Friday, May 21, 2010

Tim Powers' historical fantasy fiction

I've reread a couple of Tim Powers' fantasy novels recently, The Drawing of the Dark  and The Anubis Gates. These two are pretty interesting to me because of the settings with the Drawing of the Dark being based around the Siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Turks in 1529 which matches my having had an Ottoman Turkish wargames army for many years.

The Anubis Gates could be subtitled 'a history of William Ashbless, poet' and is mainly set in the Georgian London of 1808. It does feature time travel using gates created by a failed summoning of the Egyptian God Anubis, hence the title. It is an entertaining novel with an enjoyably self-referential set of subplots and a surprisingly open ending.

Drawing of the Dark is centred on the siege of Vienna in 1529, though the purpose of the siege is revealed to be part of a magical struggle between East and West rather than the Turks conquering Europe. An ancient brewery in Vienna lies at the heart of the conflict and this is where the dark ale of the title is drawn. The ale has mystical powers that tie in with the theme of reincarnation and rebirth in the novel. The legend of the Fisher King needing to cured to restore the lands of the West to health is a basis of the plot and this links it into Arthurian and Grail legends. The Drawing of the dark was published earlier than the Anubis Gates and I think that the latter shows a more confident approach to integrating the traditional elements with the plot, but both are entertaining novels and good sources of ideas for fantasy roleplayers.

One consistent element in both is the need of magicians to avoid contact with the earth, which matches some of the older elements from mythology such as fairies being afraid of cold iron and shows Powers' liking for use of traditional mythical elements such as the Grail legends.

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