Declare: A Novel

Declare: A Novel

by Tim Powers


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062221384
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/19/2013
Pages: 591
Sales rank: 531,579
Product dimensions: 5.38(w) x 7.82(h) x 1.56(d)

About the Author

Tim Powers is the author of numerous novels including Hide Me Among the Graves, Three Days to Never, Declare, Last Call, and On Stranger Tides, which inspired the feature film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. He has won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award twice, and the World Fantasy Award three times. He lives in San Bernardino, California.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

London, 1963

Of my Base Metal may be filed a Key,
That shall unlock the Door he howls without.

—Omar Klayyam, The Rubaiyat, Edward J. FitzGerald translation

From the telephone a man's accentless voice said, "Here's a list: Chaucer ... Malory. . ."

Hale's face was suddenly chilly.

The voice went on. "Wyatt ... Spenser . . .

Hale had automatically started counting, and Spenser made four. "I imagine so," he said, hastily and at random. "Uh, 'which being dead many years, shall after revive,' is the bit you're thinking of. It's Shakespeare, actually, Mr.-" He nearly said Mr Goudie, which was the name of the Common Room porter who had summoned him to the telephone and who was still rocking on his heels by the door of the registrar clerk's unlocked office, and then he nearly said Mr Philby; "-Fonebone," he finished lamely, trying to mumble the made-up name. He clenched his fist around the receiver to hold it steady, and with his free hand he shakily pushed a stray lock of sandy-blond hair back out of his eyes.

"Shakespeare," said the man's careful voice, and Hale realized that he should have phrased his response for more apparent continuity "Oh well. Five pounds, was it? I can pay you at lunch."

For a moment neither of them spoke.

"Lunch," Hale said with no inflection. What is it supposed to be now, he thought, a contrary and then a parallel or example. "Better than fasting, a—uh—sandwich would be." Good Lord.

"It might be a picnic lunch, the fools," the bland voice went on, "arid here we are barely in January-so dobring a raincoat, right?"

Repeat it back, Hale remembered. "Raincoat, I follow you." He kept himself from asking, uselessly, Picnic, certainly-raincoat, right-but will anyone even be there, this time? Are we going to be doing this charade every tenth winter for the rest of my life? I'll be fifty next time.

The caller hung up then, and after a few seconds Hale realized that he'd been holding his breath and started breathing again. Goudie was still standing in the doorway, probably listening, so Hale added, "If I mentioned it in the lectures, you must assume it's liable to be in the exam." He exhaled unhappily at the end of the sentence. Play-acting into a dead telephone now, he thought; you're scoring idiot-goals all round. To cover the blunder, he said, "Hello? Hello?" as if he hadn't realized the other man had rung off, and then he replaced the receiver. Not too bad a job, he told himself, all these years later. He stepped back from the desk arid forced himself not to pull out his handkerchief to wipe his face.

Raincoat. Well, they had said that ten years ago too, and nothing had happened at all, then or since.

"Thank you, Goudie," he said to the porter, and then walked past him, back across the dark old Common Room carpet to the cup of tea that was still steaming in the lamplight beside the humming typewriter. Irrationally, it seemed odd to him that the tea should still be hot, after this. He didn't resume his seat, but picked up his sheaf of handwritten test questions and stared at the ink lines.

Ten years ago. Eventually he would cast his mind further back, and think of the war-surplus corrugated-steel bomb shelter on the marshy plain below Ararat on the Turkish-Soviet border, and then of a night in Berlin before that; but right now, defensively, he was thinking of that somewhat more recent, and local, summons-just to pace the snowy lanes of Green Park in London for an hour, as it had happened, alone and with at least diminishing anxiety, and of the subsequent forty hours of useless walks and cab rides from one old fallback location to another, down the slushy streets and across the bridges of London, cursing the confusing new buildings and intersections. There had been no telephone numbers or addresses that he would have dared to try, and in any case they would almost certainly all have been obsolete by that time. He had eventually given it up and taken the train back to Oxford, having incidentally missed a job interview; a fair calamity, in those days.

At least there was no real work to do today, and none tomorrow either. He had only come over to the college so early this morning to use fresh carbon paper and one of the electric typewriters.

Between the tall curtains to his left he could see clouds like hammered tin over the library's mansard roof, and bare young oak branches waving in the wind that rattled the casement latches. He would probably be wanting a raincoat, a literal one. God knew where he'd wind up having lunch. Not at a picnic, certainly.

He folded the papers and tucked them into his coat pocket, then ratcheted the half-typed sheets out of the typewriter, and switched the machine off.

He hoped it would still be working right, and not have got gummed up by some undergraduate teaching assistant, when he got backwhich would be, he was confident, in at most a couple of days. The con fidence was real, and he knew that it should have buoyed him up.

He sighed and patted the pockets of his trousers for his car keys.

