HomeGroupsTalkZeitgeist
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Declare by Tim Powers
Loading...

Declare (original 2000; edition 2001)

by Tim Powers

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,016248,374 (4.1)51
paradoxosalpha's review
I came to Tim Powers' Declare on the strength of a friend's recommendation, and also Charles Stross' comparison to his own work in The Atrocity Archives. Although the subject matter of espionage plus supernatural elements was certainly similar to Stross' "Laundry" novels, I was surprised to find myself comparing Declare to a very different, and altogether more popular book: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. 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 comparable sort 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.

Comparisons aside, I did very much enjoy Declare. It was not a flawless book. There was a certain attribution of supernatural efficacy to Christian piety and sacraments that was never properly justified, and I occasionally found a sentence in laughable need of easy repair. (An example of both from p. 486: "He opened his mouth to speak the first words of the Our Father, but realized that he had forgotten them.") But there is a healthy and profitable use of dramatic irony -- attentive readers can stay a half-step ahead of the central characters -- and Powers manages to instill a real numinosity into the higher orders of espionage that he invents for World War II and the Cold War. The psychology of double-agency is a long-standing interest of mine, and Powers makes it central to his novel in a way that I appreciated. The recruitment and induction of spies ("agent-runners") is presented through an explicitly initiatory framework that should be accessible and engaging to those who share those interests with me as well.
3 vote paradoxosalpha | Feb 5, 2012 |
All member reviews
Showing 22 of 22
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 |
A strange fantasy novel about shifting alliances among spies in a world where supernatural entities exist. It's interesting to think about because it's generally hard to figure out what the hero wants. There's a love story. And he's a dedicated spy trying to infiltrate ... something ... but the story unfolds in back-and-forth time -- 1948, then 1963, then 1941, then 1945, then 1963 again. And it changes main characters halfway through. I don't know what the stakes are.The hero is a bit of cipher, as spies sometimes are. What am I rooting for?

In other words it bends all sorts of narrative rules and even arguably breaks some.

Somehow it gets away with it. I wasn't sure why I kept reading it, but I did. Maybe because I wanted to find out what the supernatural powers are, and what exactly happened on Mount Ararat in 1948.

I wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery. That must be it.

There's a fascinating epilog, too. The book creates a whole mythology around the British spy turncoat Kim Philby. It was interesting to read how Powers came up with the story. He was reading biographies of Philby, and kept running across events that suggested a much more interesting story hidden just behind what was written. Why did Philby weep for two days when his pet fox died -- when he had only wept so much for the death of his father? Why did a Saudi sheik give Philby, as a child, a twenty carat diamond? And what was the real meaning between Solomon's offer to split the baby in two?

Powers set himself a rule, as he constructed the story of DECLARE, to abide by all the historical facts, and only conjure up what was behind them.

Fascinating. Worth a read. ( )
1 vote AlexEpstein | May 12, 2013 |
I thought this book was utter drivel. The parts of the book about spying were unconvincing as a spy novel and the parts that were about the supernatural were unconvincing for that genre. Frankly I'm frustrated with myself that I bothered finishing it but the rules say if I start a book I have to finish it. Blah ( )
  chive | Apr 3, 2013 |
*note to self.copy from Al.
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
Declare is, in brief, a supernatural espionage thriller, set in the Cold War and more modern times. The plot is quite complicated and I feel like I didn't have enough knowledge of the background story to grasp everything. It also took me quite some time to 'get' into the story. However, the supernatural component was exciting enough to keep me reading. ( )
  SimoneA | Aug 1, 2012 |
I came to Tim Powers' Declare on the strength of a friend's recommendation, and also Charles Stross' comparison to his own work in The Atrocity Archives. Although the subject matter of espionage plus supernatural elements was certainly similar to Stross' "Laundry" novels, I was surprised to find myself comparing Declare to a very different, and altogether more popular book: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. 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 comparable sort 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.

