I've mentioned in a prior blog entry how much I enjoy the work of Tim Powers (if Pirates of the Caribbean 4 is any good, it will be because the based some of it on his excellent On Stranger Tides). One of my favorite of his books is Drawing of the Dark... which is a terrific blend of beer and Arthurian lore and magic. Yes, I said beer
It takes a genius to tell a story based around the most ancient brewery in the world. Okay, a skilled writer could breathe some life into the concept, but a true genius can make it magical and mythic. Powers manages to do this.
In the 16th century, Irish mercenary Brian Duffy finds himself in Vienna working as a bouncer at a famous pub and brewhouse. His mysterious patron turns out to be none other than Merlin, who is working for the Fisher King to protect the Western World from the encroaching East (the Turk of the Ottoman Empire) who plans to lay siege to the city.
Sounds complicated. Oh it is, in a chaotic, headspin sort of way. Soon, wayward Vikings sail down the river, efrit assassins are attacking, and the Holy Grail is explained.
Powers is most gifted when he writes historical fantasy. He plays with ideas that the land is tied to the health and well-being of people (such as the Fisher King), and his unique magical play is never dull.
Forget those tired heroic fantasy novels about barbarians drinking mead or elves sipping moonwine. The drinkers and beer in Drawing of the Dark trumps all of them. And Brian Duffy stands as my favorite of all of Powers's creations--he is a flawed fighter who admits his weariness but never surrenders. To me, that's the definition of hero.
Now go read.