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Espionage and Arcana,
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This review is from: Declare (Paperback)
Tim Powers has written a number of novels on the theme of mystical influences behind the real world, and Declare is no exception. Protagonist Andrew Hale joins the British Secret Intelligence Service during WWII, serving against Germany and then in the infant Cold War, confronting increasingly strange events that culminate in some desperate mission on the slopes of Mount Ararat in 1948, codenamed Declare. Flash forward to 1963, and Hale is reactivated and thrown into another desperate attempt to finish Declare. Powers weaves the two timelines expertly, so we gradually discover some of the truth with the young and naive Hale, while following the older and more cynical man into the heart of the mystery.
Declare carefully takes as many true events as it can, inserting Andrew Hale and the mysterious forces he faces into the unexplained spaces between official accounts. A central figure is Kim Philby, real-life KGB double agent who worked for MI6 for 20 years before exposure. Powers also gives us real-life Soviet spy rings in Paris, machinations in Arabia, and post-war Berlin. He never leans too heavily on his intensive research, and it just flows and merges beautifully. Without Wikipedia you'd never be able to tell what is real and what is imagination. Hale is a character in the tradition of John Le Carre - insecure, frightened, and very human. The book depends totally on the reader engaging with him, and thankfully he is one of Powers' best characters.
Powers has never had the success he deserves, and Declare is a perfect example of why he should, but never will. It could have been a blockbuster-style spy novel with pulp monsters and sold well with a cheesy cover, but instead he crafts a Le Carre tale of tradecraft with enigmatic and subtly terrifying mystical forces. It's a brilliantly judged book, immersing you in the world and pressing you on to the conclusion. For me, it is his most successful book, where his obsessions with mystique and period detail meld to the best effect.