After a ten-year hiatus, British academic Andrew Hale is abruptly called back into the Great Game by a terse, cryptic telephone message. Born to “the trade” and recruited at the age of seven by a most secret Secret Service, Hale, in 1963, is forced to confront again the nightmare that has haunted his adult life: a lethal unfinished operation code-named Declare.
Two decades earlier, as a young double agent infiltrating the Soviet spy network in Nazi-occupied Paris, Hale first encountered the incomprehensible rhythms of an invisible world. And from that moment on nothing was ever safe and knowable again. There also, his life became eternally linked with two others’ lives that would recurrently intersect his at its most dangerous junctures: his “comrade operative,” the fiery and beautiful Communist agent Elena Teresa Ceniza-Bendiga, the object of Hale’s undying love, and Kim Philby, the mysterious traitor to the British cause…and perhaps to all humanity. Together they form an unlikely trimuvirate with one shared destiny: Declare.
But the Great Game is greater and far more terrible than Andrew Hale ever imagined. There is another, larger war raging unseen all around him, a cataclysmic secret conflict masked by a “Cold War” of national ideologies. And it is drawing Hale, Elena, and Philby inexorably toward world-shattering consequences on a Biblical mountain in the Middle East…and to a hideous feast of broken minds, destroyed lives, and devoured souls.
This supernatural suspense thriller crosses several genres—espionage, geopolitics, religion, fantasy. But like the chicken crossing the road, it takes quite a while to get to the other side. En route, Tim Powers covers a lot of territory: Turkey, Armenia, the Saudi Arabian desert, Beirut, London, Paris, Berlin, and Moscow. Andrew Hale, an Oxford lecturer who first entered Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service as an 18-year-old schoolboy, is called back to finish a job that culminated in a deadly mission on Mount Ararat after the end of World War II. Now it’s 1963, and cold war politics are behind the decision to activate Hale for another attempt to complete Operation Declare and bring down the Communist government before Moscow can harness the powerful, other-worldly forces concentrated on the summit of the mountain, supposed site of the landing of Noah’s ark. James Theodora is the über-spymaster whose internecine rivalry with other branches of the Secret Intelligence Service traps Hale between a rock and a hard place, literally and figuratively. There’s plenty of mountain and desert survival stuff here, a plethora of geopolitical and theological history, and a big serving of A Thousand and One Nights, which is Hale’s guide to the meteorites, drogue stones, and amonon plant, which figure in this complicated tale. There’s a love story, too, and a bizarre twist on the Kim Philby legend that posits both Philby and Hale as the only humans who can tame the powers of the djinns who populate Mount Ararat.
This is an easy book to get lost in, and Powers’s many fans will have a field day with it. The rest of us may have a harder time. —Jane Adams