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on 17 November 2010
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.
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on 17 February 2016
So I finished this yesterday and I think the fact that it took me nearly a month to read says the most. From things like the Indiana Jones series and Hellboy and the Wolfenstein games I've always liked pulpy stories that involve, a) Nazis and b) the occult. That said, Declare doesn't really fit the bill because although the Occult features majorly Nazis only crop up tangentially due to some of the story being set during World War II. The other thing Declare is not (unless you consider anything with crazy supernatural elements to be so) is pulpy. Powers takes his world building and his commitment to the historical record very seriously. There's no Indy style wise-cracking and certainly no Indy style sense of pace. At times everything moves as slowly as the Parrot glacier on Mount Ararat itself and a lot of the story is delivered in a highly expositionary style. Powers "ironclad" rule is that he can't change things that really happened and does huge amounts of research. Often I felt this research was simply dumped into the text in great undigested chunks of factoids that added nothing to the story but a veneer of authenticity. I've never felt a novel wore its research so heavily before. So a bit of a slog. You keep waiting for things to get weird and occasionly they do pretty well and you keep going in the hope of a really weird Mt Ararat showdown, but on the whole I felt the mixture of spy and weird was too dense a pudding. That said I still would be happy to give another Tim Powers a go at some point.
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on 14 June 2016
A big fan of Charles Stross Laundry series, I had to read Declare given the mention is has in the Author's Notes in The Atrocity Archives. I'm no book reviewer, so all I can offer are my thoughts. Its well written, and although I find it heavy going after the light-hearted and humourous approach that Stross takes, it's a compelling read, perhaps best read in busts rather than all at once. The plot is well thought out, the story weaves backwards and forwards in time and place (weaves, rather than jumps, as the characters are all connected), and the book well written, ie no 'author intrusion' through clumsy writing. Tim Powers is a very good author in that each character is unique, with their own foibles and habits - the protagonist, for example, lacks self-confidence in a way that makes one (me, at least!) shout at him, whilst Philby's stammer is so well crafted one can hear him stuttering as the story is read. I enjoyed it. Its neither fast paced nor in-the-face, it's a decade's covering, drawn out thriller. 5 stars even though its not my cup of tea, I can appreciate how good it is.
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on 30 January 2014
It’s my favourite book of 2014 so far (even though that’s less than 2 weeks in) and here are some reasons why:

It’s dense but honest. There’s a lot going on in Declare, and a lot that’s alluded to but never fully explained. But Powers set himself a rule when writing this alternate history, that none of the documented events that we know of could be moved or manipulated for his convenience: he had to operate in the restrictions of the world. There’s no point where a giant mecha-Hitler has to descend, deus ex machina style, to save a problem in the plot.

Although described as le Carre meets HP Lovecraft, it’s closer to a Bond film (a succession of well-realized, exotic locations) written by a paranoiac with mystical leanings. The magical elements are rarely the interesting parts of the book; it’s the locations and the characters and the details of spycraft that are so captivating. Also (spoiler alert) it’s not a total gloomfest from start to finish, whereas if you finish a le Carre and there haven’t been a dozen meaningless deaths of principal characters by the end, you feel cheated.

There’s a strong female character. Alas, only one, so there was no chance it could pass the Bechdel Test, but Elena is well-written, interestingly conflicted and a dab hand with a gun.

It’s set between the 1930s and 1962; the build up to the Second World War and then the Cold War. Those don’t seem to have been fun periods to live through, but I,really enjoy reading about them, whether fictional or non fictional accounts. I don’t think it’s just the quality of the writing; modern, techno-obsessed spy thrillers are less charming, but have less palpable menace, than the work of le Carre, Deighton et al, even though now we can look back and see that the ‘inevitable’ nuclear conclusion wasn’t going to happen after all. I could read Deighton all week; I read Clancy all week to laugh at the tin-eared dialogue. Similarly, I found Ian Tregillis’ Bitter Seeds triptych, another WWII/Cold War/paranormal epic to be captivating – perhaps for the same reasons.

