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Declare by Tim Powers

Declare (original 2000; edition 2002)

by Tim Powers

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1,111267,443 (4.07)53
Authors:Tim Powers
Info:HarperTorch (2002), Mass Market Paperback, 608 pages
Collections:Your library, To read
Tags:fantasy, tbr

Work details

Declare by Tim Powers (2000)

  1. 50
    The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross (grizzly.anderson)
  2. 30
    The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross (AlanPoulter)
    AlanPoulter: There is a shared delight in mixing Cold War paranoia and the mystical/fantastic in these two novels.
  3. 00
    Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carré (LamontCranston)
  4. 13
    Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (paradoxosalpha)
    paradoxosalpha: Both are bulky, character-oriented novels rooted in the socio-political frames of particular periods; both are self-consciously English; both have emotional depth; both mix in some real historical persons as characters; both introduce their central supernatural elements in a gradual manner; and in both cases those elements are anchored in archaic intelligences and their complex relations with humanity. I would even compare the narrative role that Powers assigns to T.E. Lawrence ("of Arabia") to that occupied by the Raven King in Clarke's book. And both Powers and Clarke are performing a certain level of transcendent pastiche: adding magic to the LeCarre spy thriller on the one hand and to the Austen saga of realist satire on the other. Powers gets more points for fidelity to history, Clarke for verisimilitude of magic.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Not my favorite Powers book, but an interesting story of World War 2 spies. Gets off to rather a slow start, but then takes off in rather a whirlwind of deception and counter deception. Part spy and part horror novel. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
My standard tag line for this is that it's a cross between John Le Carré and Charles Williams.

Many supernatural secret histories these days use a Lovecraftian model for their esoteric side: this one uses the jinni of the Arabian Nights and the tales of Suleiman bin Daoud (much as Williams had used Suleiman as the background for Many Dimensions). Powers plays the eminently fair (but constraining) game of providing an exoteric narrative which is that of received history: this forces his narrative into a slightly broken-backed, episodic, shape -- episodes have to jump from the twenties through World War II to the Cold War and finally to the late Cold War -- but it's well-crafted and engaging, with fine characterization.

The best Powers I've read: if not quite at a masterpiece level, then head and shoulders above most genre works. ( )
  jsburbidge | Jan 12, 2016 |
This is one of those book where the less you know about it, the better it is, so I recommend reading it without reading reviews first.

But if you really want to know what I thought.. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It starts as a very convincing WWII/Cold War spy novel, and for the first quarter of the book it could easily be a Le Carre novel. However, some things are a little bit out of place, and Andrew Hale, the main character, slowly comes to realize that he is dealing with ancient magic.

I often don't like magical realism, because few authors can gracefully let magic intrude into the real world. However, in this book, it is totally convincing. The world of Cold War espionage is so secretive, so self-important, that magic fits in perfectly. I was even more delighted to get to the author's afterward and realize that many of the characters in this book are actual historical figures whose biographies have some unexplained episodes in them, and magic is a wonderful solution to the questions left by the historical record.

I listened to the audiobook, and Simon Prebble is the perfect narrator for this book. ( )
1 vote Gwendydd | Feb 4, 2015 |
My reactions to reading this novel in 2002.

A very accomplished novel and now, of the Powers' I've read, my favorite.

Powers combines the most impressive amount of research and diversity of elements of any of his novels: the minutiae of Cold War espionage (mostly the British and Russian intelligence services but some, also, with the American and French services; I would be curious if the various recognition signals people employ are taken from actual histories), his Roman Catholic faith, the lives of John Philby and his notorious son Kim, Arabian myths involving djinn and A Thousand Nights and One Night, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Lawrence of Arabia, legends of the Ark on Mount Ararat, biblical allusions to the real story of Solomon threatening to split the disputed child in half with a sword and also to the mysterious Nephiliim of Genesis, other members of the Cambridge spy network, and the literally, in this secret history, ghoulish nature of Communism.

There are some typical Powers techniques and themes.

Body swapping of a sort shows up in the confused identities protagonist Andrew Hale experiences when he meets his half-brother, Kim Philby, after the latter has escaped to Moscow. This notion also shows up with the notion of split identities and doubles throughout the book: Kim Philby's ability to be in two places at once until Andrew is born when Kim is ten; John Philby being confused, as an infant, with another child (as usual, when Powers includes real people in his novels, the given details of their lives are drawn from actual histories and biographies -- here, in the unusual step of having an afterword, he explicitly states where many of the details about Philby's life came from), the suppression of identity often felt when in the presence of the djinn, particularly when Hale and Elena Teresa Ceniza-Bendiga (her last name translates into English as Ashbless so another installment is added to Powers' and James Blaylock's joint myth of the Ashbless family) are psychically merged with the djinn during the 1948 expedition to Ararat. Guy Burgess is also said to have killed a double of his.

