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Literature / The Dragon Waiting

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The Dragon Waiting is a 1983 novel by John M. Ford, set in the 15th century in an Alternate History where, among other differences, Christianity died out in the third century and things like vampires and witches are known to be real.

The novel consists of four sections of three chapters each, plus an epilogue. In the first section, each chapter introduces one of the novel's three central characters: Hywel Peredur, a Welsh wizard; Cynthia Ricci, a doctor forced to flee the Medicis' Florence; and Dimitrios Ducas, an exiled nobleman turned mercenary soldier. The second section is set in an inn, where these characters meet each other and a fourth protagonist, Professor Gregory von Bayern. The rest of the plot involves them getting caught up together in various conspiracies involving the encroaching Byzantine Empire on one side and the Wars of the Roses on the other.

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This novel provides examples of:

  • Alternate History
  • Depleted Phlebotinum Shells: Gregory has designed bullets that can harm even a vampire.
  • Epigraph: A quote from the play Perkin Warbeck, which is set during the same period of history, and was written by the 17th-century playwright John Ford (no relation).
  • Eyepatch of Power: The sorcerer Peredur.
  • Eye Scream: The reason why Peredur wears an Eyepatch of Power is described in sufficiently unsettling detail.
  • Historical Domain Character: Lorenzo de Medici, Richard III and many, many others.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Christianity never took hold in the Roman Empire, Constantinople didn't fall to the Turks, and France was partitioned between England and Byzantium sometime in the 12th century. The Wars of the Roses still seemingly happen exactly as they do in reality up through the crowning of Edward IV, with the exception of one relatively insignificant death.
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  • Mystery Cult: Dimi is a devotee of the historical Cult of Mithras.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The Dragon Waiting ends with two of the protagonists departing on horseback: "Without any noise, they rode away, and soon were lost to sight." Notably, although the book is in tight-third, and the viewpoint character in the final scene is one of the characters who rides away, on the final sentence the viewpoint changes; there are no other characters there, so there is no sight for the characters to be lost from except that of the audience.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Vampirism is treated as a disease, "haematophagic anemia", with parallels to AIDS and to drug addiction.
  • Red Herring: At the beginning of the second section, the variety of guests at the inn include three who seem pretty obviously, to someone who has read the first section, to be the three protagonists in disguise. At least one of these is exactly who they present themselves as, while the protagonist they seem to resemble is present in a disguise that hides their identity much more effectively.
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  • Treacherous Advisor: At the English court, Gregory uncovers evidence of a conspiracy and takes it to the Duke of Buckingham — who, unfortunately for Gregory, is in on it.
    "Your Grace." He reached into his bag, produced the translation of Mancini's letter. "We have a great deal of trouble. I hope that these are men you can trust."
    "Yes, Professor, they are absolutely loyal to me," Buckingham said, and signaled for his men to close the door.
  • You All Meet in an Inn: The second section opens in an inn where the main characters are, more or less coincidentally, all staying as guests. Events cause them to become acquainted and to join forces.
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