Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Declare

By Tim Powers

Now this is the sort of book I like (Oleg you were right). Set in the period prior to, during and after the Second world war, this novel deals with one man's clandestine mission to kill the angels who live on Mount Ararat, and all the troubles and set backs he suffers along the way. The protagonist is Andrew Hale, a man with a mysterious past, born in Palestine and hidden away in England where a secret government organisation keeps him safe and protected until he is old enough to be recruited into a strange and dangerous world of supernatural espionage where the British are fighting to counter the Soviet Union and their guardian angel. Along he way he meets the notorious Kim Philby, who it turns out is more than just the treacherous spy of notoriety, and a Spanish communist spy named Elena Teresa Ceniza-Bendiga with whom he falls in love.

The story begins after the Second World war when the ebb and flow of life of Hale's placid life is broken by the return of James Theodora, his commanding officer in times past. Apparently having believed his mission had failed and all was done Hale finds himself catapulted back into the fray and with many a look back in time to explain things to the reader.

There were two things I didn't like about this novel. First, was the constant quoting of classical literature by the characters. Obviously Powers is well read, and we yes get that he's well read, but its a far stretch for every single person in the story to have not only all read the same books, but also to be able to recognise these quotes and reply with more quotes. When Kurdish and Bedouin tribesmen start quoting Kipling, then you know the author is showing off.

Second was the premise that Hale would simply fall into civilian life, then return to work for James Theodora after twenty years so easily. At the beginning of the novel, this made perfect sense, but as the book progressed and the retrospective explanations built up the full picture, it became harder and harder to believe that some one as driven as Hale would just sit on his backside for twenty years believing he'd been put out to pasture. Not least since he had a mass of contacts who could have helped him find his love again.

These two niggles mean the book only scores four, though it was a close run for five stars. I sped through the second half of the book in a single night because I couldn't put it down (and also because I didn't feel much like lying in the dark thinking of my Dad).


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