Archive – On Stranger Tides – Tim Powers

A short review I did for Interzone in 2011.

On Stranger Tides
Tim Powers, Corvus, 405pp, pb

The occasion for this reissue of Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides is, of course, the release of the Pirates of the Caribbean film of the same name, fourth in the series. At this stage, one can only speculate as to how much of the novel has found its way into the film; one can however marvel at how certain elements of the novel seem curiously familiar to anyone who has seen the earlier films.

Our hero is Jack Chandagnac, puppeteer and bookkeeper, who is travelling to the Caribbean to confront his uncle, Sebastian, who has stolen Jack’s inheritance. However, when Jack’s ship is boarded by pirates his life changes forever. He becomes Jack Shandy, quartermaster to Philip Davies who is not only captain of the Vociferous Carmichael but a magician of sorts, and an associate of Blackbeard, who is planning the most audacious exploit of his career, to locate the Fountain of Youth. Matters are further complicated by the presence of corrupt magicians Benjamin Hurwood and Leo Friend, both of whom have magical designs on Hurwood’s daughter, Elizabeth.

Revisiting this novel after many years, I am struck first by how much fun this novel is to read, and secondly by how well wrought it is. In a narrative that features voodoo, zombies, magic and pirates, it would be all too easy to be carried away by the possibilities for vast dramatic set-pieces but Powers is pleasingly restrained and thoughtful in his story-telling. The historical and the fantastic elements are nicely balanced, and I particularly like the underlying flavour of elegiac nostalgia for the romance of piracy, even as the novel acknowledges the brutal reality. Whatever the film turns out to be like, as a novel On Stranger Tides remains well worth a reader’s attention.