Tim Powers * Declare

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

A mesmerising, award-winning, daringly imaginative, multi-levelled thriller for fans of John le Carre or Neal Stephenson

An ultra-secret MI6 codename, a deadly game of deception and intrigue – Dark forces from the depths of history. It is the terrible secret at the heart of the cold war.

Operation: Declare London, 1963.

A cryptic phone call forces ex-MI6 agent Andrew Hale to confront the nightmare that has haunted his adult life: an ultra-secret wartime operation, codenamed Declare.

Operation Declare took Hale from Nazi-occupied Paris to the ruins of post-war Berlin and the trackless wastes of the Arabian desert, culminating in a night of betrayal and mind-shattering terror on the glacial slopes of Mount Ararat.

Now, with the Cold War at its height, his superiors want him to return to the mountain and face the dark secret entombed within its icy summit. Hale has no choice but to comply, for Declare is the key to a conflict far deeper, far colder, than the Cold War itself.

‘A brilliant, strange crossbreed of the spy thriller and the supernatural’

China Mieville

The first couple hundred pages are… well, I guess the word is “slow”.  The story is a spy novel that integrates real people and events with elements of the supernatural. The settings include Paris during World War 2, London, and the Middle East and Soviet Union during the 1960s.

It was a night for irrational speculation, and fleetingly he wondered if Elena had caught his image in her old broken pocket mirror, so that as he now ran away from her toward a bloody hole in the Berlin pavement, a semblance of himself might still be sitting at the table, laughing and looking into her eyes.

The non-linear plot, shifting back and forth in time from the 1940s to the 1960s, mainly concerns Andrew Hale, a scholar and occasional operative for a secret British spy organization. Early in World War II, Hale is recruited as part of Operation Declare, an investigation of the true nature of several mysterious beings living on Mount Ararat, and how the Soviet Union has attempted to harness their vast supernatural powers. In this effort he is opposed by real-life communist traitor Kim Philby, a supporting character in the novel, who did travel extensively in the region. The novel proposes that the Great Game, the prolonged geopolitical conflict between the British and Russian empires in the 19th century over domination of Central Asia, was actually part of Operation Declare. The Okhrana, or Tsarist secret police, are cast as the Russian counterpart to Operation Declare.

A sub-plot concerns Hale’s on-off romance with Spaniard Elena Teresa Ceniza-Bendiga. A devoted Comintern agent and lapsed Catholic when she first meets Hale, Ceniza-Bendiga eventually rejects communism. While imprisoned in Moscow’s notorious Lubyanka prison, she returns to her faith upon discovering the horrible motivation behind the deliberate mass starvation and violent political purges of Stalinist Russia: the placation of an entity called Zat al-Dawahi (“Mistress of Misfortunes”) or Machikha Nash (“our stepmother”), a demonic being who demanded human sacrifice in exchange for protecting the nation from foreign invasion.

One thought on “Tim Powers * Declare

  1. I can declare that Tim Powers’ Declare is an intense and compelling read. Stranger things can happen to you if you read it carefully and you might also want to try Bill Fairclough’s Beyond Enkription in The Burlington Files series which also is a must read for espionage cognoscenti.

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