Powers once again relies on analogies of electricity and general physics to rationalize his magic. The djinn of Mount Ararat are said, because of the presence of anchor stones, to be in a "grounded state". Some djinn inhabit the Heaviside Layer so important in bouncing radio signals around. The importance of a direction of rotation is also here as in Power's Expiration Date.

I liked the notion that the djinn expressed thought as a marcoscopic kinetic animation of surrounding matter -- and the symmetrical idea of imposing thought and experience on them with matter associated with their fellow djinn. I wouldn't classify anything by Powers since his Dinner at the Deviant's Palace as sf -- and neither would he, but he tries very hard to suspend disbelief in his magical worlds by using concepts like symmetry from physics as well as external trappings like the language of electricity. If his magic is not rationalized into sf, associations with the language of rational science is certainly used.

Once again, the chapter epigraphs, here mainly drawn from Gilgamesh and, especially, Rudyard Kipling's Kim (the source of Kim Philby's first name) are very appropriate. When the young Andrew Hale first hears the ritualistic phrases of the secret spy network that exists in the British Special Operations Executive (particularly the wonderful phrase, drawn from Arab myth, "O fish, are you constant to the covenant?", we immediately sense something very important even if Hale doesn't. It reminded me of Scott Crane's first card game on Lake Mead in Last Call when he is reminded that his hand has been assumed. Andrew Hale being raised for great purposes and manipulated and threatened by outside forces reminded me of Kootie in Expiration Date.

Declare also involves family matters, specifically the revelation (not really a surprise to me) that Philby and Hale are half-brothers. (I liked the split of a unified personality into, respectively, an obsession with family and, in Hale, a concern for duty and loyalty). However, in Declare it is the relationship between Hale and Elena and questions of faith, not the exorcism of spirits, that is addressed in the epilogue after the djinn of Mount Ararat have been killed:

In the unusual structure of this novel, which bounces from the 1930s to the 1960s and points between, is the story of the strange relationship between Elena and Hale. Normally, I don't like the stories where men and women are thrown accidentally together and, under stress, become lovers, but I didn't mind this one which is especially surprising because Powers not only doesn't describe their two nights of sex but doesn't really describe how they come to love each other. It just happens as they work as spies in Nazi-occupied Paris.

The novel has four or five passages of beautiful prose, and one is when Hale, listening to the tapping of cryptic signals on the radio wonders if his old lover Elena is at the keys. Another is when he thinks it would just be better if he never saw Elena again.

A key part of the novel is the question of faith and why anyone would deny, if not the existence, the authority and company of God. Elena's early faith in Communism, including a statement that she would willingly obey a command to return to Moscow to be executed because she has faith that such a fate would help bring about a better, Communist world, is clearly stems from the betrayed Catholic faith of her childhood (her parents were killed by Catholic loyalists during the Spanish Civil War). She looses her faith in Communism when she is exposed to the cryptic, secret order that exists in Soviet Intelligence to preserve and extend a deal Russia has made with the flesh and blood devouring Mistress of Misfortune, Russia's protective djinn. (Powers, in a chapter epigraph, literalizes Karl Marx's famous line about the specter of communism). Elena surprisingly recovers her old Catholic faith. Hale drifts out of his Catholic faith but discovers it again confronting the djinn of the Arabian wastes and the dangers during his 1963 Ararat expedition. Hale is tempted by the power and immortality the djinn offer, that his brother Kim Philby seeks. And he despairs, at times, of winning. However, he eventually realizes he must press on with hope if not always with faith. His faith is rewarded when he finds Elena at St. Basil's on her fortieth birthday, a promise she made many years ago to the Virgin Mary if she survived Lubyanka Prison.

think it is significant that the novel simply ends Hale's and Elena's story with them embarking on a walk out of the Soviet Union. We have no idea if they make it or not. I think Powers' point is that it's not important whether they make it. It's that they are loyal to each other and try to make it out together. As Hale notes, you have to play the hand dealt by life. Both reject the notion of immortality.

The ideas why Philby and others reject such a faith strike me as powerfully believable. Hale meets a descendant of the Nephiliim in the desert. His top half is like that of an immortal man, his bottom half a stone rooting him in place. Yet he is glad of his situation because he means he will not die and be called to judgement. This same fear and resentment of final judgment motivates Philby against Catholicism. Elena, on the other hand, realizes that it is partially pride that has kept her away from her childhood faith. She hates the idea she must approach God as soiled as any other sinner.

