With the same brilliant wordsmithing as in his poetry, the late John M. Ford spins a layered tale of dynastic intrigue in his World Fantasy Award-winning _The Dragon Waiting_. His paranormal, alternate-history 15th century Europe includes vampires, wizards, and a pagan Byzantine Empire that extends westward into France. Aside from one typo in the Historical Notes (the Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople in 1204, not 1404), this setting is ingeniously precise and thought-provoking, although it never seems vital to the plot.
Ford's prose drips with emotion through a languorous, sometimes even distant tone that ignores common writing techniques, such as avoiding the verb "to be", in favor of a lyrical voice that sweeps the reader along. This vivid prose and the historical detail of the setting often intersect in perfect word choices: historical terms that succinctly communicate both era and detail, like the bronze "saker" (a type of medieval cannon) that Gregory sees on the walls of York.
Unfortunately the organization of the novel feels contrary to the main plot. Three of the four main characters are introduced separately in long solo chapters that cover more than a quarter of the book. Even after they come together, the main conflict does not begin until after forty more pages of a tangential murder mystery; and the seemingly titular character, Richard of Gloucester, doesn't appear until forty pages after that. Although these chapters are vividly detailed and effusive with character, they offer an extremely slow entrée into the plot.
And that plot then creeps ahead without clear stakes or motivation. Factions scheme for the throne of England, but it's never apparent what masters these usurpers serve or why they take these actions. The protagonists fight against it, again for reasons never explained. The traitors are discovered, then a new challenger attacks with an army for no seeming reason other than to parallel true history. Ford rightfully ends with the protagonists, the true core of this novel, but they don't seem changed for their journey.
_The Dragon Waiting_ features exceptional writing and a fascinating setting, but the plot never coalesces into comparable brilliance. Despite well-illumined characters, the novel feels gorgeous but ultimately lacking.