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Declare – Book Review

Written by: Tim Powers
Published by: William Morrow & Co.

One of the charms of the Harry Potter series is that it depicts a world of haunted, mysterious castles, boy wizards, and strange, magical beasts alongside our mundane, everyday world. A world out of reach of all the boring, unimaginative people, but where you can escape to and experience all its marvels. However, what J.K. Rowling has created is wonderful, it is still in essence, a children’s story. If you like the concept of a secret and supernatural world, but want a more complex, adult read, there are the works of Tim Powers.

Tim Power’s latest work, Declare, is an excellent example of his work. Like most of his work, Powers gives us a historical landscape to start with, some familiar territory. In Declare it is Europe and the Middle East during WWII and the Cold War. Andrew Hale is a British spy of the John le Carre mold, his profession both stimulating and numbing. But while he is battling Nazis and Communists in the shadows, there are other far older and powerful entities he has been enlisted to fight. The ancient Arabs call them djinn, beings composed of sand and fire and wind and what they imagine is done. Centered on Mount Ararat in Beirut, Kim Philby, head of British counter-intelligence and Soviet double agent, is working to strike a terrible bargain with the djinn to ensure Russia’s stability and power. Andrew Hale seems fated from birth to be part of this battle, but can he win it? Can he trust his fellow spy and lover Elena Ceniza-Bendiga and his supervisor and mentor James Theodora? Can Hale complete Operation Declare without losing his life and his soul?

[ad#longpost]Declare is not a fast read, it skips from 1941 to 1963 to 1948, and is chock full of information on Arab folklore, Cold War espionage, and Christian mythology. These add to the suspense and depth of the story and don’t distract from it. While mixing in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Lawrence of Arabia, Noah’s Ark, and A Thousand and One Arabian Nights; these elements become part of an internal consistency that never have the reader go, “What the hell?” This consistency also applies to the characters, whose actions may seem baffling at the time, but whose motivations become clear as the plot unfolds. They want to do what they see as the right thing, even when that involves betrayal, murder, and damnation. The djinn are expertly portrayed as alien and decidedly other. Tim Powers has described this work as “Lovecraft meets tradecraft”. It is a successful merging of the best of the spy thriller and dark fantasy and a good read.

At DragonCon I got Tim Powers to sign my copy of Declare. In it he wrote, “This is non-fiction.” The author knows that we all reach for something more and that he gives us a window to look into it.

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