The wooded hills above the River Wey were overhung in wet fog, and he drove most of the way home from the college in second gear, with the side-lamps on. When at last he steered his old Vauxhall into Morlan Lane, he tossed his cigarette out the window and shifted down to first gear, and he lifted his foot from the accelerator as the front corner of his white bungalow came dimly into view.

When he had first got the job as assistant lecturer back in 1953, he had rented a room right in Weybridge, and he remembered now bicycling back to the old landlady's house after classes in those long-ago late afternoons, from old habit favoring alleys too narrow for motor vehicles and watching for unfamiliar vans parked or driving past on the birchshaded lanes-tensing at any absence of birdcalls in the trees, coasting close by the old red-iron V.R. post-box and darting a glance at it to look for any hasty scratches around the keyhole-and alert too for any agitation among the dogs in the yards he passed, especially if their barking should ever be simultaneous with a gust of wind or several humans shouting at once.

What People are Saying About This

Dean Koontz

“Dazzling . . . a tour de force, a brilliant blend of John le Carre spy fiction with the otherworldly.”

William Gibson

“Tim Powers is a brilliant writer. Declare’s occult subtext for the deeper Cold War is wonderfully original and brilliantly imagined.”


A Conversation with Tim Powers

Barnes & One of the major characters in Declare is Kim Philby, the legendary double agent and Soviet mole. What led you to make fictional use of Philby? Have you had a longstanding interest in his career, or in the overall history of Cold War espionage?

Tim Powers: No, but I've always been a fan of John le Carré's; and so I bought a book on Philby just because Le Carré had written an introduction to it -- and it was a great introduction! -- full of atmosphere and hints and speculations. So I went ahead and read the whole book and discovered that Philby's life was full of the sort of ambiguities and secret conflicts and striking locales that I like to write about. I mean -- Mount Ararat, Bedouins, Berlin, Moscow, Beirut! Great stuff. I had a lot of fun putting my secret supernatural sort of framework into the Cold War history. Lovecraft meets tradecraft.

B& In Declare, Philby's chief antagonist -- and secret sharer -- is a young British agent named Andrew Hale. Does Hale have any real-life antecedents, or is he a wholly invented character?

TP: Hale was purely invented -- for a while in the outline, before I decided on a name for him, I was referring to him as "Guillam," the name of a Le Carré character. I think I generally let the protagonist be defined by the dictates of the research -- that is, what sort of character could be most conveniently and effectively propelled though this maze?

I did get a foundation for him him when I read that Philby and his strange father spent part of the summer of 1923 investigating any supernatural powers that might reside in baptismal water from the Jordan River -- it seemed to me obvious that they were anxious about an infant that had been baptized there not long before. This gave me a number of directions pointing to our hero: origin in the Middle East, baptism, a connection with Philby père et fils, inherited feuds, and so forth.

B& A few of John le Carré's novels -- notably Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy -- were loosely inspired by Philby's career. What are your thoughts on Le Carré's work? Was the eponymous "Operation Declare" intended as a tip of the hat to "Operation Testify," which figured so prominently in Tinker, Tailor?

TP: Well, I think Tinker, Tailor is a masterpiece -- I bet I've read it a dozen times. For years it was my "airplane book" -- thick enough to bring along on long flights, and reliably riveting. I finally had to retire it because I was beginning to know it by heart.

I imagine "Operation Declare" derived from "Operation Testify" in that they were both big, off-the-record, almighty secret operations; they weren't the same kind of operations, but I think I did try to get the same ominous mood Le Carré got.

B& Your novels, especially over the last decade, seem to be growing longer, more ambitious, more complex. Is this a sign of your increasing ambition? How do you yourself compare these later books -- say, from Last Call forward -- with your earlier work?

TP: They've gotten longer, it's true. And I think that is a result of me wanting to develop the characters and the locales more. For instance, Last Call was the first book for which I was able to actually go look at the scenes I was writing about, which was a great help -- my wife and I drove all over Las Vegas, and then all over L.A. and San Francisco, with a videocamera -- though with Declare I wasn't able to do that. I mean, that Beirut and that Moscow don't even exist anymore!

And I suppose as I get older I have my characters faced with more complex problems. Not only "Here come the werewolves," but "Here come the werewolves and I think I'm losing my mind." Maturity, you see. That's what it is, trust me.

B& Another difference in your recent novels is the fact that they've moved into the 20th century and incorporated such modern icons as Philby, Thomas Edison, and Bugsy Siegel. Is there a particular reason for this change? Do you have any plans to revisit earlier historical eras in future novels?

TP: I do want to do more historicals, yes -- for one thing, I've been accumulating so many great research books over the years! I mean, medieval stuff is just bowing my bookshelves, for instance.

