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Literature / Wings of Dawn

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Delivered on the wings of an angel, he shall free us from oppression.

"Gervaise! Surely you do not think I arranged the miracle of angel wings!"
"Of course. Our heavenly Father has no need to stoop to such low dramatics."

Wings of Dawn is a Secret History novel by Sigmund Brouwer.

Between 1298 and 1299, Marco Polo was imprisoned in Italy, during which time he dictated a description of his travels in the Orient to an author named Rustichello da Pisa under the title of Il Milione. It quickly became popular throughout Europe, and to those who scoffed, he always insisted that he had never told half of what he had seen.

This is readily believable if one considers that Il Milione contains no mention or description of gunpowder, which had been known in China for centuries. Yet, nevertheless, gunpowder was "discovered" in Europe at almost the same time as Marco Polo's return - by the year 1300 at the very latest, though the developments to make it stable and commonly used didn't occur for some time after that.

Suppose such technological marvels were recorded somewhere, and simply lost to history...

The year is 1312; the place, a small village in northern England. A young man by the name of Thomas, raised in a nearby abbey, has earned the loyalty of a returned crusader accused of the theft of a chalice (as well as a mute girl and a pickpocket) and blackmailed the abbey monks into allowing him to leave. His goal is Magnus, a remote castle in the moors with impregnable defenses and a tyrannical usurper who slaughtered the family of Thomas' nurse when he took over. That alone will be difficult, even armed with the power of literacy, urban legends, and a chest full of scientific texts - but, of course, there's far more going on than it might first appear.

Wings of Dawn shows examples of:

  • Ancient Conspiracy: Two of them. They hate each other.
  • Batman Gambit: The Plan to figure out Thomas' allegiance is sometimes based on predicting likely outcomes of behavior.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Quite a lot of them.
  • The Chessmaster: Thomas of Magnus. Lord Mewburn. Lord Hawkwood. Waleran.
  • The Faceless: Katherine wears a mask for much of the story due to a childhood accident that left her horribly disfigured, which causes her to be Beneath Notice to most of medieval society. Thomas eventually calls her on it and removes the mask, revealing that she looks perfectly fine; she had made the whole thing up to protect her cover.
  • Faking the Dead: Lord Hawkwood.
  • Gambit Pileup: Not as often as you'd expect, but once our protagonist leaves Britain, they really get going...
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Thomas. Granted, he hasn't been to the Holy Lands since he was very young.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Thomas and Lord Hawkwood.
    • Also Luke I Am Your Love Interest's Father, with Thomas and Sir William.
  • MacGuffin: The cache of Druidic lore and treasure that can be used to prove the Ancient Conspiracy's existence. Also the cache of books from the Orient that Thomas has, which both conspiracies are trying to get their hands on.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Waleran.
    • Also a case of the man behind the man also being the man in front of the same man. And several other men. Multiple times.
  • The Mole: In order of being revealed: Sir William. Waleran. Isabelle. Geoffrey. Katherine. Waleran. Gervaise. Lord Baldwin. Waleran. Reason being, quite a lot of them were spying on each other before Thomas got involved. (Yes, one of those is duplicated for a reason.)
  • Morality Pet: PUPPY!
  • Out-Gambitted: Waleran, spokesperson for not using the same gambit all the time, even when it does seem to be working.
  • Poison and Cure Gambit: Key to Thomas' plan to expose whether Lord Baldwin or Katherine is lying to him. The supposed poison isn't lethal, and the supposed cure is.
  • Properly Paranoid: If Lord Hawkwood would just stop going through the I Know You Know I Know routine, he and Thomas could've joined forces and solved each others' problems a lot sooner. It doesn't hurt to be cautious when you're the only person you can trust to keep the Dark Ages from lasting indefinitely, though.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Since Geoffrey and Katherine were members of opposing conspiracies, how did they come to be living together in Magnus? How did Katherine convince Geoffrey to believe the fake backstory she made up to justify being The Faceless?
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Well, nobility who actually do something. Though once Lord Hawkwood manages to get Queen Isabella involved...
  • Secret History: By default.
  • Shown Their Work: Sigmund Brouwer has an appendix dedicated to endnoting scientific and historical facts - including the ones he decided to ignore, such as the timing of a particular eclipse, in favor of the story.
  • Spanner in the Works: Thomas, to the Druids. Umar and Hadad, to Sir William. The Mamelukes and the bandit troops, to everybody.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Half of the gambits executed by both conspiracies are to figure out just whose side Thomas is on - i.e. "If he's against us, he'll do this and we can get rid of him, but if he's a free agent he'll do this and we can either convince him to join us or use him to lead us to the cache of books."