Tim Powers is one of the most original and wide-ranging fantasy authors on the market. Unlike such writers as M. John Harrison, Ian McDonald, Elizabeth Hand, or Jeffrey Ford, however, he did not emerge on the scene fully fledged. It took a few books for Powers to find his form and voice and integrate them with the ideas floating around in his head. While singular, Powers’ third novel, The Drawing of the Dark (1979), remains part of this transition. Pace and action are brisk and the scenes vivid, but the prose is as loose as the coherency of the overall story—a lot of rollicking fun, but very superficial (much like chunks of Roger Zelazny's oeuvre).
Working with Eur-asian history, Powers sets 16th century East and against West in a battle of the supernatural. Sword-for-hire Brian Duffy the hero of the day, things start simply, even realistically for him: he’s given a bag of gold ducats for taking the bouncer’s role at a famous inn in Vienna. And off Duffy goes on a trek through the Alps. All manner of strange monsters and beasts slipping in and out of the mist, he also makes a few friends along the way. Arriving at the inn, however, things turn really mysterious. Hallucinations, Vikings from centuries past, and ghosts deep in the cellars shake the metaphysical realities of Duffy’s world. And he needs to get things sorted out fast; the threat of war is arising from the west, all things seem to be centered on his inn, and for some reason, the special brew fermenting deep below ground.
Fantasy-lite, The Drawing of the Dark is swashbuckling action that fleets and flits at a seesaw pace. Continually forcing the reader to expand their disbelief, what starts as a straight-forward adventure in the canals of Venice escalates into an all out war of the supernatural—beer at the center. Powers obviously did some research into Arthurian legend, a touch of 16th century history, and a variety of mythical beasts and monsters, but all are only simplistically rendered tools toward delivering a lot of fast-paced fun.
A writer the reader has seen evolve, a considerable distance separates the flimsy frivolity of The Drawing of the Dark from the maturity of Powers’ later works such as Last Call or Declare. Even the novel which followed Dark four years later, The Anubis Gates, displays a significantly tighter sense of narrative coherency and character presentation; The Drawing of the Dark has a lot of holes. The innate storyteller Powers is remains omnipresent, just nascent, and comes recommended as such.