Adventure on the high seas finds John “Jack Shandy” Chandagnac, a young man in search of his uncle, pressed into piracy and sorcery as Blackbeard searches for the Fountain of Lost Youth.--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
Blackbeard the pirate with slow matches smouldering in his beard -- a terror to behold. He's even more terrible when you learn WHY he keeps those matches smouldering, and why he's made common cause with an insane one-armed widower who carries his dead wife's head in a box, ably assisted by a lecherous "student" whose has two main aspirations: to win the love of the widower's bewitched daughter, and to ... well ... to become God. Opposing them is reluctant puppeteer-turned-pirate Jack Shandy, who wants nothing more than to claim his stolen inheritance ... and to win the girl, of course.
This one proves the rule that "price denotes quality" -- of the text, if not the physical medium. A beat-up paperback priced more than a new hardback? That means "classic." I strongly reccomend it to all, me 'earties. Aargh!
And in typical Powers fashion, in "On Stranger Tides," he tosses in everything he thinks he might need in a pirate novel -- historical figures, naval action, a noble man in a bad situation, voodoo, jungles and so on -- and a few things only he would think to link to the rest and comes up with another hit, and my favorite Powers novel.
The action here careens back and forth across the Caribbean and if Powers isn't wrestling crazy ideas to the ground as he does in "The Stress of Her Regard" or "The Anubis Gates," it's only because, this time around, the play's the thing.
This is a book I loan out to all of my sea-loving friends, knowing that they'll devour it and hand it back to me, more battered than ever, but it's a book I can't keep to myself. Now, if only a hardbound edition would come out, so that I have a chance at actually having a copy in decent condition.
This is a "grab it if you see it" buy for fans of fantasy, pirates or wild adventure stories. "On Stranger Tides" is a dynamite novel by one of the best genre authors working today.
Interestingly enough, though this is one of Mr. Powers' earlier works, it's the one I waited the longest to read. No apparent reason, but I wish I wouldn't have waited so long. It fits right in with the author's penchant for offbeat plots. In the past, Mr. Powers has written about ghost hunters, gamblers with a sense of the occult, and other eccentricities. "On Stranger Tides" introduces us to the world of Caribbean pirates with a bent for the occult. It is not as dark as other Tim Powers novels, but is every bit as powerful and entertaining.
The story takes place in the early 18th century and is a confabulation. That is, it is a work of fiction that includes in its cast, actual, historical personages who lived during the time. In this book, one-time Bahamian governor Woodes Rogers, infamous pirates Stede Bonnet and Edward Thatch a.k.a. Blackbeard, Colonel William Rhett, the Receiver General of the Carolina Province, and a wildly anachronistic Juan Ponce de Leon, cross paths, and sometimes swords with the unlikely buccaneer, Jack Shandy, Phil Davies, the pirate with a heart of gold, and Benjamin Hurwood, a one-time Oxford don gone insane with grief over the death of his wife Margaret. As always, Mr. Powers' research and attention to detail shine through as we are given lessons in history, geography, and voodoo while we follow the romps of the picaresque heroes of this book. Yes, the pirates are the heroes. . .
Which brings me to one of my favorite characters of the book, Jack Shandy, who was born John Chandagnac, spent time touring Europe with his father as Shakespearean puppeteers, became an accountant when his father died, and, finally, became the most unlikely pirate captain to sail the seven seas. Forced to run afoul of the law in order to protect the beautiful, yet innocent, Beth Hurwood from the evil machinations of her deranged father, Shandy espouses the philosophical side of this novel. Jack means to remain a law-abiding citizen, but, when given the chance, he seems to always make the legally-wrong-yet-morally-right choice. In that sense, Jack's plight rivals that of Scott Crane in Mr. Powers' excellent "Last Call". Mr. Powers captures the essence of the less-than-pure hero as well as anyone writing today. In his world, Everyman can shine, even if his intentions are not always pure and noble.
My only gripe, if I can call it that, is that, like in his other novels, Mr. Powers delves into a level of esoteria and detail that only a historian or shaman can appreciate. It's almost like he's telling his readers that, no matter how much they know, he knows a little more. But, that's a small price to pay for the chance to enjoy some of the most innovative fiction being written today. If you've never read any of the works of Tim Powers, this is a fine place to start.