"When university professor Andrew Hale receives a message in an old war-time code,
he must drop the normal life he's been building for fourteen years, flee
undercover to Whitehall in London, and re-start his terminated career as an agent
in the most covert section of Her Majesty's Secret Service.
The year is 1963, and various elements from Hale's renounced past are assembling
in Beirut - Kim Philby, the one-time British counter-espionage chief, who has
turned out to have been a Soviet mole all his life; and the beautiful Elena
Ceniza-Bendiga, variously a Comintern soldier in the Spanish Civil War, an agent
of the French Deuxieme Bureau, and now perhaps a solo operator bent on revenge;
and their plans are centered around an imminent covert Soviet expedition back to
the Ark on Mount Ararat, where they all nearly killed each other fourteen years
From the corridors of Whitehall to Bedouin camps in the Arabian Desert, from
post-war Berlin to the streets of Cold War Moscow, Hale's story involves T. E.
Lawrence, the Dead Sea Scrolls, supernatural entities from the Thousand and One
Nights, high international politics and gritty espionage tradecraft - and leads
inexorably to a deadly confrontation between Hale and Kim Philby on the high
glaciers of Mount Ararat, in the very shadow of the fabulous and perilous Ark."
William Morrow & Co.
Even though Powers claims it was strongly suggested by the historical facts,
I think that pairing cold war spies with djinn was a stroke of genius. It's
a near perfect fit. The story is intricately plotted and although the "present" time
for the story is the 60s, we learn the history piece-by-piece, by means of chapters devoted to
events taking place in the 40s and 50s.
The novel starts off surprisingly mainstream, with barely a hint of the supernatural
in the first 50 pages. Even when magical strangeness begins to intrude in the life of Andrew Hale while
he spies in Paris, we don't know what the source or form of this power will be. When the djinn do manifest
themselves, it's in a thoroughly original way, just as we'd expect from Tim Powers. To me at least, the
feeling behind the djinn presence was reminiscent of the lamia/vampire creatures in The Stress of Her
Compared to other Powers books, this story has a more "controlled" feel to it; there aren't
as many of those frenetic action sequences with supernatural events at every turn. There are
a few, of course; the best being the scene in Berlin where the djinn manifests itself as a
living whirlwind. Hale seems more in control of his destiny then other Powers
protagonists, and this is in keeping with his profession as a clever and worldly
The best since The Stress of Her Regard. This book doesn't quite make it into
my top four, but it edges out Last Call for spot five. Subject to change
on future rereadings, of course!
- ccb 07/21/00
Horror Guild 2001
World Fantasy Award 2001
For those who are interested, the collection of quotes from Tim Powers about the Declare
prior to its publication, in reverse chronological order.
"...it's based on the life & career of Kim
Philby, who was the chief of counter-espionage for the British Secret
Service until 1951, and who turned out to have been secretly working
for Moscow since college. Vast scandal! He lived in Beirut from 1956
until January of '63, when he was finally cornered and fled across
Turkey to the USSR.
I read about a dozen books about him, and a book he wrote and one his
last wife wrote, and I began to see the sort of clues I look for -- he
was SIS Head of Station in Turkey in '48, and spent a suspicious amount
of time around Mount Ararat; and in Beirut he had a pet fox that drank
whiskey and sucked on smoking pipes, and Kim fled to Russia shortly
after the fox was killed; and Kim's father (a Lawrence of Arabia figure
in the early years of the century) made sure Kim never got baptized,
but fretted about the properties of baptismal water from the Jordan
River, and even sent samples to the British Museum to be tested for
occult potencies ... and so forth. I probably wound up reading a
hundred books, on Russia, and Bedouins, and espionage, and every damnthing.
Kim Philby's life was tied to the Middle East, through his father's
influence; and I found plenty of clues to justify reading the whole
Burton translation of the _1,001 Nights,_ too; and of course I found
tons of great stuff in there! It turns out (according to my story,
that is!) that the Soviet Union was supernaturally sustained, and the
highest levels of British Intelligence had been aware of it right from
the start -- T. E. Lawrence was working on this problem, and
incidentally found the Dead Sea Scrolls back in 1917, and took the
wildest ones away; Alan Turing learned more than he should have, and
got killed; Feliks Dzerzhinski was sustained as a kind of haunted
effigy in a KGB office in Moscow ... And so forth!
It was fascinating, putting a supernatural back-story to occupied
Paris, and post-war Berlin, and the Suez Crisis. Lovecraft meets
tradecraft. I've always wanted to do a Le Carre-style book ... but
with agents who have to carry ankhs as well as fake passports."
J. Berlyne (interviewer): "...let's talk about Declare. It's finished. It's in the hands of the editor now?"
T. Powers: "Yeah."
JB: "When is it due to appear?"
TP: "Apparently September of 2000. I wish it was sooner, but that's because I have to wait now a year in order to show off! I'd rather be able to show off now!"
(Yes, that's the bad news - we still have a long wait ahead of us; the good news is, there's lots more to this excellent interview at The Works of Tim Powers).
"The Philby book is finally finished, after two years -- I want to call it DECLARE, but everybody, my agent
especially, hates that title. Right now I'm doing re-writes that the editor has asked for -- which are, I gotta admit,
improvements -- and I should have it finally out of my hands for good in another week or so."
"...well, it's taking Kim Philby's story and weaving a supernatural hidden story into it; it winds up involving
Philby's father, St. John Philby, and T. E. Lawrence to some extent, as well as the SIS, MI5, the KGB and GRU, and the
French SDECE. And it takes place in London, Kuwait, Berlin, Paris, and on Mount Ararat. I've always been a big fan of
John LeCarre, and this is sort of Tradecraft Meets Lovecraft."
"My current book involves djinn, the Arabian Nights, all that mid-East magic."
"It's based on the life & career of Kim Philby, who was a British espionage chief who turned out to have been
working for Moscow all along. Some bits of his careeer really do call for my kind of extrapolation. You wouldn't believe
the supernatural things I can make a case for, with him!
"I suppose it'll be published in late '99 or early 00."
"The book I am working on right now takes place in the 1950s and 60s...
...a book centered on Kim Philby, who was the head of counter-espionage for the British secret service but who
turned out to have been working for Moscow all along... and who fled there in '63...
I am taking the whole intricate history of the Cold War and cooking up a supernatural secret explanation for
everything... it is sort of Le Carre characters in a sorcerously torqued spy setting..."
"The one I'm about to start working on takes place in Europe in the 20th Century, but it won't have anything to do
with the Last Call books."