Comparisons aside, I did very much enjoy Declare. It was not a flawless book. There was a certain attribution of supernatural efficacy to Christian piety and sacraments that was never properly justified, and I occasionally found a sentence in laughable need of easy repair. (An example of both from p. 486: "He opened his mouth to speak the first words of the Our Father, but realized that he had forgotten them.") But there is a healthy and profitable use of dramatic irony -- attentive readers can stay a half-step ahead of the central characters -- and Powers manages to instill a real numinosity into the higher orders of espionage that he invents for World War II and the Cold War. The psychology of double-agency is a long-standing interest of mine, and Powers makes it central to his novel in a way that I appreciated. The recruitment and induction of spies ("agent-runners") is presented through an explicitly initiatory framework that should be accessible and engaging to those who share those interests with me as well.
3 vote paradoxosalpha | Feb 5, 2012 |
This was a tough haul for me. This was on my "currently reading" pile for the entire summer, because I kept finding other things (mostly non-fiction) to read instead. I've enjoyed Powers in the past, and will return to him in the future but I can't give this a strong recommendation. It's Powers doing his secret history legerdemain in the style of John LeCarre. The problem is that over 300 pages of WWII and Cold War backstabbing, skullduggery, and gloom have to pass before the secret history part really starts to pay off. When it does, it happens in frequent info-dumps of backstory. In an epilogue, Powers describes the research he did in developing the novel and working out alternate explanations for real world events. Apparently he followed the rule "if it was hard to write, it should be hard to read, gosh darn it!" Having paid my dues, I was happy to rewarded with something happening in the last quarter of the story, but I think I'm still owed some change. ( )
1 vote ChrisRiesbeck | Sep 20, 2011 |
The story seems interesting at first but then becomes complete utter nonsense. Most scenes are not believable - even not as magic tale. I could not engage with the persons and at the end it finishes rather hastily. The author has no idea about the magic creatures he pulls into the plot. He just describes surfaces as he understands them. This book was a waste of time. ( )
  mathegudrun | Sep 11, 2011 |
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1707156.html

I rather liked Declare. As a fan of both Tim Powers' earlier work and of John Le Carré (though I haven't read either for years), I was impressed both by the audacity of the one trying to write like the other, with added djinn (rather than gin) and by the fact that he pretty much succeeded in pulling it off. He captures the tone of the disheartened and disreputable spy thriller awfully well, with the added awful secret that is not merely national security but too dreadful to be told or even fully described ("Lovecraft meets spycraft", though that tagline gives the incorrect impression that the style is particularly Lovecraftian). I should add, however, that I think Le Carré tends to do slightly better by his women characters than Powers has managed here. Not a quick read, but I enjoyed it. ( )
2 vote nwhyte | Apr 23, 2011 |
Stunning novel from one of today's most intriguing fantacists. The tagline for this one read "Spycraft meets Lovecraft", and that's a fair catch phrase. It's a surprisingly successful cross between John LeCarre and H.P. Lovecraft.

You really can't talk too much about this one in a review without giving away too many telling details. Suffice it to say, the phenomenal amount of real-world details that Powers layers into this plot really makes it feel like it is rooted in reality. The WWII-era settings of the the formative sections of the book seemed dead on to me.

It's not giving away too much, since we've already hinted at the Lovecraftian elements, to say that there's a big chunk of supernatural happenings scattered throughout the book, too. And, for me, even though I enjoyed the espionage elements, I thought Powers' representation of the big, otherworldly elements was the most impressive.

I believe Powers can definitely be an acquired taste, but it is a taste that I've definitely acquired, so I heartily recommend Declare. It's also nice to know that it is a stand-alone novel, so you're not stuck looking forward to additional entries in a series.

EXPANDED REVIEW: What do you get when you cross John LeCarre and Len Deighton with H.P. Lovecraft and Auguest Derleth? Well, that would be Tim Powers' magnificent fantasy/horror/espionage novel, Declare. This impressive novel focuses on the intelligence community, and a 1960s attempt to fix a mission that went horribly awry on Mount Ararat during WWII. The espionage elements of Declare truly feel like reading the best of LeCarre, Deighton, Follett or any of the other "spy" thriller writers. A review of this book is hard to write without giving too much of the intricate and complicated plot away...however, Powers manages to insert the supernatural into this spy story very effectively. His descriptions of ordinary soldiers and intelligence offices' encounters with otherworldly beings is truly terrifying. Powers' research into the real-world people he includes in this book is detailed, and Declare is very dense with seemingly minor historical details...which may put off some readers. However, I recommend you stick with it -- this one is a tremendous read!

This expanded review was originally done for my local library's website: http://www.lincolnlibraries.org/depts/bookguide/srec/staffrec10-03.htm ( )
  cannellfan | Feb 28, 2010 |
Whenever I recommend this to people, I always tell them it's three parts of every WWII era spy novel, two parts Arabian Nights, one part Lovecraft, and a tiny dab of LSD to help make everything make sense. Tm Powers has an uncanny ability to maneuver a tiny sailboat of a book between the vicious reefs of disparate tropes with a poise that leaves the reader stunned. Very highly recommended. ( )
  SaintBrevity | Feb 4, 2010 |
"Spycraft meets Lovecraft" is the tag line really. And it sums it up nicely.

Apparently Powers started research Kim Philby, who had an interesting enough life (he was a double agent for the NKVD/KGB working inside the British Security Services (SIS and MI6)). There are, apparently, strange inconsistencies and odd behaviour (I'm sure there would be in anyone's life, particularly if he's a double agent). Powers, however, creates a world of djinn, magic and old ones that quite neatly fit into the gaps in a worryingly coherent fashion.

The result? Secret agencies working to recruit, control, or kill djinn, angels and the like, within their own national spy agencies. And if you like the Lovecraftian side of things, you'll love the way it all fits together.

