Book Review

The Dragon Waiting

by John M. Ford
Reviewed date: 2021 Apr 11
Rating: 1
383 pages
cover art
cover art

I hate this book. How I hate this book.

How much vampire content is permissible before I throw a book in the trash unread? Because listen, when I read a fantasy book called The Dragon Waiting I'm expecting a story about a dragon. I am willing to read about a dragon. Multiple dragons, even. What I'm not expecting is an alternate history where the Byzantine Empire rules the world and also vampires are real.

No dragons
On the internet there is some disagreement about whether there is a real dragon in this book. Let me clear things up: there is a figurative dragon in this book, and there is a literal dragon in this book, but there is no real dragon in this book. The figurative dragon is Henry Tudor whose banner is the red dragon.

But the red dragon is also a literal dragon. Not a literal real dragon, but a literal magical dragon powered by the collective imagination and belief of Henry Tudor’s army. The dragon is the real-world manifestation of the people’s belief in him, shaped and controlled by a wizard.

I am not satisfied.

Requires too much history knowledge
I'm an American, so forgive me if I'm not familiar with the details of the War of Roses. The Dragon Waiting is set in a world where the Byzantine Empire never fell, and Europe is split between Byzantium and Britain. But, somehow, the War of Roses happens almost exactly like it does in our world. It's lots of fun, I guess, for someone who knows all the details. But I do not enjoy having to keep a browser tab open to Wikipedia just to understand the plot.

Confusing names
Everybody is named Richard, Edward, Henry, or George, plus everybody also has their titles, and come on, I can't be expected to know that the guy called George in this paragraph is the same one called Clarence later because he's the Duke of Clarence.

Stupid writing tricks: withholding information
John M. Ford does that thing that writers do when they are too clever for their own good: he omits the important information and makes us guess what it is from all his clues. For example, there's one scene where a character is transforming into...something. Then there's a whirlwind. And then another character suddenly appears, and even though everybody had been searching for him in the entire previous chapter, nobody is surprised and his reappearance is never commented on. And then somebody dies, but we aren't told who or why. And this is supposed to be a good book?

Draco Concordans: all your questions answered
Fortunately for you and me, someone has taken the time to analyze The Dragon Waiting and explain everything. That someone is Andrew Plotkin, and he created the Draco Concordans. The intricate world John M. Ford has created is really quite extraordinary. It's a magnificent piece of work. I just didn't happen to enjoy it; I don't like to spend quite so much time and effort deciphering the story as this book requires.

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