Declare feels a more serious work than Stross’ Laundry sequence; more like a proper spy novel compared to a B-movie with cartoonish heroes and monsters. It helps that we don’t see the supernatural elements for quite some time, just ominous phrases like “O Fish, are you faithful to the covenant?” which made me suspect an assault by Lovecraftian Deep Ones, instead of what actually occurs. That’s not to say that the Laundry novels aren’t as enjoyable as Declare, but they definitely feel more pulpy.

Also, Declare’s cast is of (often) real people, such as Kim Philby – perhaps unfeared by thoughts of libel, Powers brings in plenty of people who are recently dead to make things feel more real. The fact that occasional Americanisms, like ‘sidewalk’ and the verb ‘to tromp’ make it in is not so terrible a distraction.

What’s strange to me is that Declare isn’t more famous a book, or indeed recognized as a great work of espionage fiction. Then again, Tim Powers is partially implicated in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, so nobody gets things 100% right.
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on 17 April 2013
This book is written very much in the Le Carre style of gritty detail, which I find hard work and slightly depressing. It does however convey enormous authenticity, and as a result the added supernatural element is really frightening and horrific. I found I preferred to read during the daytime as I had bad dreams if I read chapters before sleeping!

I was delighted by a robust love story in a spy novel and really enjoyed the excellent recreation of the various milieux. However, I am an English pedant, and I wish Mr Powers had had an English friend proof read the novel for him. To have a quintessential upper class Englishman like Kim Philby say "in back" instead of "at the back", or refer to the "draft" when English people call it "conscription" is slack, and a let down when other things seem so accurate.
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on 9 June 2014
Declare was one of those books that made me sweat just reading it. The level of concentration required to keep track of this immersive plotline feels like being back at university studying for my finals. But such a reward lies ahead for those who dedicate themselves to this novel. I cannot stop thinking about this book, even two weeks after reading it. I was fully drawn in, and then in the afterword, where I read that Powers had based the narritive of this story on actual historical events down to the day, I was filled with wonder.
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VINE VOICETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 14 June 2010
"Declare" follows the career of Andrew Hale, literally born into the British secret service and destined to join a decades old operation against a supernatural threat to the West. Powers knits together various unexplained anomalies from the life of Kim Philby, the notorious traitor to MI6, with the life of Lawrence of Arabia, with hints in the Tales of the Thousand and One Nights, and the story of the Ark on Mount Ararat, to name only a few sources. It reminds me of John Buchan's description in Three Hostages (Wordsworth Classics) of how he produced his "shockers" - taking a number of bizarre and seemingly unlinked characters or situations then creating a backstory for them. Powers' backstory takes us from wartime Paris to postwar Berlin, the Middle East before climaxing in 1960s Russia, creating a whole hidden history for the rise and fall of the Soviet Union

If it all sounds unlikely, just take my word for it, he produces a credible and consistent story, one where the familiar Smileyesque world of mirrors and double dealing never quite goes away... while at the same time much deeper and darker secrets are (eventually) exposed than the Circus ever kept.

I spotted one or two cultural glitches with the (presumably American) author's writing about Britain, but they didn't really detract, it would be picky to list them.

Basically, great fun and enjoyable to read.
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VINE VOICETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 26 February 2015
An interesting mix of old fashioned religious horror, cold war action and paranoid spy thriller. A pacey narrative covering 40 years or so from the 1920s to the 1960s blends John Le Carre, Dennis Wheatley and Alistair MacLean into a compelling and exciting story. I really enjoyed this, a complex and clever work with a satisfying punch. Finished it over a weekend. Recommended.
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on 22 January 2016
I like long books where the plot and characters are slowly developed and fully rounded out but this is taking the mick! The story moves with glacial slowness at times and could do with 100 pages being taken out. A great pity as the storyline sounded great and indeed, proved to be good but you had to read copius pages with not a lot happening to get to it.
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on 15 August 2014
Takes a while to get going - the first half/two thirds of the book is very much a Le Carre-style spy thriller with a lot of procedural detail and historical background - but once it gets into the occult stuff it really takes off, weaving the supernatural thread cleverly with real historical events. Similar in some respects to the Charles Stross Laundry books, but without the heavy irony and pop-culture references of that series.
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