The historical details are all correct - he challenged himself not to change them and STILL produce the book - but it doesn't feel forced at any point although it does jump around in time more than a little, which takes a bit of getting used to.

All in all an excellent read. ( )
  lewispike | Oct 26, 2009 |
Odd, like all Powers' books. A spy story, with genies (djinn). As a concept, that didn't work very well for me, not nearly as well as his Romantic poets with vampires, or the gangsters, poker and fisher king cross.While I was reading I had that song The Freshmen, by Verve something, running in my head. I think because I heard it just before I began the book, and that line about "his face was stiff with tears" somehow seemed to fit into the song, right meter and everything.The British intelligence service was rather nasty. Killing Cassagnac! Good thing the Russians were so much worse. . . ( )
  krisiti | Jul 1, 2009 |
Winner of World Fantasy Award; a perfect blend of espionage novel, historical fiction, and dark fantasy, this book tells the tale of three spies involvement over 60 years in trying to tame and/or destroy creatures known variously as djinn and fallen angels. Heavy detail on British and Soviet military operations and espionage activities from 1920-1964. Explicit violence, language, sexual situations (non-explicit), and heavy drinking.
  chosler | Jan 13, 2009 |
I am an enormous fan of Tim Powers, so understand that when I say this is not my favorite work of his, I still recommend it whole-heartedly. Declare has a heavier feeling that most of Powers' other books, and at times can get a little bogged down. However, as other reviewers have noted, it is a curiously haunting book, staying with you long after you put it down, and popping up in your mind when you least expect it. The story is not straightforward, jumping around a bit chronologically, and thus it improves on the second and third readings when you are better able to integrate the full storyline. One of the beautiful things that Powers does is infuse the everyday world with systems of magic that are so consistently and richly developed that they seem like they are truth viewed from a different angle. This book is no exception as he explores a secret or alternate history of the Cold War in which Mount Ararat, the ark, and djinn are bigger factors in the struggle of nations than nuclear arms. ( )
1 vote tanenbaum | Jan 12, 2009 |
Slow, slow going. But eventually I was so drawn in that I was invested in what happened next. I read the first half in 2 months and the last half in a week. ( )
  ansate | Jul 14, 2008 |
I am starting to revise my opinion of Tim Powers. I have said in the past that he's hard to understand, and that he leaves a lot up to the reader to figure out on their own. Well, I am finding that the more I read Powers the more I understand about his books. It's probably because, now that I know what's going to happen, I am not racing through the book to find out what's going to happen next. I can slow down and enjoy the journey, as it were.

So, my recommendation: Read him twice for the full effect. :)

Like most of Powers' other books, Declare takes an entirely temporal genre--in this case the espionage thriller--and adds a supernatural element. And it may sound strange but it really works. It makes the story fresh and unpredictable. This is probably why I read it so fast in the first place. I was having so much not being able to predict where the story was going. The story begins with Andrew Hale, the protagonist, being recalled to active duty nearly twenty years after the end of World War II. Then the book splits. The story of Andrew's career during WW II is told through flashbacks. The rest is Andrew trying to stop a traitor from giving Communist Russia the supernatural equivalent of the atomic bomb.

This book is a fabulous read. The characters are original and full drawn. The writing is fantastic. Supernatural elements to the story do get explained but not in a pedantic way that might derail the pace of the novel. There's action, there's suspense, there's romance. This book makes me wish the Powers wrote faster.
  Reader1066 | May 13, 2008 |
Other things exist on Mount Ararat than the possibility of some rotting old boat. A complex web of spy organisations and agents have to work out what to do about the world's largest colony of djinn.

Mother Russia has a supernatural guardian that is holding the state together. Kim Philby, and our protagonist, Andrew Hale, are involved in both of these events, as is another agent, a woman named Elena, that both of them fancy, and have fancied.

The spycraft predominates.

http://notfreesf.blogspot.com/2006/12/declare-tim-powers.html ( )
  bluetyson | Jan 8, 2008 |
The grey-on-grey palette of LeCarre shot through with silver threads of the occult -- an enjoyable, if overlong book.

[Now, about a year later, this is a book that grows with time. I can't quite get it out of my head. "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if you have understanding." ( )
  ben_a | Mar 27, 2006 |
Showing 22 of 22

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
2 avail.
67 wanted
3 pay3 pay

Popular covers

Rating

Average: (4.1)
0.5 1
1 1
1.5
2 8
2.5 2
3 40
3.5 16
4 77
4.5 19
5 88

Audible.com

An edition of this book was published by Audible.com.

See editions

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.

 

Help/FAQs | About | Privacy/Terms | Blog | Contact | LibraryThing.com | APIs | WikiThing | Common Knowledge | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | 92,967,780 books! | Top bar: Always visible