.
I did finish it, but feel that some parts were overly complex and convoluted while other parts were skated over and left fundamentally unexplained.

The use of historical characters was interesting, but on the whole it's not a book I'm likely to re-read.
May 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Fantasy Masterwork indeed!
Sep 08, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical, adventure
It's been a while since I last acquired and read this book, but I decided to reread it again, and this time, to think a bit more critically on it, rather than just diving right into it and enjoying the ride.

As I've said before, anyone who knows me well knows that I love history, especially High Medieval-Italian Renaissance history. There is something magical about that particular period of European history, and I find myself drawn to books that tackle that period again and again and again. Fortu
Micah Hall
Dec 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

There have been some interesting articles written about John M. Ford, chronicling his unfortunate disappearance from the literary world. This book won the World Fantasy Award when it came out but has been out of print for years until Tor gained the rights to publish it under their Tor Essentials line.

The novel centers on a cast of characters encompassing a wizard, a mercenary warrior, a vampire, and a physician who are attempting to stave off the Byzantine expansion westard in the 16th ce
Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews)
Quite possibly the book of the year for me. It is definitely not for everyone and I can easily see why some people will not connect. It’ll be a quick hard pass or a slow unfolding of pure excitement. Unique and memorable and fun for this history nerd and fantasy fan.

Ford makes no concessions for his readers. They're expected to know the real historical records being recreated/changed and the literature that ties into it. Pay attention to what is said, how it is said or you will miss a lot. Close
Matthew Hall
Dec 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020, white-dudes, sff
For an alternate history filled with wizards and vampires, the Shakespearean self-seriousness of this book is wild.

I'm honestly sad this isn't a series, because I really want to see other parts of this universe where the Byzantine empire flourished, learn more about its magic and discover what other historical figures could have been brought in.
Sep 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
I honestly don't know how to review this book, it's that personal. In some respects I am the perfect audience for it --- it hits all of my sweet spots, including the Byzantine Empire, ancient religions and Richard III. That being said, if these are not areas of interest, indeed, obsession, I can't imagine what reading this must be like. Ford spends at least half the book setting up the gathering of his four central characters, but the two most interesting --- Hywel and the vampire Gregory --- ar ...more
Noel Coughlan
Jan 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: review
This book is set in an alternate 15th Century Europe where a pagan Byzantine Empire dominates Europe and Christianity is a minor religion. Except for a rump buffer state, France has been carved up between England and the Byzantines. The empire is infiltrating the Italian city states and is now plotting against their English allies. A magician and a small group of like-minded individuals travel to England to attempt to stymie its plan.

Initially the setting struck me as a bit strange in the sense
This is an immensely challenging book to read, not just in terms of subject matter; Ford does not hold the reader's hand at all. There were moments when I really struggled to follow what occured, the intrigues are so complicated, and I often had difficulty connecting the episodes to the greater plot. I'm sure sure if this is because I'm dense, or a failure of the writer's craft, or even of the editor's. (I understand the original manuscript was about three times longer than the current novel. I ...more
Jan 11, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It's not often these days I have to put down a book unfinished and I don't like to, usually preferring to push on to the end to see if it can be redeemed. But this time it just seemed pointless, I really couldn't engage with the story and follow the intricacies of the plot.

I'm not quite sure what exactly about his writing style that makes it so hard for me to take it in. And you need to take it in because it's a complex story with constantly unfolding twists and turns to keep the reader on their
Jun 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
I'm not sure I'm actually smart enough to read this book, but I sure enjoyed it. I can't wait to read it again. And I'm going to have to read it again.

This book is complex, intriguing, intimidating, and awfully well done. It's historical fiction. There are vampires. It reminded me of a Sharon Kay Penman book in its characters and a Dorothy Dunnett for the amount of confidence and faith the author has in the reader's intelligence.

Do I really need to say anything else? There is a dragon. It's no
Mar 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The structure and opaqueness of this novel will put off some readers, but once you buy in, it rewards with weirdness, strong characterization and fun messing with history.

2019 re-read: upping this to five stars. The structure and opaqueness delight me even more now, and the characterization is much more precise than I had previously thought. Also: if you do read this and find yourself lost or simply want to enhance your enjoyment and understanding of the novel, consul the Draco Concordans: h
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SciFi and Fantasy...: John. M. Ford books to be re-released 6 56 Nov 24, 2019 11:39AM  

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John Milo "Mike" Ford was a science fiction and fantasy writer, game designer and poet.

Ford was regarded (and obituaries, tributes and memories describe him) as an extraordinarily intelligent, erudite and witty man. He was a popular contributor to several online discussions. He composed poems, often improvised, in both complicated forms and blank verse, notably Shakespearean pastiche; he also wrot

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