But of course the 20th century has a wonderful immediacy. It's fun to work freeways and .45s and Wild Turkey and electrical engineering into supernatural plots! And, especially with the Last Call trilogy, I'm sure the fact of my being an actual citizen of the culture I was writing about gave the books some degree of extra assurance!

And there are a lot of writers whose tricks I just can't do in historical novels -- Hunter Thompson, Tom Wolfe, A. Alvarez, Thomas Pynchon. I don't want to miss the fun of playing on their jungle gyms.

B& I'd like to talk for a minute about your working methods. What sort of preliminary research do you typically do? To what extent do you outline before actually beginning to write?

TP: I do tons of preliminary research -- like a year of just reading and making notes -- before I have even a clue about what my eventual plot will be. The plot is indicated by whatever fascinating stuff and patterns of stuff I find in the research.

And I outline like a madman. My outlines cover just about every event that will occur in the book, and even include bits of dialogue and description. (My goal, I sometimes think, is to one day outline a book so thoroughly that the outline will gradually become the book.) It's like designing a big roller coaster, putting together blueprints of everything from the foundations up -- you want to provide lots of surprises for the passengers, but ideally there won't be any surprises for the designer.

B& Although you haven't written a great many short stories, you recently brought out a collection entitled Night Moves and Other Stories through the specialty publisher Subterranean Press. Do you enjoy working within the constraints of the short story form, or are you at heart a novelist?

TP: I'm definitely a novelist! Reflexively, I try to cram too much into a short story, I think -- or else go the other way and leave too much out. I've only had six of my short stories published -- these, I like to think, are the ones where I didn't cram too much in or leave too much out!

You can live in a novel you're writing for a couple of years, get to know the area pretty well. A short story is like a weekend at a hotel -- busy and interesting, but you're home again before the grass needs watering.

B& To the best of my knowledge, you've collaborated on only one story, "The Better Boy," which you wrote in tandem with James Blaylock. Are there any other collaborative works lurking in your past? Are you comfortable with the process of collaboration? Would you ever consider collaborating on a longer work?

TP: I can't imagine collaborating with anybody but Blaylock -- he and I have known each other since '72, in college, and we've inevitably got a lot of overlapping tastes and attitudes and mental reflexes. He and I have collaborated on two published short stories, by the way -- the other was "We Traverse Afar" in David Hartwell's Christmas Forever anthology -- and yes, we've collaborated on lots of this-and-that things in the past; for one thing, we've cowritten a cookbook.

Collaborating with Blaylock is very smooth -- I write six pages, say, and give them to him, and he chops them down to three or four pages and adds six of his own, which I in turn treat the same way. Somehow, we never disagree.

I don't know whether or not we could collaborate on a whole novel or not! In any case, it would require that an editor pay enough to sustain two writers for the time involved in writing it, and that's not likely to happen.

B& Do you have either the time or the inclination to read the works of your contemporaries? Are there any writers out there whose work you particularly admire?

Oddly, I don't really read much science fiction or fantasy anymore -- I did read everything up to about 1975, but it's been very sporadic since. I admire Blaylock's work, and Karen Joy Fowler's and Lisa Goldstein's and William Gibson's and John Shirley's, but their stuff was in my path because they're all friends of mine.

Even in mainstream I'm hardly up-to-the-minute -- my favorite writers would include John D. MacDonald, Kingsley Amis, Raymond Chandler, and Tom Wolfe.

B& Now that Declare is behind you, have you started working on a new novel? Would you mind giving us a brief preview of what we can expect from you down the road?

TP: Gee, I'm still in the reading and making notes stage! -- but it will be another 20th-century thing, involving some European cities and Los Angeles, it looks like. And some supernatural business that turns out to have been going on behind the scenes for a long time. A typical Powers book, basically.

--Bill Sheehan

Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press (

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Declare 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sounds like everyone's done a good job of giving the background, so I'll keep things short. Declare is one of my favorite works of fiction, if not THE favorite. This supernatural thriller is still enjoyable after multiple readings. Powers does a fantastic job of weaving history with strands of the fantastic. When he ends the work with notes about his research, you may find yourself suprised at which weird bits are authentic!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have just finished this marvelous novel for the second time, savoring its rich language and imaginative, complex plot. The prior reviews are quite good, so I will only add some observations. First, Elena Teresa Ceniza-Bendiga adds almost as much to the story as do Hale and Philby. Her journey from Catholicism to Marxism-Leninism and back is convincingly laid out, as are her complex feelings about Andrew Hale. And the romance, spun out over 23 years, is no mere James Bond fling. Second, I marvel at the research Powers must have done to portray the espionage, the Cold War history, the many locations and the diverse mythologies so convincingly, and have the parts fit together. The title, Declare, contains multiple meanings. I particularly enjoyed the high-low poker game for enormous stakes begun at the foot of Ararat in '48 and completed in Moscow in '64. What a rewarding read this has been.
harstan More than 1 year ago
It was probably ordained form the day Andrew Hale was born, an event shrouded in mystery, that he would ultimately join His Majesty¿s Secret Service in the war against Hitler. As a child, his mother introduced Andrew to his ¿Godfather¿, who was in the business. Andrew took to the world of espionage as few ever have. He even fooled the Soviets into recruiting him. If the perfect spy had an weakness it had to be Elena, a dedicated Communist who worked with Andrew during the Vichy control of France. His only failure was the men who died on Mt. Ararat when the Soviets sought the Ark.

