This is what you might call a ‘vintage’ review seeing as Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides is not by any stretch a new book. But what it does have to draw attention to it at this time is a new edition from Corvus in the UK and a Hollywood adaptation in the form of the fourth incarnation of the Pirates of the Caribbean series, adequately subtitled On Stranger Tides. My aim here is simply to share with you my opinion of this not-so-recent novel and draw attention to it, as I too must admit that I hadn’t cared for it - hell, even known of it - before the movie news. What I can say for it now, though, is that it is an all-encompassing, enjoyment-driven swashbuckling adventure told in a careful, masterful voice.
Press-ganged on pain of death to serve a merciless pirate crew, Jack Shandy is caught between the cutlass, the gibbet and something much darker.
The Cleat waters of the Caribbean carry the taint of a terrible black magic. At its epicenter stands the infamous, smoldering Edward Thatch - better known as Blackbeard - and his dead crew of dead men.
Jack is about to embark on a quest that will see him weather sea and storm, blade and broadside, a quest that will take him to the ends of the known world, into the realms of necromancy and to a bloody confrontation with Blackbeard himself.
Many of Tim Powers’ books - I’m thinking here (though I haven’t read it) of The Anubis Gates - would be classified by many a genre fan as ‘classics’ and I’m thinking that this label is highly appropriate in the case of On Stranger Tides. It represents, in many ways, what as a reader and general pop-culture fan I’ve come to recognize as the typical pirate story with odd bits of fantasy thrown in. This to some may sound as a criticism, but I assure you that in this instance it’s not.
Instead of evoking that boring sense of déja vu that those dissenters might attach to a more conservative work of fiction, On Stranger Tides (mostly) possess and embodies only those tropes for which this category of fiction has been loved for. Not déja vu, then, but a warm and cozy familiarity which we adore being reunited with. Or at least, that’s how it feels from a 2011 standpoint looking at a book originally published in 1987.
Because it’s clear enough that On Stranger Tides is a work of its time. Though it holds up well to time - and I suppose, again, this is why ‘classic’ is often attached to it - it is distinctively not a product of our time. And this, once again, is not exactly a bad thing, but something that readers should be aware of and recognize, whether they choose to embrace the slightly retro-feel of this book or regard the novel badly because of it. Most people I think, like I, will side with the former opinion simply because of the power of the story and Powers’ storytelling.
Indeed, Powers has an undeniable way with words. I am shamed by this one experience with his work that I have not explored his novels before. Though there is a definite lag quality in a middle section of the book which some might consider plot-critical, Powers’ voice has an intrinsically compelling quality to it. Add to this simple, yet engaging, characters, a more than decent plot and a bit of pace, and you’ll find yourself with one very enjoyable novel. In fact, it’s easy to see how this novel served as the inspiration for a blockbuster such as Pirates of the Caribbean, even if having see that adaptation, ‘inspired’ is as far as I would push the link between these two works of fiction.
If you are seeking a well-crafted pirate adventure like they don’t make them anymore, then certainly, On Stranger Tides will sweep you up and take you through a wholly satisfying journey. This is not a long read, so I invite the casual reader to give it a try - there’s always time for one of these old-fashioned adventures. The new edition for Corvus was just released at the beginning of May in the UK, and Harper Collins also released its own revamped version of the book around the same time. For those of you interested in some of Tim Powers’ other works, Corvus will be rolling out new editions of his books for the UK public in the coming months.
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Reading Age: 14 and up
Tim Powers' Website: http://www.theworksoftimpowers.com/
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