Declare by Tim Powers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
synopsis (taken from Overdrive): In his eleventh novel, Tim Powers takes his unique brand of speculative fiction into uncharted territory, instilling the old-fashioned espionage novel with a healthy dose of the supernatural.
As a young double agent infiltrating the Soviet spy network in Nazi-occupied Paris, Andrew Hale finds himself caught up in a secret even more ruthless war. Two decades later, a coded message draws Professor Andrew Hale back into Her Majesty's Secret Service. Elements from his past are gathering in Beirut, including ex-British counterespionage chief and Soviet mole Kim Philby, and a beautiful former Spanish Civil War soldier-turned-intelligence operative, Elena Ceniza-Bendiga. Soon Hale will be forced to confront again the nightmare that has haunted his adult life: a lethal unfinished operation code-named "Declare." From the corridors of Whitehall to the Arabian Desert, from post-war Berlin to the streets of Cold War Moscow, Hale's desperate quest draws him into international politics and gritty espionage tradecraft—and inexorably drives Hale, Ceniza-Bendiga, and Philby to a deadly confrontation on the high glaciers of Mount Ararat, in the very shadow of the fabulous and perilous biblical Ark.
The plot: This is a secret history, which takes as its premise the idea that supernatural events occurred behind the scenes of the history we know. The story unfolds slowly, and the fantasy elements don't become clear until about halfway through. I still liked the earlier chapters, but it is not very fast paced if that is what you're looking for. The book is probably a better reading experience if you don't know too much about the fantasy aspect in advance, so I will just say that it is a very interesting take on the djinn of Middle Eastern folklore.
There is a fair amount of violence (it comes with the territory for this genre) but it is not graphic. The story is told somewhat out of sequence, with flashbacks to the past interrupting the present. I struggled with this book a little bit toward the end, when there was a lot going on at once. A bit more exposition might have been helpful. This might be an effect of listening to it on audio, but I had a similar problem with a different book that I read in print last month, so maybe not.
Audio narrator: Simon Prebble's narration is fantastic! I previously listened to his readings of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories.
Writing style: I really liked the writing -- some great scene setting (particularly Mt. Ararat) and dialogue.
So many promising agents manage to convince even themselves that they didn't see what they saw. Go on. And don't tell me in tones of apology that it gets more weird. I do know that.
The only other book I have tried by this author is The Anubis Gates, which won the Philip K. Dick Award. I didn't care for it, but I definitely like this one better. I thought the characters were much more interesting, for one thing. This book is also an award winner; it won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 2001 and was nominated for several other awards.
Tim Powers has written quite a few books, so I might try something else by him, but there isn't a particular book that I have in mind. This was a good one to start with, however, and I can certainly see why it won an award.
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