BOOK REVIEW: Declare by Tim Powers


Andrew Hale has dreams, strange dreams at the end of every year and at the age of 7 his mother takes him to London to meet his ‘godfather’. This is the beginning of Andrews induction to a secret service that exists secretly within the British secret intelligence service. A department that deals with ‘spiritual warfare’. From 1941 – 1963 Hale is subjected to a series of adventures that are all entangled with the operation called Declare, an operation that existed long before he was born and

which he holds the key to it’s resolution. This story takes us from the World War to the Cold War and we discover the real enemy is more frightening than can be imagined. What role does the agent Elena play in his life, why is his nemesis, super spy Kim Philby so hateful of him ,what game is his handler Jimmie Theodora actually playing, what is the secret behind the horrific presence on Mount Ararat that can send hardened SAS operatives screaming into madness and what is it about Andrew Hale alone that can bring about the endgame.

On paper this book is impossible to not love, it is essentially a wartime espionage tale mixed with elements of fantasy and magic and more than a touch of Lovecraft. It is incredibly paranoid and the stuff that noir pulps are made of. However I found the first part of this book laborious and long winded. The problem is that the book consists of periods of espionage, action, meetings and briefings. Lots of clues and intimations are brought to our attention during the espionage and action segments but the plot is only solidly advanced during the meetings and briefings. This is fair enough as intelligence exchange is the currency that spies live on. However I not only found these passages protracted but a little bewildering due to the amount of information contained in them. There are so many intelligence networks and parallel networks mentioned that the acronyms become a bit overused.

As the plot becomes clearer this shortcoming becomes much easier to deal with and I found the rest of the book a lot more palatable.

The story has a deliciously paranoid edge to it, with no one sure of who to trust when and not even being sure of who they are spying for at any particular time. In stark contrast to James bond it made me wonder what kind of fool would want to be a spy. The book made me marvel at the dedication that some have to a cause even knowing that the only reward at the conclusion of a lifetimes faithful service is to be retired at the end of a gun barrel.

The book is wonderfully constructed as the story unfolds in 2 timelines simultaneously and it is written in such a way that it allows you to make realistic guesses as to what is really going on. Powers descriptions are proficient enough to clearly evoke the individual flavour of each locale visited and it’s peoples.

By the end of is book, I found that I had indeed enjoyed it, the only downside coming from the fact that Tim Powers is obviously an incredibly intelligent and knowledgeable man. This research and knowkedge tends to leak through to the page perhaps more than it should. His research however is thorough and Powers does justice to the many real people and events that are littered throughout this story and therefore make it all the more intriguing.

I suspect that when I reread this in a year or so I will be much more forgiving to this book. It is at the end of the day a fantastic spy story about love, duty and the mysteries around us

GS Reporter: Monts

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