The Drawing of the Dark
By Tim Powers
Review by J. J. Walton

Brian Duffy, Irishman and mercenary, finds himself between engagements and just this side of "down on his luck" in Venice, Italy in the 1500's. Through some very odd occurrences, Duffy is offered a job as a bouncer in a very old tavern in Vienna, Austria, charged with keeping the establishment as peaceful as possible.

Duffy accepts the position as well as a large sack of gold for traveling expenses and quickly heads off to his new employment. Just as quickly he finds himself the target of several murder attempts. Only his skill with a sword and a bit of otherworldly help allow him to reach Vienna more or less in one piece. (Don't peer too deeply into the shadows Duffy: you may actually see what is out there.)

The tavern where Duffy is to work, the house of Herzwesten, is built over a world renown brewery. Said brewery has been in place for 4000 or so years and is a power point in the eternal struggle between good and evil. (Brewing a good beer is the most noble of the ancient arts: of course it must be protected!) The beer from this ancient brewery comes in three varieties: the Light, which is the everyday beer which is served year round, the Bock, which is limited in quantity and is tapped in the Spring, at Easter, and the Dark, which is reserved for a very limited clientele.

Duffy soon finds that his employment was no accident. He is fated to play a pivotal role in ending the invasion of the West by the forces of the East.

Unfortunately Duffy enjoys ballroom brawls and he quickly develops a talent for starting them. This places a certain strain on Duffy's relationship with his employer, who may or may not be Merlin.

And what of Duffy's dreams, which show him places he has never been and people he has never known? He attributes them to over indulgence in the beer he is protecting, but he doesn't stop drinking. (Beer was much healthier than water to drink in those days.)

The Drawing of the Dark is part Arthurian Legend, part history lesson and all adventure. There were (and are) so many small wars in Europe during the time period Powers has chosen, it really does appear to be an eternal struggle. But were there really Vikings available for hire as late at 1540?

Yes, I enjoyed Dark, and not just because it is about beer. It is a humorous look at a man just trying to get by in his chosen profession despite being entrusted with the fate of the world. Certain explanations didn't make a lot of sense, such as how the beer is made and why it is so important, but we can forgive Powers the rough spots because he was so entertaining.

The Drawing of the Dark invites comparisons with Mr. Powers' later (and superior) work Dinner at Deviant's Palace. Both novels contain middle-aged men as adventurers who have seen better days and are perfectly willing to put the glory days behind them in exchange for 3 meals a day and a warm bed. Circumstances force both men out of retirement and into the strangest adventures of their careers. Gregorio Rivas, the main character in Deviant, has much more of a clue about what is going on around him, however.

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