Tim Powers,
(Subterranean Press, 2000;
Morrow/Avon, 2001)

I wish I could come up with a witty and pithy phrase to describe Tim Powers' new novel, but unfortunately for me, the author himself has already done so: Tradecraft meets Lovecraft. Declare is Powers' wildly successful attempt to combine a John LeCarré-style spy novel with his own inimitable mix of fantasy and horror.

With all due respect to 1992's wonderful Last Call, this is Powers' most cohesive and well-written book since The Stress of Her Regard, and Declare shares much in common with that novel. Instead of vampires, we have djinn straight out of The Arabian Nights; instead of the Romantic poets, the attentions of these creatures are focused on Cold War spies. Declare also portrays a high-altitude confrontation with the supernatural; here, it takes place on Mount Ararat instead of in the Alps.

To the average reader, Soviet double agent Kim Philby may not be as familiar as Lord Byron or Percy Shelley, but Powers plays by his customary set of rules in Declare: in portraying historical events, he sticks strictly to the known facts, but gives them a slight ... tweak. Did upperclass Englishman Philby betray his country out of misguided idealism, or were his reasons more peculiar? Was Stalin simply a madman, or did his seemingly insane purges of his own intelligence agencies have some arcane purpose? How did an institution built on such shifting sands as the Soviet Union was survive for as long as it did? Powers applies his reverse version of Occam's Razor -- the strangest explanation is the most likely -- to these and other Cold War mysteries, and, for the duration of the book, at least, his explanations seem as plausible as any others.

Longtime Powers fans may find this novel slightly more subtle and streamlined than what they have come to expect. Although there are plenty of weird goings-on in Declare, they don't come as fast and furious as they did in, say, The Anubis Gates. Declare also focuses on a more limited cast of characters than his recent work; this is for the best, though, since it avoids the superficiality and confusion that marred his last book, Earthquake Weather. The hero of Declare, British Secret Service agent Andrew Hale, is as likable a protagonist as any Powers has created since On Stranger Tides' John Chandagnac, and his encounters with the djinn are as awe-inspiring and chilling as any scenes Powers has given us.

The publication date of the trade hardcover of Declare has been pushed back from June 2000 to January 2001; word has it the folks at Avon are extremely enthusiastic about the book and needed more time to to give it the publicity it deserves. Their enthusiasm is well-founded. Declare should both bring Powers a multitude of new fans and please his old ones.

[ by Chris Simmons ]

Buy Declare from Amazon.com.