Declare by Tim Powers (HarperCollins, October 13, 2009) – In digging through my ‘archives’—also known as a stack of books I haven’t put on a shelf yet—I remembered Tim Powers ‘Declare’ being recommended to me by a fellow writer. Since it’s always fun to dig into books I may have missed the first time around (and it’s a big miss, the first print of ‘Declare’ was released in 2009!) I decided to read through and review.
In post WWII Europe, Andrew Hale is called upon by a shadowy organization to once again take on his duties serving the crown against Communist Russia. It seems an operation once failed has come back to haunt Andrew and now he must confront the ghosts of his past—some all too real—in order to accomplish his original mission. Oh, and did I mention there are djinns?
‘Declare’ takes a while to ramp up, but once it does, we’re going at a firm clip. Equal measures James Bond and Indiana Jones, ‘Declare’ provides us with an incredibly familiar world that houses beings of a fantastical nature eerily grounded to such a point that they feel completely normal within our world. There’s a great interweaving of fact and fiction here, even with the presence of the impossible.
It’s rare to read a story where the supernatural makes such a sudden, yet non-shocking appearance. The djinns are quite something to behold on the page and I credit Powers with not only painting such a fascinating image, but in maintaining my interest in the characters that were merely human. Hale himself is a great character. Equal parts reluctant hero and brave everyman, and I’m invested in his character arc and his story.
The tension is also a high point. I’ve always been a fan of espionage stories, especially Cold War-era tales. Powers crafts a Europe and Middle East that are smoky and dangerous beyond the supernatural threats. The stakes are grounded and there truly feels as if Hale has nobody to trust. Instead those around him are tools—a means to an end—well, except for his love-interest, Elena Teresa Ceniza-Bendiga, a fascinating character with a great subplot regarding her faith. The love story manages to be both interesting and as tense as any other interaction in ‘Declare’. We’re never quite sure of Elena’s intentions and loyalties—especially in light of her internal struggles. It goes to show that in the world of espionage, not even love comes easily.
So, what to say about ‘Declare’, a book released over a decade ago and has held high acclaim? Well, if you haven’t read it; buy it. Powers’ ability to not rely on the fantastical to buoy his narrative makes this one of the best modern fantasy novels I’ve ever read. High praise, at least from me, since I’ve generally strayed from the genre. And even if you’re not a fan of fantasy or supernatural elements, the espionage and suspense are in top form. A best of both worlds situation for readers and lovers of both genres.