After the war, Andrew returned to England as a university professor, believing his days as a spy were over. However, in 1963, he receives a coded phone call that reactivates him sending him to the Middle East where the Soviets are trying to obtain the Ark. Andrew speaks with Legion and passes a weird test of sorts. Now all he must do is fight the forces of darkness on Ararat with the stakes being the freedom of the world.

DECLARE is an interesting combination of a classic espionage thriller crossed with the X-Files to create an intriguing ecclesiastical spy tale. The riveting story line employs flashbacks to World War II so that the reader can grasp what happened that led to the 1963 events. Fans will declare that Tim Powers¿ power is to make the mundane exciting and the supernatural believable as he does with this thriller.

Harriet Klausner

martianfencer More than 1 year ago
Tim Powers has a knack for making really strange things seem plausible, like there is a very thin veil separating the natural and built world from something very spooky. Here he has taken the true story of a Cold War double agent, and filled in the blanks a bizarre and magical tale that seems like it -- maybe -- could be the real story!
ChrisRiesbeck on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This was a tough haul for me. This was on my "currently reading" pile for the entire summer, because I kept finding other things (mostly non-fiction) to read instead. I've enjoyed Powers in the past, and will return to him in the future but I can't give this a strong recommendation. It's Powers doing his secret history legerdemain in the style of John LeCarre. The problem is that over 300 pages of WWII and Cold War backstabbing, skullduggery, and gloom have to pass before the secret history part really starts to pay off. When it does, it happens in frequent info-dumps of backstory. In an epilogue, Powers describes the research he did in developing the novel and working out alternate explanations for real world events. Apparently he followed the rule "if it was hard to write, it should be hard to read, gosh darn it!" Having paid my dues, I was happy to rewarded with something happening in the last quarter of the story, but I think I'm still owed some change.
lewispike on LibraryThing 8 months ago
"Spycraft meets Lovecraft" is the tag line really. And it sums it up nicely.Apparently Powers started research Kim Philby, who had an interesting enough life (he was a double agent for the NKVD/KGB working inside the British Security Services (SIS and MI6)). There are, apparently, strange inconsistencies and odd behaviour (I'm sure there would be in anyone's life, particularly if he's a double agent). Powers, however, creates a world of djinn, magic and old ones that quite neatly fit into the gaps in a worryingly coherent fashion.The result? Secret agencies working to recruit, control, or kill djinn, angels and the like, within their own national spy agencies. And if you like the Lovecraftian side of things, you'll love the way it all fits together.The historical details are all correct - he challenged himself not to change them and STILL produce the book - but it doesn't feel forced at any point although it does jump around in time more than a little, which takes a bit of getting used to.All in all an excellent read.
tanenbaum on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I am an enormous fan of Tim Powers, so understand that when I say this is not my favorite work of his, I still recommend it whole-heartedly. Declare has a heavier feeling that most of Powers' other books, and at times can get a little bogged down. However, as other reviewers have noted, it is a curiously haunting book, staying with you long after you put it down, and popping up in your mind when you least expect it. The story is not straightforward, jumping around a bit chronologically, and thus it improves on the second and third readings when you are better able to integrate the full storyline. One of the beautiful things that Powers does is infuse the everyday world with systems of magic that are so consistently and richly developed that they seem like they are truth viewed from a different angle. This book is no exception as he explores a secret or alternate history of the Cold War in which Mount Ararat, the ark, and djinn are bigger factors in the struggle of nations than nuclear arms.
ansate on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Slow, slow going. But eventually I was so drawn in that I was invested in what happened next. I read the first half in 2 months and the last half in a week.
SaintBrevity on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Whenever I recommend this to people, I always tell them it's three parts of every WWII era spy novel, two parts Arabian Nights, one part Lovecraft, and a tiny dab of LSD to help make everything make sense. Tm Powers has an uncanny ability to maneuver a tiny sailboat of a book between the vicious reefs of disparate tropes with a poise that leaves the reader stunned. Very highly recommended.
ben_a on LibraryThing 11 months ago
The grey-on-grey palette of LeCarre shot through with silver threads of the occult -- an enjoyable, if overlong book.[Now, about a year later, this is a book that grows with time. I can't quite get it out of my head. "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if you have understanding."
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Poetic and action packed
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