Simon Bisson (sbisson) wrote,
Simon Bisson

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The Wednesday Morning "Before I Go Get A Train To Bromley" Review: Declare

Tim Powers is a master of modern fantasy. Over the last twenty years or so he's produced some of the most interesting and intelligent fantasy novels I've read. From the time-hopping steampunk of The Anubis Gates to the ghost eating California weirdness of Expiration Date, his books have been consistently well written and challenging, with stories that stay with you after slot the book back onto its shelf.

Declare is his latest novel. As Powers says, this is a homage to the British spy thrillers of John Le Carre, mixing the life of Kim Philby and the history of early Cold War espionage with a secret history of interactions with djinni. For Powers' world is one that's not quite the one we know, and elemental beings, of incredible force (the fallen angels of old), inhabit the wild and empty places. Andrew Hale, an academic in Weybridge, was once part of a hidden element of the British secret services tasked to investigate these strange beings. He's been retired since 1948 after a failed mission on Mount Ararat to kill a nest of djinni that live in what appears to be the Ark. But now he's been reactivated, placed under deep cover, and is being sent back to finally complete operation Declare. It's a mission that's going to take him back to his past, in Paris in the early days of the Occupation, and to Kuwait just after the war. He'll meet old friends, old enemies and, perhaps, himself.

This is an excellent book, carefully crossing genres and ideas. It's a mix that would defeat most writers, but in Powers' skilled hands not only do the real and secret histories mix and blur, so do the world we know and the fantastical. Perhaps djinni do exist in the deserts, perhaps the seal of Solomon can be remade, perhaps there is a truth in those old old stories. Maybe Kim Philby really did have an occult purpose to his betrayals. Powers' secret is to write his story in the gaps around the real - in those hidden parts where the gaps in biographies intersect with the empty places on maps. This then is the fertile soil for Powers' ideas and the flowering of his story.

Perhaps the best summary is just this: Le Carre meets the Arabian Nights. Enjoy. I know I did...
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