It is also the same sort of pride, a sort of , Hale notes, aristocratic pride, that keeps Philby away from worshiping God. (I also liked the wonderful legends of fallen angels hanging on or being pulled behind Noah's Ark and thus avoiding destruction.) Ultimately, Philby goes for the option of being a sort of king to the Gray People of Moscow, pathetic traitors and Western ex-patriates deprived of their passports and inhabiting, as Powers wonderfully describes it, the same sort of joyless existence as the hell of Babylonian myth. (In fact, in the epilogue's scene in Moscow, Powers does a very good job conveying the sad, pathetic, horrible nature of Soviet Communism. Though Powers doesn't do it, but Milton might as well be invoked in his line about better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.

I liked the Catholic influence on this novel. I also liked the phrase about sinning sensuously is sinning like a beast, sinning by deceit is sinning like a man, and sinning by pride is sinning like an angel (and pride is the grandest and most common sin of this novel).

Powers has described this book as "tradecraft meets Lovecraft". It's more tradecraft than Lovecraft, but Powers love of that author shows up at the beginning when members of the 1948 Ararat expedition have, in best Lovecraftian tradition, gone mad. The djinn being drawn to certain mathematical shapes reminded me of Lovecraft's "The Dreams in the Witch-House". The passages where Hale feels like something old and powerful has been drawn down from the stars is like Lovecraft. The descriptions of whirling heavens also reminded me of Lovecraft though, according to the afterword, they are probably more inspired by a dream of John Philby's. Some of the language describing the sensation of being on Ararat's glacier in 1963 reminded me of Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness".

Thematically and by depth of research and skill of characterization, the best Powers' secret history I've read. ( )
2 vote RandyStafford | Feb 12, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tim Powersprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Prebble, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stevenson,DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Birthdays? yes, in a general way:
For the most if not for the best of men:
You were born -- I suppose -- on a certain day:
So was I: or perhaps in the night: what then?

Only this: or at least, if more,
You must know, not think it, and learn, not speak:
There is truth to be found on the unknown shore,
And many will find what few would seek.
- J. K. Stephen, inaccurately quoted in a letter from St. John Philby to his son, Kim Philby, March 15, 1932
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Declare, if thou hast understanding.
- Job 38:4
First words
The young captain's hands were sticky with blood on the steering wheel as he cautiously backed the jeep in a tight turn off the rutted mud track onto a patch of level snow that shone in the intermittent moonlight on the edge of the gorge, and then his left hand seemed to freeze onto the gear-shift knob after he reached down to clank the lever up into first gear. (prologue)
From the telephone a man's accentless voice said, "Here's a list: Chaucer...Malory..."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0380798360, Mass Market Paperback)

This supernatural suspense thriller crosses several genres--espionage, geopolitics, religion, fantasy. But like the chicken crossing the road, it takes quite a while to get to the other side. En route, Tim Powers covers a lot of territory: Turkey, Armenia, the Saudi Arabian desert, Beirut, London, Paris, Berlin, and Moscow. Andrew Hale, an Oxford lecturer who first entered Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service as an 18-year-old schoolboy, is called back to finish a job that culminated in a deadly mission on Mount Ararat after the end of World War II. Now it's 1963, and cold war politics are behind the decision to activate Hale for another attempt to complete Operation Declare and bring down the Communist government before Moscow can harness the powerful, other-worldly forces concentrated on the summit of the mountain, supposed site of the landing of Noah's ark. James Theodora is the über-spymaster whose internecine rivalry with other branches of the Secret Intelligence Service traps Hale between a rock and a hard place, literally and figuratively. There's plenty of mountain and desert survival stuff here, a plethora of geopolitical and theological history, and a big serving of A Thousand and One Nights, which is Hale's guide to the meteorites, drogue stones, and amonon plant, which figure in this complicated tale. There's a love story, too, and a bizarre twist on the Kim Philby legend that posits both Philby and Hale as the only humans who can tame the powers of the djinns who populate Mount Ararat.

This is an easy book to get lost in, and Powers's many fans will have a field day with it. The rest of us may have a harder time. --Jane Adams

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:50 -0400)

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"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, in 1963, he 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 postwar 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, the fiery and beautiful Communist agent Elena Teresa Ceniza-Bendiga, and Kim Philby, mysterious traitor to the British cause, to a deadly confrontation on the high glaciers of Mount Ararat, in the very shadow of the fabulous and perilous Ark"--Page 4 of cover.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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