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
From Publishers Weekly
Powers (The Anubis Gates, etc.), known hitherto as an expert fantasy writer, has created a mind-bending mix of genres here, placing his gifts for extreme speculative fiction in service of a fantastical spy story involving rivalries between no fewer than four intelligence services: British, French, Russian and American. In 1963, Andrew Hale is summoned to reenter the secret service. He has a past embracing anti-Nazi activities in Occupied ParisAwhere he fell in love with Elena, a Spanish-born Communist operativeAand a spectacularly unsuccessful mission on Mount Ararat in 1948, the purpose of which only gradually becomes clear. Powers posits that the mountain, as the speculative last home of Noah's Ark, is also the dwelling place of many djinns, supernatural beings that often take the form of rocks in the Arabian deserts. The father of British spy Kim Philby, a noted Arabist, had been a keen observer of these phenomena and taught his son about them. Now it seems that a supernatural power, manifesting itself as an old woman, is safeguarding the Soviet Union, and if fragments of a destroyed djinn can be introduced into Moscow, they could destroy her protection and make the Soviet Union susceptible to normal human laws. This is Hale's mission. In 1948 it failed, and most of his commando force was destroyed. On his return 15 years later, with Philby, Hale succeeds in shooting fragments of djinn into Philby, who then returns to Moscow. Upon Philby's death many years later, the Soviet Union duly collapses. The styles of spy fiction, with dense counterplotting and extremes of caution, and the spectacular supernatural scenes simply do not blend. It's all offbeat and daringly imaginative, but ultimately rather foolish entertainment. (Jan. 9) Forecast: This original novel, despite its strengths, is unlikely to satisfy fully fans of either spycraft or fantasyAand such is the pitfall of genre-bending. A 6-city author tour plus vigorous promotion online and off could give the book some turbo power, though.
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