Tim Powers is an astonishing writer. There seems to be nothing he can’t do. From sublime, mind bending time travel in Anubis Gates to gambling magic in Vegas in Last Call to this one, On Stranger Tides, a novel where Powers has so much fun you can’t help getting swept up and taken along for the ride. Written in 1987, it’s got everything you need for the perfect pirate novel: Blackbeard, vodun witch doctors, zombies, stolen gold, the Fountain of Youth, beautiful islands, nautical warfare, heroines in distress, battles and pursuits, betrayal and rousing friendships. Forget Pirates of the Caribbean; this is the real thing, the kind of visceral tale that cavorts and dances the hornpipe on the deck, pipe gripped between its teeth as you watch, enthralled.
Okay, so yes, I did enjoy this book. Has that been made evident? I’m not a huge pirate fan, despite falling in love with The Secret of Monkey Island as a kid, and found Pirates of the Caribbean to be fun but not a religious experience as many others did. But just look at the cover of Powers’ book! A skeleton athwart a heaving deck, be-parroted and clasping a cutlass, clearly up to no good despite his cheeky grin! I read the book proudly in the subway, relishing each curious stare that was directed my way.
Powers mines every trope and stereotype, turns them on their heads and invigorates them in his inimitable way. His writing style is superb, his research grounds the tale, and the action and adventure don’t stop. For sheer fun this novel can’t be beat, though I do wish the heroine had a more active, dynamic role than to simply languish as she does, it’s a small complaint amidst my ocean of praise.
Five stars, the quintessential pirate novel nonparallel.