24 September 2011

On Stranger Tides

On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers

This is the third Tim Powers book I've read and I really enjoyed it, although perhaps not quite as much as the other two. It's the inspiration for the new Pirates of the Caribbean film -except that it isn't. Disney bought the rights after the first Pirates film as there were various similarities between the book and the film franchise. Though the film shares similar elements the plot won't be the same (I've not actually seen Pirates 4, but I feel pretty safe in saying this), and the characters certainly won't be. For a start here are no mermaids in this book.

John Chandagnac travels to the Caribbean to claim his rightful inheritance from a scheming uncle. On route the ship is taken by pirates -with help from fellow-passenger and deranged academic Benjamin Hurwood. John is forced to join the pirates or forfeit his life and so he is taken to the New Providence Island pirate settlement and renamed Jack Shandy. Jack ends up travelling with the fearsome Blackbeard, the sinister doctor Leo Friend, Hurwood and Hurwood's daughter Elizabeth to the Fountain of Youth.

The way that the supernatural occurred in the book reminded me of both The Anubis Gates and Declare. It was like Declare because there were powerful, spiritual beings in existence that knowledgeable humans had to work with - though in this book they were based on voodoo (or vodoun) rather than middle eastern mythology. It was like The Anubis Gates because it suggested that magic was inimical to technology and had gotten progressively weaker over time. I liked this because it felt as though all the books took place in the same world, and given the well-researched settings and characters, it all felt like secret history.

While there is a fair bit of darkness in all the Tim Powers books I've read I found some of the elements in On Stranger Tides a bit more unpleasant. I suspect it's because the one villain was entirely immoral and his plan involved a nasty, incestuous sexual element. Another villain had a plan that may have seemed romantic at first, but was simply sinister and unpleasant and probably would've become incestuous. The other villain was fearsome pirate Blackbeard, so that's quite a rogues gallery to be going on with.
This leads me to Elizabeth Hurwood, the main female character and a woman who seemed to have everyone after her for all the wrong reason. She was kept captive by her father throughout the book, her ability to act for herself obliterated by a restrictive diet designed to keep her weak. She was seen as a vessel for the lusts, schemes and magical power of many of the male characters. Jack, who is the hero and the one man who desires her without wanting to use her, loves her and wants to do right by her. This was probably the best deal the poor girl was going to get, though I felt that the strength of feeling between Elizabeth and Jack was based on little time sent together - though this is very often the way in fiction so I can't particularly fault Tim Powers for that.

Overall it was an excellent, intelligent book full of high seas adventure, suspense, thrills, intrigue, magic, nastiness and puppetry.

Related Stuff:
My review of Declare is in Hub Magazine and my less coherent ramblings can be found in an earlier blog post. I also have an earlier blog post about The Anubis Gates.

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