Declare, by Tim Powers

Every so often circumstances conspire to make me read a book I would never have picked up on my own. This month’s book club selection for the Ship of Fools book club was Tim Powers’ Declare, a kind of espionage-fantasy hybrid. Now, fantasy I love, but espionage? Spies? Books about people whose entire lives are lived in deceit and danger, caught in a web of intrigue so complex I am lost by page four and have to keep flipping back to see who’s who?

Not my thing.

However, the book was so highly recommended by Shipmate LynnMagdaleneCollege, who was leading the discussion, that I decided I’d give it a try. The basic premise of Declare is that super-secret agent Andrew Hale becomes involved in a dangerous operation on Mount Ararat, combating ancient supernatural powers who live up there and who affect the fate of nations in Cold-War Europe. Well, that’s one level of what the book is about anyway. It also revolves around Hale’s relationship with two other characters, his long-time (but mostly unrequited) love, fellow-spy Elena, and real-life spy Kim Philby. For some readers (who actually care about this kind of thing) the most intriguing thing about the novel will be the fictional backstory that Powers weaves around the factual experiences of Philby, an odd enough character even in real life.

There is a strong core of Christian faith at the centre of this offbeat and hard-to-categorize novel, and that’s what pulled me forward even when I couldn’t figure out what side anyone was working for or who was double-crossing whom. The fantasy and religious elements kept me going even when the spy stuff was hard slogging. Reading Declare was certainly not enough to win me over to enjoying spy novels, but if I had to read one spy novel in my life, I’m glad this was this one.

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