On Stranger Tides Hardcover – Oct 1987
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. World Fantasy Award–winner Powers (Three Days to Never) demonstrates a precise control of complex narratives in this reprint of his rollicking and enchanting 1987 novel. Puppeteer John Chandagnac, bound for Jamaica to recover stolen money from his uncle, becomes Jack Shandy after pirates attack his ship and force him to join their crew. Shandy's struggle to accept his new life grounds the story for readers, even as Blackbeard and vodun magicians whisk everyone away to dreamlike lands where the Fountain of Youth itself awaits. The chaotic sea battles sing, though at times key events happen so quickly that they get lost in the shuffle as Jack tries to comprehend where he's going and what's at stake. This dark fantasy tale will appeal not just to pirate fans but also to anyone who appreciates Powers's talent for blending the most unlikely elements into a brilliantly cohesive whole. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Powers has forged a style of narrative uniquely his own, one filled with sharply drawn characters, fully imagined settings, elaborate underpinnings that pull all rugs out from under us and let us glimpse terrible, ragged floors beneath."--Los Angeles Times --This text refers to the Paperback edition.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
On Stranger Tides is arguably Tim Powers' most well-known and influential novel. Published in 1988, it has been quoted as one of the primary inspirations behind both Ron Gilbert's splendid Monkey Island computer games and also the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise, to such an extent that the film producers bought the rights to the novel and the imminent fourth film in the series is both named for and draws on some of the plot elements of the book. Yet it's not quite the swashbuckling, good-time adventure that the those later works would suggest.
On Stranger Tides is rich and full of vibrant colour that brings alive the setting, but it's also weird, offbeat and often downright bizarre. Jack Shandy is a reluctant hero who spends a fair amount of time moping around and musing on his bad luck rather than getting on with business (especially in the second half of the novel, dissipating dramatic tension rather than building it up) whilst Beth is a fairly weak character lacking much motivation, rather disappointing given there aren't many female characters in the novel (in this regard the inspired works have done a better job; Beth is no Elaine Marley and isn't even an Elizabeth Swann). On the plus side, the likes of Blackbeard and Davies make for more interesting characters, though as one of the main villains Ben Hurwood lacks any real defining characteristics beyond being insane.
The writing is crisp, clear and flows nicely, with Powers conjuring up some dark and threatening vibes whenever seriously weird voodoo goes down. He's also good at the skirmishes, with cutlasses flashing in the sunlight and pirates and navy crewmen urgently reloading their pistols and boarding one another's ships with wild abandon. There's also a nice maudlin feeling evoked at the dying of the pirate culture in the face of increased colonisation of the islands from Europe, though Powers never lets the reader forget that, for all its romantic image, piracy was built on theft, pressganging and murder.
On Stranger Tides is thus a mixed bag: the central plot starts and stops a bit erratically, and some well-rounded, three-dimensional characters with well-explained motivations sit uneasily next to cliches and cyphers. The dark and foreboding atmosphere evoked by the magic is impressive, but then tends to be undermined by the 'science' of voodoo, which sometimes reduces it to just another fantasy magic system. The action sequences are rousing, but infrequent. But overall the novel has a strange, offbeat atmosphere that is interesting and, if the plot doesn't flow as well as it could, the weird collection of characters and their antics makes for an enjoyable, if not entirely page-turning, reading experience.
On Stranger Tides (***½) is available now in the UK and USA.